Is working and living abroad for every Juan?

Let’s face it, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) need to endure family and money problems whether personal or employment related. Despite the odds, many are still motivated to work miles away.

Is working and living abroad for every one? Working and living abroad is definitely not for those who are faint hearted. Likewise, giving up a job overseas, going home and keeping the family intact is a tough decision when an OFW only wants to provide his family with nothing but the best.

Family and money are issues common to Overseas Filipino Workers. Here’s why.

Family. A paediatrician and ob-gyne couple once shared a story of new born son of an OFW. The father whose blood type is AB+ was so happy to have their first born with his wife whose blood type is A+. However, blood typing result shows that the son has blood type O+. How can the doctors now tell the OFW father that there is a very slim to zero probability that an AB+ and a A+ parents can give birth to an O+ child? The doctors-couple said based on studies, if one parent has A+ and another has AB+, they can either produce a child with A, B or AB blood types only. The doctors, however, said they cannot easily tell the OFW father that he is not the father of the baby and just kept it to themselves for obvious reasons.

This is one example of infidelity and other marital conflicts that OFWs could face aside from day-to-day disagreements, communication gaps and power struggle they experience with their spouse or partner. This scene was also shared in one of Ateneo de Manila University’s  fora on OFWs. An OFW from Saudi Arabia went home and was shocked to find out that her wife is pregnant. He said that their former tenant was father of the child. Sad but true.

The plot of the movie “Anak” starring multi awarded actress and now politician Vilma Santos remains a perfect description of the personal struggles of long distance parenting OFWs especially mothers have with their children. Once in a while, viewers can still take a glimpse of the OFW family story on Cable TV. Undeniably, OFWs parents experience some guilt for being absent in important occasions of their children especially during birthdays, family days, or graduation rites in school. The only difference now is with the advent of social media networks, messenger video chat or viber calls is readily available to bridge the gap. Technology is serving its purpose well when it comes to bringing OFW families closer.

Despite the promise of greener pastures, OFW working conditions abroad accounts as one of their primary concerns. Sharing a flat or apartment with non-family members or relatives, and other foreign nationals requires adjustment on the part of an OFW especially the “bagong salta” or the so-called neophytes. Living with strangers brings about discrimination, maltreatment, fights, sexual abuse and homesickness. This makes the status of being away from the family complicated.

Money. The very reason OFWs leave the comfort of their home is to earn money. But money matters also dominate the personal concerns of OFWs. Money is the answer to pay off debts of OFW families, both nuclear and extended. Before heading to Middle East or Hong Kong, OFWs have to borrow money to cover placement fees, plane fare, some good set of clothes and durable combo of luggage and hand carry bags, and pocket money good for at least a month or for an emergency. And just before getting a job abroad, OFWs invest in application requirements and spend for transportation, communication, food and rentals (for those coming from the provinces and rural communities). Thus, OFWs have to deal with these financial concerns and they borrow money from friends, neighbors and even relatives. Where does the first pay check go? Bet that every centavo is accounted for.

We often forget that OFWs have basic needs to spend their money with while they are away from home. Working in another country does not guarantee that everything comes free of charge. Most of the time, cost of living is high in other parts of the globe. Some OFWs are not lucky enough to have free board and lodging as part of their contracts. Food expenses take a lot of their hard earned money. An OFW does not become an instant millionaire upon stepping in foreign shores. Their families also have to think this way and try to live within their means.  How could an OFW live abroad when there is not much to spend or to save? So better stick to the bare essentials and keep everything tight.

A popular anecdote among OFWs is that when they set foot in another country, they acquire more relatives and friends along the way. It is therefore a common situation to see relatives and friends borrowing money from an OFW thinking the OFW is now well-off.

Unluckily, not all those who borrow money from an OFW pay in return. Before lending your money to others, OFWs should prioritize buying a lot and building a house after paying off their own debts. Investing in real estate and the family nest is a good option for the long term.

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 *Alex Rosete is a certified life coach and is part of a global coaching community called Life Coach Philippines. He is also a teacher, trainer and consultant on communication, human resources management and public administration.