This is not just my story. Every Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) has his/her own story to tell. Mine is unlike any other OFW, yet we all have the same dreams and aspirations and our struggles are nearly similar. Our primary purpose is to provide better lives for our families back home.
It was on May 2006 when I first left my homeland, the Philippines, for Saudi Arabia. I was filled with mixed emotion for I didn’t know what my future had in store for me and my heart was so broken from leaving my family behind. In the hours that I traveled, the scene with my mother, who was wailing like a child, just kept replaying through my mind. My now teenage sons were very young back then, ages 9 and 5. I would ask myself, "How could I leave them like that?" and the only answers I'd get were tears in my eyes. All I could think about were the words my mother spoke while she was crying, "I don't want you to go, but I cannot stop you because if I did, I could not stand to see you struggle financially." So I realized I have a responsibility as a mother; it is my job to raise my kids as a single parent. I had to be strong and think about the positive outcome.
Aware of what I was going into, I prepared myself to work as a domestic helper – an agreement I had made through a relative. She told me that it I wouldn't offer any payment and it was just a stepping stone, and she would see what else she could do later. When I first set foot at my employer's doorstep, I was completely shocked because the house was too big for me to clean up alone. Yes, I was told that I would serve my employer's mother, but it turned out that I would be serving her, her children and grandson. Later on, another Filipina joined me and it worked out for a couple months despite the verbal abuse from my employer's mother. I had no problem with her children because they treated me fairly – but they were not always around to defend me.
Abuse has many faces. It doesn't come out in just one form. I believe we should not say unkind words to others. I tried to overcome my disappointments in a very constructive way. Many times, I envisioned myself working freely in one of the companies in Jeddah.
I asked my relative to pull me out from this employer and provide me a new one but she refused. In fact, she even made the matter worse by demanding me to repay her for the fees paid for my employment. She convinced me to wait for three more months but I ran out of time and patience. I felt like I had the right to fight back. I feared for myself because I thought their abusive words would soon turn into actions. The workload and the verbal aggression were just too exhausting. Besides, my co-worker's plan to resign worried me and I did not want to be left alone again. So, I decided it was time to run away.
Yes, I ran away assertively! I did not go back to work after my day off. I knew that I put myself in danger and was in hiding for two weeks. I sought help from Filipino friends and I eventually found a very respectful employer who believed in my office skills.
It was then that the word, "Oneness" began to have meaning for me. We are all connected regardless of nationality, status in life and relationship. The people who helped me out were not related to me by blood. The employer who opened new opportunities for me was not a Filipino. There is so much kindness in this world if we try reach out to others.
I know that my situation was not as bad as other oppressed OFWs. I know that the decision I made was not even the best solution. I know that the right move should have been to seek for assistance from the Philippine Embassy. I put the risk in my own hands and do not encourage others to do the same. However, I've also learned that it pays off when we speak out, when we fight for our rights, when we pay-it-forward, when we show more kindness and compassion towards others and when we avoid hatred and bitterness as much as possible.
ABOUT NIENA SEVILLA
Niena is from Palompon, Leyte, Philippines. She's been an Overseas Filipino Worker based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for seven years. She was an active officer and member of the Jaycees and proudly believes "that service to humanity is the best work of life."
Though she is a thousand miles away from her country, the Philippines, her thoughts are always with her children.