OFWs reach out

>> Sunday, August 10, 2008

News of ka-ilian Robert Degawan hit with stroke while in Korea comes in trying times to the life of an overseas contract worker and people around. Being a migrant worker, one gets out from the confines of home and be vulnerable to risks and uncertainties. That is, risks of being alone in a far away place when tragedy strikes as getting sick, abused, helpless, lonely, or in extremely unfortunate cases, death.

With no one familiar except one’s face in a strange land, the migrant worker first relies for help on friends and ka-ilian (townmate) within the immediate vicinity in times of distress.

I came to know of Robert’s case through a chat with an aunt who works in Korea as a factory worker. She also happens to be a relative by affinity of Robert. She attends the same Catholic church with Robert and other OFW - Cordillerans.

Below are some information which she shared to me which is relevant to any other migrant worker elsewhere in this world. Together with Roland ‘Balanza’ Bosaing who heads the Korea-based Sagada Migrant Workers Organization, they approached the help of another kailian who gave initial support for the patient’s hospital fees. Just like most hospitals today in the Philippines and elsewhere, this certain hospital in Korea apparently does not do the necessary operation until initial amount is given but that’s another story.

Back to migrant work.

In almost all places where migrant workers are found, the presence of an OFW organization helps. This is where immediate support in one way or another comes in. Robert is a member of the Sagada migrant workers organization and a former officer. The organization is now soliciting funds to help defray his hospital costs. Being a church member also helps. The Catholic priest in charge of the pastoral center, Fr Paul Cho, visits the patient and helps out in any which way he can. Also, ka-ilian find ways in how to reach out to their own relatives and ka-ilian.

Lynette, a Korea-based kailian migrant worker informed her uncle based in the US about Robert’s situation. The information found its way to the Saint Marys egroups to the desk of the Social Concerns office of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. ECP now coordinates with Shalom Center of the Anglican church based in Korea. First things first done, migrant workers now await support from relatives back home and institutions supposed to be attentive to migrant workers’ woes. Immediate relatives who most of the time are away from the victim, now have basic information how to respond to the situation. And so with institutions including the church and the respective Philippine Embassy.

With over eight million Filipino migrant workers who are abroad working as domestic helpers, construction workers, drivers, care givers, English teachers, and other low paid menial jobs in order to support their families, vulnerability to exploitation, distress, sickness and untimely death are close. This include other professional jobs such as nurses, dentists and engineers who are better located yet are still vulnerable to related migrant workers’ issues.

Such that the presence of support systems like a close circle of friends, an organization, the church, are immediate sources of support. In most cases, the employer is a source of problem thus had not been a support system to turn to.

It is at trying and difficult times that the Philippine Embassy located in each country have their responsibility to attend to the needs of migrant workers immediately.

Indeed, answering 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product, migrant workers sent $14.45 billion through banks in 2007 exceeding the central bank's target by $100 million.

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