Story by Rallieza Carbajosa, Grade 10-SMAT
Photos by Marifel Alfaro
San Carlos City, NEGROS OCCIDENTAL—Colegio de Sto. Tomas-Recoletos’ Thomasian na Anak OFW is a special group of students who are children of Overseas Filipino Workers. Established in 2016, TAO envisions to provide holistic support system to Thomasians whose parents are OFW. Inevitably, these children are products of absentee and alternative parenting. TAO is committed to hold an annual acquaintance fellowship day to introduce these students to a Thomasian community of children of OFWs.
Last August 23, 2019, the group had a gathering which the CST-R Students Development and Placement Center (SDPC) has been doing for the past 10 years. However, it was only in 2016 when the organization was finally established as TAO.
ABCDE for TAO
A Holy Eucharist at the St. Thomas of Villanueva Chapel-CST-R commenced the fellowship day that welcomed 63 seventh graders into the embrace of TAO.
Fray Vicente L. Ramon, Jr., OAR, whose own father once worked overseas, related during his homily that, “I [would] only see my father three times a year.”
Fray Ramon shared how the first five letters of the alphabet helped him survive that difficult phase of his growing years. He emphasized that TAO members and OFW children should always remember the following:
A means Always Pray. He reminded everyone to always pray for their parents’ safety.
B means Believe That You are Loved. “They work because of their love for you; their motivation is that you are loved by them and they want the best education for you,” Fray Ramon lectured.
C means Count Your Blessing. “We dwell on the negative, on the things that we don’t have.” He continued, “In spite of [your parent’s] absence, you receive a blessing and you should count that.”
D means Deliver Your Share. The share of OFW children, according to Fray Ramon, is to do well with their studies. “Their sacrifice will not be in vain when you study well and do good in school.”
E means Enjoy [Your Parent’s] Presence. Since OFW parents rarely come home, their children must enjoy their company and be happy that they have come home. He added that, “Thomasian students should be the best anak of OFW.”
Having been greeted with a high five from the facilitators, TAO members entered the next phase of the fellowship day with high energy and gusto.
Awareness versus Stigma
Ms. Ma. Nita V. Bolo, MAEd, RGC, CST-R Guidance Counselor, shared her experiences when she herself was an OFW. The sharing allowed the new TAO members to realize that the set-up of their family is not an isolated case and that there are several individuals who understand their concerns and struggles.
Ms. Bolo later on discussed the three different types of OFW which are the Immigrants, who are permanent residents abroad, the Irregular Migrants, and third are the Overseas Contract Workers, who periodically work abroad within a specified contract.
Included in the orientation was tagging the members to key acronyms relevant to them and their family like: OFW or Overseas Filipino Worker, OWWA or Overseas Worker Welfare Administration, POEA or Philippines Overseas Employment Administration, DOLE or Department of Labor and Employment and, of course, TAO or Thomasian na Anak OFW.
“Please remember all these acronyms so that when your parents mention these you have an idea that where she’s going is important.”
Unfortunately, during the discussion about the 10 major occupational categories of OFWs, it turned out that many TAO members, just like many OFW children, do not even know where exactly their parents work or what exactly do they do for a living abroad. This lack of awareness among the family members of the Philippines’ “biggest tax payers” contribute highly to the stress that OFW children deal with.
Based on government data, OFWs bring in an “estimated 185.6 B” of remittances from April to December 2018 alone. OFWs are now the modern-day heroes for the economy of the Philippines is afloat because of their contribution.
Coping Mechanisms for an OFW Kid
During the 15-minute postcard making session, two TAO members showed their works.
Elsie shared a picture of a girl saying that “Even though she came from a broken family she still manages to stand up and live life.” Another member opened up how “I miss my father so much.” Joel’s tearful but brief sharing also made other TAO members emotional.
Little do some OFW children know the main reasons for their parent’s decision to work abroad like the high unemployment rate here, the low salary for professionals, the persistence of contractual employment, and the poor benefits. Despite these varying reasons, still OFW children need to cope with either alternative parenting or solo parenting. They need to adjust and, at a young age, try to be independent and responsible.
Charry Giltentez, a senior high school daughter of an OFW father, shared her life story to inspire and encourage fellow TAO members. “Even though your parents are not here, you should encourage yourself, you should be strong and you should guide yourself even when they are not here.”
True to the most common symbol of OFWS, TAO members went through the “Balikbayan Box” activity. Participants wrote all the possible things that can be found in a balikbayan box in just five minutes. The activity aimed to teach gratitude for both material and non-material blessings and recognition to gift givers, the most common role of OFW parents in the lives of their children.
The last workshop of the acquaintance fellowship highlighted key points in the developing life of an OFW child including the hardest moment, the unforgettable moment, the unforgettable pasalubong, the biggest challenge, the silver lining and wish.
“I just believe that me and my Mama will be reunited and promised her that I will give back all her sacrifices and hardwork for me,” Carla spoke in between tears of hope. This is here eponymous “silver lining.”
TAO is Support System
CST-R TAO organizes activities, group dynamic sessions and fellowships throughout the school year to provide children of OFW a support system with whom they can share their struggles. It is made possible with the management of SDPC and the volunteer Thomasians of Team Event.