March 17, 2007
She has such a pretty smile. And her laugh is refreshing. But I seldom see her smile and I seldom hear her laugh. She’d be sulking in her room, sketching, filling up her journal.
She is my cousin Grace – a teenager, an only child and an example of a disturbed victim of a broken home caused by the parents’ need to work abroad.
Both her parents are nurses. Her father (my uncle) just moved from
Fiji Islands to California and her mother is in . In their initial arrangement, her mother went back to Saudi when Grace was three years old. She was left with her father who was a nurse in a local hospital. Saudi Arabia
Later on, due to long separation, her mother had extra-marital affairs the led to the couple’s divorce. When Grace’s parents separated, her father then decided to work abroad to better provide for them both, leaving her to my mother’s care.
She may not tell what she really feels, but through the way she sometimes isolates herself from us, as if she had built an invisible barricade to shut people out, I know she is in pain. And I try to put myself in her shoes, imagine myself looking at my own family the way she probably sees it – a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and three children. I know it is a hard situation for a teen to go through.
Children like Grace who were left behind by their parents to work abroad may understand the reason for their parents’ departure – that they want the best for their children. Usually, these kids come from young families, thus their ages range from 0 to 17 years old. The parents may be able to provide their children’s material needs. But what they are risking are the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social well-being of their kids.
Originally in a Filipino home, the mother stays behind to take care of her children andmake a home while the father goes to work to financially provide for his family. But as our country’s economic and political status waver, the income that the father takes home is not enough anymore to meet the needs of the family. Thus, many Filipino mothers decide to work overseas to help their spouse meet the same lifestyle (or make it better) that they are used to.
According to a study, in the 1970s, male migrants dominated the labor migration. The absence of the father was seen to have weakened Filipino families. Then, in the 1980s, women became part of labor migration. Out of 858,000 migrants in 2000, almost 70% were women. And of these women, an estimate of 75% is married and 90% of them have children.
It is estimated that 3 to 6 million children have been left behind by Filipino parents. Most of these children are undergoing puberty, the most critical developmental stage of a person.
Mostly, these mothers work away on contracts that range from ten months to five years. Therefore the children are left behind the care of their fathers (who may be working as well), grandparents, extended families, and sometimes, even non-relatives. These groups are the ones filling a very important void in the caring and rearing of children that only a mother could provide.
What then are the outcomes of this arrangement? Yes, they made have improved the material condition of the children left behind. Their minimum of P10,000 remittances improve their household finances, and their children’s education and health. They are able to provide their children with the newest cellphone models, laptop computers, branded clothing and Extreme Magic Sing videoke. But as a result, the children suffer the psychological, social and emotional costs of their departure.
They may be studying in the best private schools, but who would go to their PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) meetings? Their house help, or an older sibling? Who would go with them in their enrolment? Who would put on their medals when they achieve awards? As of the girls, who would advice and talk to them about puberty, and menstruation, and what sanitary pad to use? Who would help them get dressed and tell them that they look very nice in their JS Prom? Who would teach these children good values and moral conduct? Aside from their school teachers (if they would pay attention to them at all) who would stir in their hearts the love for nation? And who would develop in them the fear and love for God?
Children of OFWs face the difficulties of neglect, poor performance in school due to lack of self-confidence, delinquency and psychological and relationship problems. Compared to children with both parents around, these children experience loneliness and abandonment. They become problematic as they confront issues in physiological change, love and sex, and substance abuse. They also tend to develop materialistic values and even become extravagant as they become overly dependent on money and gifts from overseas. And they are likely to grow up susceptible to drug abuse and early pregnancies and marriages. Thus another sets of families are in lined to poverty.
These are the children who, as Dr. Jose Rizal had said, are the hope of the nation. The youth holds the future of our country. Their offspring could be the start of the generation rooted on high moral values, who would love God and
. A generation that would re-establish the strength of Filipino families. But could we consider these 6 million lost, and emotionally and psychologically unstable children able to fulfill this task? Philippines
It’s not wrong to want a better life and be able to indulge on the material things that money can buy. It’s not wrong to dream that one day your family would be able to live in a prettier house and have a car. It’s not wrong to want your kids go to the best schools. It’s not wrong to have money that might be more than enough. But first see what the risks would be? What would you be leaving behind if you go away? What would you be missing in exchange of a higher income?
I remember a friend who said her dream for the
is that one day Filipinos wouldn’t be going away. Instead, people would be coming here because life here is so good. Philippines
And as I look at my cousin Grace, and read the letters that her father sent, her telling how much she is loved and missed despite the distance between them, I want to add up something to that dream. I dream that one day Filipino families would be re-united. They would stay stick together, serve one another and would grow old together, not in Saudi or anywhere else, but here in the