2.2 million. According to 2020 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there are 2.2 million OFWs scattered across the globe. A majority of this staggering number are women, most of whom are mothers, and many, if not all, chose to trade off precious time spent with their kids so they can provide for their education, and give them a better shot at life.
We are no strangers to OFW stories: the pain of separation from their kids, the devastation after discovering a husband’s infidelity, the constant pressure of having to send money back home.
These themes, after all, are a staple in many an OFW narrative, but OFW moms are also bearers of stories teeming with joy, triumph, and pride.
For Mothers’ Day, PhilSTAR L!fe talks to five OFW mothers based in different parts of the world to celebrate some of their life’s biggest milestones, and honor their stories as women, mothers, sisters, heroes.
Elanie Laguimun, OFW for 9 years, the US
‘The thought of being able to send them to good schools gives me so much pride and joy.’
“I work as a private caregiver. My specialization is Alzheimer’s cases.” For the past nine years, Elanie has spent most of her waking hours taking care of older people who are not even related to her.
“The challenge of being an OFW is homesickness. For almost seven years, I cry most of the time when I think about my children, especially the two younger ones whom I left when they were just 11 and 3 years old.”
She says that to this day, it breaks her heart knowing that she missed important events in their lives like their graduation and birthdays, “It crushes my heart every time I think about all these moments, but I have no other option but to stay strong so I can provide for their education.”
Elanie beams as she shares that despite being away from her kids, seeing her two older daughters graduate from college gives her immeasurable joy. She admits that she could probably not have done it if she chose to stay in the Philippines.
She reminds fellow OFW moms to “be strong. Focus on your goal. And most of all, be steadfast in your faith in God. Keep praying. Have constant communication with your children and with your family.”
Michelle Daguso Miranda, OFW for 10 years, Australia
“My biggest achievement is keeping my family together.”
For more than a decade, Michelle has worked tirelessly as an OFW in Singapore and in Australia where she and her family are now based. “I support families with children with special needs and help them achieve their goals,” she says of her job in Sydney.
She recounts that the lack of support and homesickness caused her much distress in her first few years abroad. “Good thing, nowadays, it is easier to communicate through video calls.”
Michelle knows that OFWs work too hard and too often they forget to take care of themselves. She reminds them, “You should never neglect self-care and always prioritize your well being. Join a support group, advocate work-life balance, and above all pray for guidance and strength.”
Myziel Castillo, OFW for 30 years, Japan
“Napagtapos ko ang mga kapatid ko.”
Myziel has been an OFW for as long as she can remember, and has done all sorts of work, from being a bento cook to moonlighting as a fruit farmer. She shares how the most challenging aspect of being away from home is having to do everything. “You have no relatives who will assist you like in the Philippines.”
She considers herself luckier than most OFW moms because she has never been separated from her only child, Kota. “I have been with my son the entire time. I raised him and did not miss a lot (of memories) for which I am very thankful.”
However, she was also a mother to the siblings she left behind in the Philippines. For many years, she worked several jobs, pulling all-nighters and waking up before the crack of dawn just so she could send her younger siblings to school.
“Achievements? Having been able to get my siblings to finish school, one of whom earned a master’s degree in Australia.” She shares that she derives so much happiness from knowing where her siblings are now.
She adds, “Trust God, put him at the center (of your life), set your goals and focus on achieving them. Pamper yourself from time to time. You need to be happy for you to be able to wholeheartedly help other people.”
Leni Bacay, OFW for 22 years, Italy
“Ipinagmamalaki kong napagtapos ko sa pag-aaral ang mga anak ko.”
Leni has worked as an OFW for more than two decades, taking on caregiving work in Israel and Italy. “Sa kasalukuyan, nag-aalaga ako ng matanda from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.”
Like most OFWs, she left her family behind so she could give them a better life.
She says that she feels the happiest when she is able to send money to her loved ones back home. Aside from being able to send her kids to college, Leny was able to buy a parcel of land and start a small business in the Philippines.
Marlyn Sasaki, OFW for 25 years, Japan
“Kaligayahan ko ang makitang maayos ang paglaki ng aking mga anak.”
“Marami na rin akong napasukan na trabaho,” shares Marlyn. “Like electronic parts assembly. Tapos ‘yong tinatawag dito sa Japan na izakaya o maliit lang na kainan, at the same time pwede rin uminom ng alak. Nagluluto at nagseserve din.”
She recounts the different challenges she faced when she was starting out as an OFW, “Sa umpisa hindi naman ako marunong pang mag-Nihonggo at iba ang kultura nila.” She now speaks Japanese fluently and has adapted to life in Japan, “Siyempre sa pagdaan ng panahon nakaka-adopt ka na rin sa kanilang culture at isa pa maraming mga kaibigan sa church. Malaking tulong ito sa akin.”
What she considers her biggest joy is seeing how her children were able to grow up into decent and responsible adults
Marlyn admonishes fellow OFWs to not send all their earnings back home. “Mag-ipon kayo. Huwag ipadala lahat ng pera mo para pag-uwi mo may pera ka rin.”
A few more pieces of advice for OFW moms
We also talked to Fr. Rogelio “Rodge” Cardenas, CM, Superior of the Congregation of the Mission in Japan, who has served as counselor and friend to many OFWs in Japan for the past 13 years.
He says OFWs should also try to avail of “free language classes offered by local municipalities. Be creative, try learning new skills, study online to improve yourself.”
To battle loneliness, he advises: “Don’t forget to pray to God. Join communities like a church community and volunteer in church activities. Find time to relax and go out with good friends. Call your family and friends using your social media if you need it.”