In life, there are sacrifices you must make to achieve your dreams. For Jennifer Alumbro and Joelle Galapin, these life-changing adjustments include giving up their jobs as domestic helpers in Hong Kong to be part of the Philippine women's cricket team in the 2023 South East Asian (SEA) Games.
The 32nd edition of the sports competition began on May 5 and ended on May 17 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and had many players striving to emerge victorious and make their country proud. After all, getting to play at something prestigious as the SEA games is a chance of a lifetime.
This is why Alumbro and Galapin took the courageous path of representing the Philippines in cricket even if it requires losing their source of income as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
In this interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, the two SEA Games players highlight how making sacrifices for your goals is not something to be afraid of, and that there is no such thing as "too late" in making your dreams come true.
A rock and a hard place
In a lower middle-income country such as the Philippines, it is common for working-class citizens to choose financial security over their heart's desire. Many opt to work abroad as domestic helpers to provide a better life for their families, including Alumbro and Galapin.
Although the two of them managed to learn the sport and become pro players all while working as domestic helpers, the two were not spared from having to give up one for the other. When Alumbro and Galapin were selected to play in this year's SEA Games, their employers in Hong Kong won't allow them to participate.
"Every Sunday, naglalaro at nagte-training kami. Pag-uwi mo ng bahay, you have to work pa rin. Ako, naranasan ko na nagkasakit ako doon kasi nahawaan ako ng alaga ko. Kahit may sakit ka, you have to work, you have to work talaga. Tapos noong humingi ako ng three weeks na bakasyon dahil sa SEA Games, ayaw nilang magbigay," Galapin recalled.
She was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and knew that the only way through is to keep her job or to go after her dreams. Galapin then decided not to let this opportunity slip out of her fingers, especially with her age in mind.
She elaborated, "It's a one-time opportunity, atsaka may edad na din kami. Kaya sabi ko, I have to quit my job for this. Sabi ko, 'di bali nang wala akong sasahurin for the meantime, makakahanap at makakahanap pa rin ako ng trabahao pagkatapos ng SEA Games."
For 34-year-old Alumbro, she was fortunate enough to work for an employer who was supportive of her journey to become a professional cricket player. Prior to joining the SEA Games, she represented the Philippines in Dubai for the Fairbreak Invitational, a privately funded women's cricket tournament.
"'Yung amo ko supportive siya when I joined cricket in Hong Kong. So when I asked her na ma-select ako to represent the country, happy siya kasi every time I go on a day off, I do productive things not illegal or something. So noong time na yun, nag-ask ako to join the national squad, she said okay," Alumbro recalled.
However, things took a different turn when she moved to another employer right when she was about to participate in the SEA Games.
"Naka-full contract kami sa employer. So the go signal kung sasali kami or not, manggagaling talaga sa employer. Kahit gusto man namin, kung hindi kami papayagan, wala kaming magagawa," she said.
"I have to explain why I joined the competition. Hindi siya pumayag. That's why I also decided to quit my job and say to myself, 'The job is still there.' Pwede ako mag-apply, but the SEA Games, hindi namin alam kung kailan ako mase-select ulit. So I said, 'I will go for this then I will quit my job.'" she continued. "So far, I applied again and maybe after the SEA Games, I will still process my papers and go back to Hong Kong."
In today's tough times, a lot of people wouldn't even take the risk of leaving their job for something as monumental as the SEA Games. But Alumbro and Galapin had a simple reason for doing so: "We need to prove ourselves na we can do other things, not just domestic helper tasks."
From beginners to experts
The women fostered a love for playing cricket, thanks to Josie Arimas, the captain and co-founder of the SCC Divas which is Hong Kong's first cricket team composed of Filipino domestic helpers. Alumbro was one of the first players to join the team in 2017, but she was still learning the ropes back then.
"Wala akong idea noong nag-try out ako noong 2017. Parang na-learn ko lang siya sa mga coach na nagpa-try out then cotinuing na yung training saka yung training namin with the coaches at kasama sa mga teammates namin," she said.
Galapin joined the team after her, having long been encouraged by Arimas to join. Like Alumbro, she was also new to the game of cricket.
"Talagang in-encourage kami ni Ate Josie na i-try, 'Aralin mo kasi madali lang talaga siyang aralin.' At saka ang cricket, madami talaga siyang offer. Pwede kang maglaro sa Hong Kong, nakakalaro ka pa ng international, so alam mong gusto mo talaga maging part ng cricket, mag-improve, para ma-achieve mo yung level ng international games," Galapin highlighted.
So how did these women, who only had few years of experience in the sport, eventually become part of the SEA Games?
Alumbro and Galapin's names were submitted to the officials of the Philippine Cricket Association, who deliberated on the players based on their capability to shine in the esteemed sports competition.
"Every games kasi mayroon kaming mga statistics. Ito 'yung batting niya, ganito. Ito 'yung bowling niya, ganito. Kaya doon sila nagbe-base kung sino ang kukunin nila," Galapin explained.
It was both an honor and a heavy responsibility for the two, as they now had to prove that they deserve to represent the Philippines against top players from 10 other countries in Southeast Asia.
And they had to do this while they are only given a day to train every week in Hong Kong. Their training, Alumbro said, focused on batting, bowling, and fielding.
"Doon sa Hong Kong nagte-training kami every Sunday," Galapin said. "So isang beses lang kami nagte-training sa isang week. Iyon talaga ang pinaka-challenge sa amin. Then nag-quit na kami [ng job], we went back home, then self-training nalang dito sa Pinas for three weeks."
While their experience playing softball eased their adjustment to cricket, they still had to work extra hard as their time for training is only limited to two to three hours per day. This is because they also needed time to get some rest from their daily tasks as domestic helpers.
"'Yung bowling, batting, at fielding, masasanay ka kasi atleta ka eh, madali lang aralin. Pero 'yung time na gusto mo pa matutunan, hindi mo magawa kasi isang beses lang kami nagte-training for a week," Galapin said.
Beacon of inspiration
When one works hard to achieve their goals, the fruits of their labor are ever more bountiful. This is proven true by the Philippine women's cricket team when they placed second in the women’s 6 A Side category against Indonesia, bringing home a silver medal for the country.
It is an achievement that cannot be downplayed, especially because this is the first time the Philippines competed in women's cricket in the SEA Games.
"Sobrang nakaka-proud mo na alam mo 'yung narepresent mo 'yung country natin doon sa SEA Games. Noong nanalo kami ng silver, sobrang dami naming iyak. Sobrang nakaka-proud na na-represent ang country natin sa ganyang competition," Galapin said.
"Overwhelmed kami kasi first time naming maglaro then first time namin i-campaign itong cricket sa SEA Games, so at least may na-prove kami na maybe the next generation will bring home the gold or be much stronger than we were. As long as we know in ourselves na we did our best kahit ganoon lang naiuwi namin," Alumbro added.
Even though the SEA Games is now behind them, Galapin and Alumbro continue to serve as inspiration not only for aspiring Filipino athletes but also for OFWs who want to make a mark in the world.
Asked what others can learn from their experiences, Galapin said, "Dapat willing ka to sacrifice for your dreams and that age doesn't matter to win."
Alumbro added, "Maybe they need to make us their inspiration, that whatever we have achieved, they can achieve more. And they also need to think that whatever they want to do in their lives, they must believe in themselves that they can do them."