Broken dreams… Broken souls…
Four women with a common dream: to provide their families with comfortable lives.
Four women with a common solution: work in a foreign land which promises better salary, better lives.
Four women with a common realization: Not all dreams can come true in a foreign land. Worse, a promised land can be a land of horrible things one can only imagine. Worst, some dreams can turn into a nightmare…
Four women who share the tales of thousands of men and women working in a foreign country: abused, molested, maltreated, unpaid salaries. Years of suffering and living in fear of either being killed or being the one who kill an abusive employer . As one participant said, “mahirap po kami pero ni minsan, hindi ako kumain ng panis na pagkain na ipinapakain sa amin dito ng aming amo.”
Another participant confided, “napakahirap po na sarilinin ang mga pang aabuso, pati po mga sexual advances ng mga amo kasi ayaw mo’ng ipaalam ito sa iyong pamilya, lalung-lalo na sa iyong asawa dahil ayaw mo’ng mag worry sila.”
While physical abuse, fatigue and hunger can be tolerated, sexual advances, molestation, and sexual abuse will be a reason for one to run away sans money, clothes and the important documents one needs to find another employer so the plight of Filipino TNTs (those who are not officially employed and avoid the authorities by living from one place to another) become even harder. But one has to do everything to survive and find a means to send money, no matter how small an amount, to the families who are counting off the days for the next “allowance/allotment day.”
These are common stories of our fellow Filipinos who dreamt big but prematurely returned to the country broken, distressed, depressed…
Stories that are growing in numbers and threatening the very foundation of the OFWs dreams: their families.
This is the reason why the government, through the National Reintegration Center for OFWs partnered with the Asian Academy for Applied Entrepreneurship, came up with a Psycho-social Counseling Programs for distressed OFWs and their families. The program aims to assist the distressed OFWs who found themselves jobless and penniless in rebuilding their lives by making them realize that some adversities can be turned into opportunities given both social and moral support from family members and significant others. Director Chona Mantilla was instrumental in ensuring that this pilot program takes off to what could be a mainstay program intervention specially for distressed OFWs. Psychologists Mabel Opilas Layugan and Kaye Vardeleon joined me in crafting a program designed to gather back the pieces of the broken OFWs along with their equally distressed families.
As the program title implies, Mga Kuwento ng Paglalakbay is a training workshop that allowed the OFWs to take a journey of their lives: by reliving some parts of their past, link them to their present journey, and come up with a future they would want to have, given the chance and the resources.
The three-day program aims to help the participants identify and reinforce their positive coping strategies and articulate a plan towards improved individual and family well-being.
On the first day, using the Appreciative Inquiry (AI), where the OFWs and their families were made to think of the most significant or happiest day of their lives, what they value about them and made them realize that given their present circumstances, it is still possible to have whatever it is they valued from their past in the near future. AI can beautifully cruise the participants back in the past to celebrate that peak moment when the person was most alive and complete. It leads to the realization that it once have happened and could happen again given the circumstances that led to it. The current values are surfaced out to ensure that what matters most to the person are considered into the journey to the envisioned future. The AI connects the discovery, to dreaming, designing and destiny which the person is bound to pursue.
AI enables the person, along with the family to feel good about what is left, rather than regret for what was lost. It sees the life as half full rather than half empty. It leads into the conclusion that as the past saw it happening, and given what is left to use in the present, the future can be constructed by choices, solutions and actions. In the end, celebrations.
On the second day, the OFWs were made to share their experiences from the foreign land and see how these experiences are affecting their lives at the moment. The OFWs and their families were then tasked to bag their burdens and identify strategies they use to cope with these burdens. These strategies were then used as means for them to reach their desired future. It was also shown how, without their coping strategies, the OFWs, together with their families, can easily become victims of stress, depression and ill-being.
At the end of the three-day program, the OFWs and their families were able to address sensitive issues brought forth by their unfavorable experiences abroad: a feeling of grief and guilt, worry and suspicions of infidelity, loneliness and hopelessness and a feeling of incapacity and/or inadequacy to help one’s partner in a very trying situation. Each family as able to commit to a resolution to work strongly together as a family and rebuild their lives and their dreams in a safer place: their homeland!