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Blood, Sweat Blood, & Sweat Cheers & Changed Lives of Overseas Cheers Filipino Workers in Italy Changed of Changed LivesLives of Overseas Overseas Filipino Workers Filipino Workers in Italy

Cristina M. Liamzon Mary Alexis Montelibano-Salinas Edgardo T. Valenzuela Kim T. Viray Cristina M. Liamzon Mary Alexis Montelibano-Salinas Edgardo T. Valenzuela Kim T. Viray

PHILIPPINES


CONTENTS FOREWORD

Dean Antonio La Viña vii

MESSAGES

Maris Gavino

PREFACE

Cristina Liamzon xi

ix

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS xvi INTRODUCTION Empowering Overseas Filipinos, One Migrant at a Time: The LSE Program 1 The Context: Some Facts and Figures on Overseas Filipinos in Italy

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I. THE STORIES Prologue: Blood, Sweat and Cheers 14 I Am Not Alone

Rhoda P. Amodia 19

Baligtad na Tsinelas (Inverted Slippers)

Hazel Ycaza 31

Second Choice… Second Best

Mary Jane Cruzat 41

Passages in Life

Roscelle Ventura-Isla 49

Moving Beyond Problems

Thess Borje

55


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Contents

Journey to a Dream

Marieta Gonzales

63

Not By Chance

Rizalina Almoneda

71

A Light in the Dark

Leo Virtucio

79

From Vice to Spice

Renato Gipan

85

Building Dreams

Ronie Hernandez

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EPILOGUE: Possibilities and Power for Change

104

NOTES ON THE STORYTELLERS

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II. THE JOURNEY CONTINUES The Challenges of Change for the LSE OFW Community The LSE Initiative in Italy: An Overview

112

A Partnership for OFW Empowerment: Migration and Development Council

133

Moving Forward: Challenges Facing Overseas Filipinos and their Families in Italy

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS/EDITORS

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FOREWORD

The world is changing very rapidly and what seems like ordinary challenges before have turned out to be far more complex in today’s times. Indeed, we need new and creative solutions to old social problems. The Philippines, for instance, is marred by decades-long battle with poverty, corruption, environmental degradation, unemployment, and armed conflicts, among others. Yet, despite governmental efforts to solve these problems, they remain as they were, plaguing lives and slowing the country’s economic growth. This is why many more groups and individuals today than in the previous years are seeking alternative ways in which to address these important present-day challenges. Social entrepreneurship, as most of you have already probably heard, is one such way. It is defined as an innovative way of solving social ills using entrepreneurial skills. Those who are in this field are what we call social entrepreneurs. They are keen to creating social values by way of pursuing new opportunities, continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning, without being limited by resources. Indeed, social entrepreneurship is about changing what is an old and ineffective approach to things into new, innovative, scalable, and sustainable ways, to spawn opportunities for economic and social


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growth and development of the marginalized sectors of society. It is in this light that the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASoG) took the lead in promoting social entrepreneurship in the Philippines and among Filipinos abroad since 2007. Moreover, one of ASoG’s important initiatives is the Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship Program (LSE) launched 2008 in Italy, which aimed to enhance the leadership and social entrepreneurship skills of our OFWs. Since then, those who have been part of this year-long program (now a six-month long program) have been seen with positive changes in their lives. Now, after several years of painstakingly putting this together, we have a book to share with everyone; one that is filled with remarkable stories of hope, aspirations, inspiration and courage to rediscover one’s self, to find life’s purpose and meaning, and to start dreaming, again, not only for one’s self but also for others, and God. The program has, indeed, helped these individuals to rebuild their lives so that they too, as shown, are able to help themselves, their families, and the community where they belong, with their newly acquired skills as leaders and social entrepreneurs. ANTONIO LA VIÑA

Dean, Ateneo School of Government


PREFACE

Producing this book has been a few years in the making. What I originally thought would be an easy project turned out to be long-drawn out, getting stalled and shelved for months at a time. Many of those involved in the project probably assumed that it was one of those ambitious projects that was quite exciting at first but fizzled out when the initial steam and enthusiasm had run out and couldn’t be rejuvenated till its completion. In other words, it was destined to be yet another ningas kugon project. The fact that this book has finally been published even after a few years is proof that the reason for its being remains compelling. The passion that initially propelled its inception was rekindled time and again despite setbacks and discouragement. I hadn’t quite realized that this project would be vastly different compared with my previous writing projects, mostly development-related materials. This book definitely needed among others, more heart and soul in capturing the stories behind the stories and the active collaboration of a large number of people which took considerable time, patience, and understanding. The primary goal and objective in producing this book was to help Filipino women and men working


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overseas, specifically in Italy, to have an opportunity to tell their stories, to find their voice. Ordinary overseas Filipinos, living and working in Italy, or wherever they may be in over 160 countries and territories, are not just mere statistics‌they are flesh and blood human beings -- wives, husbands, parents, sons and daughters – with numerous inspiring stories to tell about their lives, stories of struggle that many others can relate to, stories of empowerment and change. In the beginning of this project, I assumed that all I basically needed to do was to request the graduates of the Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (LSE) Training Program for Overseas Filipinos in Italy to share their stories and to write these up. Editor friends and I could then just edit, embellish these and then approach possible publishers to produce and market the final product. It proved, however, to be a lot more complicated than that and there were plenty times when I too actually doubted that it would ever be published. The first hurdle was convincing a critical number of LSE graduates to relate their stories, if not to actually write them. I initially approached the graduates of the first batch, the LSE1. Many were enthusiastic and eagerly embraced the idea of being interviewed and putting into writing their lives and the various experiences they had been through both in the Philippines prior to their arrival in Italy and their stay in Italy itself. However, I realized that while many were keen at the start, doubts about opening up their lives for the public to read crept in and only a handful finally agreed to share their stories. Most however were not prepared to share their stories of difficulties, pains and hurts nor the challenges they have had to confront as Filipino migrant workers or in their


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previous lives before becoming OFWs. It was then that I also requested graduates from LSE 2 to write up their stories. Again, those who willingly volunteered to become part of this endeavor did not find storytelling to be as easy as what it seemed to be in the beginning. This was one of several points when the project stalled. It was when Kim Viray, herself a graduate of the first batch of the LSE in Rome volunteered her services to anchor the project, that the project really took off. Kim has the talent of drawing from her interviewees a lot of their hidden selves which would probably not have found their way into the stories had Kim not coaxed them to reveal themselves in their vulnerability. She also has a writing style that combines a seriousness and poignancy with a light touch of humor…she has managed to be the voice for most of these men and women, most of whom are in their 30s, to relate their stories, their longings and dreams. Kim interviewed each of these narrators, spending hours at a time, going back to them several times if needed to check on details. She then proceeded to write a draft and reviewed the drafts with the authors to verify accuracy and the style until such time when both parties were satisfied with the outcome. Mary Alexis MontelibanoSalinas, her son Atty. Simoun Salinas, Edgar Valenzuela and I helped to further edit the drafts. I knew even then that these stories of the LSE graduates would be valuable. For these story tellers, getting their story written and now hopefully read was a good way of reflecting on their lives, on their past and the changes and transformation, big or small that they

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have undergone. Each of the story-tellers took courage to sit, to think and reflect, to reminisce on their past, no matter how painful some of the memories have been. Several expressed how writing their stories has proved to be cathartic for thinking and pondering on the past, bringing back both the happy and sad, the regrets and what if ’s, the might-have-beens. Still, it was a process that had to take place, and after, a sense of “moving on“ in one’s life. The present and the future hold much more of a promise of the possible, the unfolding of dreams, and evolving of what can be. Holding a mirror in front, removing the attempts of denial have led to positive resolve to do something about that dream – long put on hold in exchange for earning a living. Still I was unsure – would overseas Filipinos really be interested to read about other OFs’ lives, other people’s efforts and struggles to move out of their present circumstances to live out their dreams? Weren’t there enough similar books, saying the same things? Would they think it worth taking time to learn about what others have done, people like themselves who had boldly sacrificed much to leave the Philippines, who continue to sacrifice through a lot of hard work, suffering pangs of loneliness and boredom, of wishing they were back home with family and friends? It then struck me that, yes, it would be worth the time and effort to put together stories of young men and women, who have painstakingly reflected on their past, weighing the circumstances of their present, and actively seek to change their future. These stories – of, and by, these ordinary but dynamic Filipinos – will speak for themselves, proving to be extraordinary tales of love, of


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positive change and empowerment, of doing what most thought could never happen. From their Blood, Sweat and Tears has emerged Blood, Sweat and Cheers – tales of hope and empowerment of overseas Filipinos. May these stories help to inspire and encourage other OFWs towards making meaningful changes in their lives. CRISTINA LIAMZON Manila, June 2012

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INTRODUCTION

Empowering Filipinos Working in Italy, One Migrant at a Time The stories in this book have emerged from a common experience – the story tellers cum writers went through a 6-12 month long training program – the Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (LSE) Training Program for Overseas Filipinos. The story tellers came from the first two batches of the LSE, both of which were conducted in Rome, Italy; in April 2008-April 2009 and again in July 2009-April 2010. The LSE program focused on enhancing the capacities of the trainees who in turn could reach out to other Filipinos and share whatever they learned and gained in terms of new knowledge, skills and change in attitudes. This process could thus create a rippling yet eventually powerful effect and impact on the wider community. Thus, it was hoped -- actually a grand vision and dream -- that somehow this intervention can cause a ‘butterfly effect’, i.e., the “flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can eventually bring about a tornado in Texas” 1, 1 The term “butterfly effect” itself is related to the meteorological work of Edward Lorenz, who popularized the term. (Wikipedia)


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and that despite the small numbers of OFs to undergo the training, their outreach and impact would be tremendous. This book is a big attempt to capture some of those flappings of butterflies’ wings as it brings together stories of several graduates or alumni of the training program – their backgrounds as migrant workers in Italy and elsewhere in the world; the circumstances that they faced as migrants working in Italian society; the conditions that pushed them to seek employment in another country outside the Philippines, the social costs of migration that they have had to tackle and the challenges that they continue to confront in their personal, social and economic spheres. Moving from these situations, what they have been able to take from the program, what they have imbibed and learned as catalyzed by the program – the synergies that have since then emerged that have released their desire to improve and transform their dreams and visions, fueled their energies to seeking new knowledge, building new skills, developing new mind sets to spur them to take on the new challenges for themselves, their families and their communities and society. The book, hopefully, would: 1. Encourage and inspire the readers to view empowerment of OFs as a continuing opportunity and challenge for them to improve their personal, as well as family and community situations; 2. Provide insights and inputs to those engaged in assisting overseas Filipinos on ways to help empower our OFs not only to help themselves but also to help their families, communities and society at large. This book presents, first, the stories of ten LSE


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graduates, their struggles and triumphs. The final part focuses on the continuing journey and challenges of the LSE, its program graduates and OFWs in Italy in general, in the years ahead.

The LSE Initiative The LSE Program is the result of an effort by an NGO, the Associazione Pilipinas OFSPES (Overseas Filipinos Society for the Promotion of Economic Security) in partnership with the Ateneo University School of Government (ASoG) to offer migrant workers in Rome, Italy an opportunity to become empowered socially, culturally, politically and economically. The Program is likewise a collaborative effort with the Philippine Embassy to Italy, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) and the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA). Following an exploratory study in 2005 on the situation of Filipino youth in Rome with the Sentro Pilipino Catholic Chaplaincy (SPC), the Associazone Pilipinas OFSPES identified the LSE Program as a response to the myriad of issues and challenges confronting Filipino migrants and their families living in Italy. These issues that seriously affect Filipino migrants and their families include: low self-esteem of migrants stemming from their employment mostly as caregivers and domestics even if many have higher educational and work experiences; marital infidelities/family breakdown due to long-term separations; poor savings and investments preventing many from returning home to retire or re-unite with their families; youth joining their families in Italy suffering from socio-cultural

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difficulties in integrating into Italian society, including poor adjustment to the education system. Many youth drop out of Italian schools unable to cope with the Italian language nor with the Italian education; other youth fall into unproductive gang activities, substance abuse and early sexual relationships, including teen-age pregnancies.2 In 2007, OFSPES with the Ateneo University School of Government (ASoG) developed the LSE Program and in April 2008, a pilot program involving some 51 trainees was launched in Rome. The LSE envisions Filipino migrants united towards supporting each other in becoming empowered and highly respected members of society and contributing towards national development.. The goal of the LSE Program is the socio-cultural, political and economic empowerment of migrant Filipinos, particularly the Filipino youth who face multiple challenges as youth seeking their identities and ambitions in life at the same time confronting concerns as migrants in host countries with different cultures, traditions, values and beliefs. Specifically, the LSE’s objectives are to: • Train and build capacities of overseas Filipinos on leadership, financial literacy and social entrepreneurship within a migrant context; • Enable the trainees to undertake their social enterprises aimed at improving their situation, their families and communities (both Filipino and/or non-Filipino). The program expects to develop financially literate 2 The findings from the Youth Study mentioned are elaborated in more detail in the annex of the book.


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migrant Filipinos who are able to save, invest and meet their financial goals, especially for their possible reintegration back to the Philippines. The program also envisions having trained leaders who as social entrepreneurs will develop and implement their own individual or group programs and activities that can benefit other Filipinos and those from other cultural/ethnic communities. The program hopes to develop empowered leaders who can serve as positive role models and mentors for other migrants, especially youth in various countries.

The LSE Program Methods The Basic Course of the Program is divided into three modules: leadership skills training, financial literacy, and basic social entrepreneurship. The Program uses several methods in the training sessions: formal lectures, small group discussions, online course work, mentoring, public speaking exercise, and formal business plan presentations by groups. All these are designed to equip the trainees with the knowledge, skills and the right attitudes and perspectives that can make them more effective leaders and social entrepreneurs. The basic course covers 12 full-day sessions, generally on Sundays, over a period of 6-9 months. For those who graduate from the Basic Course and wish to continue in the implementation of their social enterprise/business plans, they can register for the LSE Practicum Course for another 9-12 months. Completion of each course is awarded a certificate by the Ateneo University School of Government (ASoG) and the LSE partners.

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Resource persons and mentors who come from ASoG as well as from OFSPES and other institutions have strong academic qualifications and extensive experiences in the areas which they cover in the training program. Sessions with resource persons helped to open new vistas in the areas of discovering oneself; becoming financially literate; improving communication; learning skills in conflict management; making a business plan; starting a social enterprise; and speaking in public. But the program’s biggest players are the trainees themselves for it is they who have taken the training to heart, doing what they could with what they have learned. The resource persons and the mentors and those involved with the planning and implementation are secondary – a support cast to the trainees who have diligently persisted to attend the sessions. The large majority of the trainees have disciplined themselves to wake up on a Sunday. This is the only rest day in the week they have, either to do countless chores, laundry and ironing, or ordinarily to spend lazing about, going to church, hanging out with friends, attending birthday parties, anniversaries, baptisms, weddings and other events that break the monotony of endless work in the eternal city. Trainees managed to catch the trains or the buses that run so infrequently that often it would mean being late for the sessions. A few would come from places a few hours away just to be able to listen to lectures, participate in workshop groups and equally important to share bonding time with group mates and other co-trainees.


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Other Initiatives Another initiative likewise undertaken by OFSPES together with the Sentro Pilipino Chaplaincy is to partner with another institution based in Ateneo University, the UGAT Foundation whose apostolate is to assist migrant workers and their families especially in their sociopsychological and spiritual needs. A concrete outcome of this partnership has been a joint program to conduct training for peer counselors, called the Family Care and Wellness Course (FCWC), with the UGAT Foundation and masteral students from the Ateneo University Psychology Department. The FCWC was initiated, backstopped and participated in by many graduates of the LSE who see the need for counselors to serve the different Filipino communities in these cities. The FCWC was launched in Rome in 2011, and expanded its outreach to a second program in Rome, and a first in Milan in 2012. This is a very welcome development in the LSE’s goal of developing servant- and transformational leaders.

The Ways to Live a Dream The experiences shared in this book show the power and fruits of individuals, groups, and institutions working together. This book reaches out not only to LSE graduates and future trainees, and their families, and overseas Filipinos wherever they may be. It also reaches out to all individuals, groups, institutions who seek to serve overseas Filipinos. May the stories here serve to inspire hope, to work together, to have a reason to dream, and to bring about these dreams, one migrant worker and family at a time.

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The Context: Some Facts and Figures Compiled by Daniela Laurel-Fois and Stephano Fois Sources: Bank of Italy, Caritas, ISMU

Filipinos represent a long-standing and significant foreign community in Italy Milan Target group: Filipino OFWs in Italy Filipinos are the 6th foreign community in Italy with around 120,000 registered Filipinos (3% of total immigrants) Population is expected to triple in 20 years to become the 4th largest foreign community in Italy

Rome

Women comprise the majority or 60% of the total population More than 50% are residents in Milan (c. 35,000) and Rome (c. 31,000) The Filipino community is one of the most “rooted� in Italy with 70% of Filipinos having lived in Italy for more than 10 years 120k 67k 2000

+80% 2008

The population is young with over 2/3 under 45 years old Source: Bank of Italy, Caritas, ISMU


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Filipinos lag behind in immigrant entrepreneurial activity # immigrant-run business (2008) +36%

Lombardy Other

18% 165k

121k

33%

9% 2003

9%

2008

Veneto

Emilia Romagna

12%

9%

9%

Lazio

Piemonte

Toscana

Top-5 countries by # business (2008) 24k 18k 8k Romania Morocco Cina

Around 165,000 businesses were run by immigrants in Italy in 2008, with an estimated tax revenue of â‚Ź6bn per year

The number of companies grew by 36% from 2003 to 2008

28k 18k

Value-added of immigrants to Italian GDP has been estimated to be around 9% in 2007 (approximately â‚Ź122bn)

0.4k

Only 400 companies are currently run by Filipinos in Italy, positioned at the bottom of the ranking

Philippines

Albania Senegal

Source: Fondazione Ethnoland, Istat

Other issues among Filipino migrants that need to be addressed Root Causes

Key Issues

Leaving behind families in the Philippines

Psychological and emotional problems

Working opportunities limited to unskilled domestic labour in spite of higher capabilities

Disempowerment and hopelessness

Lack of specific support programs for migrant integration

Social Exclusion

Lack of desire to become entrepreneurial

Inability to meet financial obligations Lack of financial literacy

Inability to save for retirement Insecurity in times of crisis

Filipino migrants and their families need assistance and support for their social and economic empowerment in Italy.


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Other Findings • 80% do not have passive income • 80% do not have enough emergency savings • On average, 20% of monthly income is sent as remittance • Mortgage payment or rent eats up most of OFWs monthly income - 25% of income • 13% of monthly income is spent on food • High propensity to save: Net income is 32% of monthly income

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THE STORIES


PROLOGUE BLOOD, SWEAT AND CHEERS

The book features stories of ten Filipino women and men who ventured into the world of Italy, seeking and working for a better life for themselves and their loved ones. Of the ten storytellers, seven are women, three are men. Their ages range from the mid-20s to the 50s. They include: single women and men, single mothers, married women, as well as those separated from their spouses. They come from different regions of the Philippines: two from the Visayas, the rest from Luzon. Many of them are themselves children of OFW parents. Most of them have graduated from college in the Philippines. Except for one who is an entrepreneur, all the storytellers work in the service sector, as caregivers or domestics. Two are working in the hotel/restaurant sector. Six of them have been living and working in Italy for 10 and more years; the rest have been in Rome for 5-8 years. All of them have acquired a legal status. Many are not sure how much longer they will stay in Italy. Some are considering becoming Italian citizens. They come from varied backgrounds, viewpoints and realizations, but they share common characteristics.


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They are all risk-takers, daring to move out of their comfort zones, to explore the unknown. They came to Italy with their own tales of struggle, sorrow, even heartbreak, but also personal strengths, virtues, and dreams. The reasons for their being in Italy are familiar and familial: they seek personal fulfillment, adventure, a better life; more commonly, they desire to provide for family back home, or to join and be with family in Italy. For the Filipino, the family is the main economic and emotional support system. Running throughout the stories is the primacy and power of family relationships--the demands, delights, disillusionments and dilemmas of love and being family. Indeed, blood is thicker than water. A common theme in the stories is living with challenges – specifically language, cultural differences, work, legal status. Also, there is the expectation of providing for the needs (and wants) of family. Making sacrifices for the sake of their loved ones, they are no strangers to toil and hard work, sometimes taking on two to three jobs. Many do not yet have substantial savings and investments. From the sweat of their brow, they derive the satisfaction of being able to survive daily, buy things, provide for basic needs. These stories invite us to discover from “the inside�, the lives of overseas workers, giving their lives, so that others may live. One tastes the salt of their tears shed in hardship or homesickness. But shining through as well is a simple faith, in God, the feeling of consolation from the support of family, friends, and their church communities. When their paths cross, their shared journeys in the LSE awaken the desire for self-actualization. Opening themselves to the wisdom of teacher-guides, they see

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themselves–as well as others, their work, their history, their future--in new ways, with hope. The phrase “blood, sweat and tears”—an idiom in English which means “hard work, and sacrifice”--may well describe the reality of overseas Filipino workers. These 10 stories dramatize as well another truth--the marvels of Life changing, as persons discover their worth, toil leads to triumph, indifference turns into initiative and innovation, and tears flow into cheers.


Yahweh, The Faithful One Dan Schutte, SJ

Antiphon :

Yahweh’s love will last forever His faithfulness till the end of time Yahweh is a loving God Yahweh, the faithful One.

1. Have no fear, for I am with you; I will be your shield. Go now and leave your homeland For I will give you a home (Antiphon) 2. You shall be my chosen people And I will be your God I will bless your name forever And keep you from all harm (Antiphon)


I Am Not Alone

by RHODA P. AMODIA As told to Kim T. Viray


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n Rome, given the large numbers of Filipinos residing and working in the city, it is oddly difficult for Filipinos to feel alone, even though sometimes they are really here just by themselves. Some Filipinos have come here without any known relatives or friends or even just acquaintances. The reality is that when you are in Rome, all you need to do is look around and you will see many familiar faces of our kababayans. If it is early in the morning, they are usually rushing to get to work; during mid-afternoons, most are rushing to their second or even third jobs; late in the evenings, they could either be going back to where they sleep or they are off to their next late night work, usually as caregiver to an elderly person. This could be the typical story playing in your mind, when you meet a kabayan on the streets. Sundays are particularly special days, when most of us who live or stay with our employers, are given a dayoff. On this day when we usually do not work, unless there is an emergency or request for overtime, we set ourselves to go out and mosey around the city. Not that we are captives or anything close to that; life just went along in this manner for most of us.


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We may not be physically confined, yet our minds are. Our thoughts are filled with constant preoccupations with what and whom we have left behind, or what and who we once were, or whom we would become as we age. I, for one, for the most part of my life, was often consumed by bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly early on in life, at how life turned out to be. Like most of us, I had high hopes about the future. That was in fact what had brought me to Italy in the first place. I have seven other siblings in the Philippines and it was our obligation to look out for each other.

Flashback: Young Breadwinner I grew up knowing how to provide for my needs, our family needs. At 13 years old, I was already earning my own lunch, helping a friend to serve lunches at our school. I was not very much of a student but rather more of an income earner. I worked for my friend, until she started her own mini karinderia at school. Ever since I was young, I found going to school difficult. My father left us back when we were little, and my mother never took any jobs that would sustain all of us. School was far from our home; it was quite literally a few hours of walking. Sometimes I would be absent just because I could not afford the transportation. In class, often I did not own a notebook. I kept asking my mom for those things but she never bought me any. She was often too busy playing mahjong with her friends. I did have an intermediate writing pad – a block of paper where I could possibly write, but I never did write on it. I stored most of the lessons in my memory. I preferred having tests right after the lesson when the information

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was still fresh, because I would never remember them the next time, nor was I sure that I would be in school the next time around. I would go home and see my other siblings crying from hunger. Our roof was made of salvaged metal which was often full of holes that at night, one could often see the stars. When it rained, it became twice as difficult to live at home. Our situation motivated me to do something. After helping out at the cafeteria, my friend would give me the leftovers for my family. I did not say much but that lifted the heavy weight of not having enough money nor food for my family. I was glad to give my siblings something to live with for the day. My older brother stole food to feed us. He also eventually started selling small-time drugs. He did it for all of us, seeing that my mother was indisposed. Later on, my father returned home to my mom, to all of us, repentant in leaving us for another woman. But even if he was finally present in our lives, he and my mom argued a lot, hurt each other and then made peace with one another, and the cycle went on and on. The result was that the number of our family kept growing. Financial stability seemed unattainable, if not impossible. Even just surviving became a continuing daily struggle. After high school, I worked for a grocery store. I experienced starting work as early as 3:30 in the morning until 7:30 in the evening on a daily basis. Back then I did not talk as much but I tried to do my job very well and the grocery owners loved and trusted me. I felt very much at home working with them, I liked working for them. The job was okay but the pay was never enough.


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Opportunity Abroad I heard and saw on television that dreams were made abroad and I believed that. A cousin of mine worked in Japan as an entertainer and she told me how easy money could be made abroad. It should not be necessarily difficult and could probably turn out to be fun given the right attitude. I would have to sing or dance or do any performance or talk to guests. She said that I could come with her to Manila to stay in a house (or ‘casa’) where there will be other trainees for the job; that they would teach me a lot of tricks that I could use to pass and get the job. It was also a plus point that I was in those days a morena – meaning my skin was a few shades darker in comparison today. She said that the Japanese loved that type of skin color and surely I would be a hit. My mom heard about this opportunity and it made her pleased and hopeful. She thought that this was a solution to our poverty. My father did not express any protest although he probably thought differently, but he chose not to say a word. At that time he was trying to do good and make up to my mother for all the sins he had committed earlier that ruined the family, especially leaving all of us in our earlier years, to be with another woman who eventually left him later on. My younger siblings were obviously not aware of the possible dire situation that I would be putting myself into. They were rather excited with the news of the possibility that I might be going abroad,. They already made whole lists of what they wanted – and they were just asking for basic simple things like clothes to wear and shoes to walk with. My stomach churned as I really did not want to go to Japan. I heard news of Filipinas who went to Japan and

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became known as Japayukis. I watched films that talked about them. It was never a pretty sight as usually shown in the movies; some entertainers eventually became prostitutes; there were others who were beaten to death by a yakuza or the so-called Japanese Mafia. The stories were probably exaggerations but they were enough to scare me and make me hesitant. But my family’s excitement was overwhelming at that time. Their dreams of a better life were about to become a reality. It would have been cruel to them to not even try. The idea of our family finally getting out of the claws of poverty was enough to push me in a direction that I had many misgivings about.

Learning the Hard Way When I arrived at the casa I immediately saw that I did not fit into the picture. I was a probinsyana wearing my usual everyday clothes while everybody looked different with their short shorts, tight-fitting blouses, bulging breasts and heavy make-up. Some seemed to be almost already in their underwear. A lot were vulgar and loud. It really seemed to me that it was not the place for me but my cousin told me not to worry because she said I would easily pick up what I needed to learn. Most would be taught to me anyway. The casa was like a school, where they taught dance and all sorts of entertainment for the Japanese. When the day arrived that a Japanese came over to recruit several of us, everyone tried to dress the best that they could so that they would be chosen for the job. My cousin and a friend of mine helped me get all dolled up, but I resisted. Whatever dress they laid out for me went against all my


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upbringing. I finally ended up wearing the outfit that I wanted - a t-shirt and a knee length skirt. The line was long, with probably a hundred of us lining up. I was the plainest looking one and I kept wishing that I would not be picked, which just proves that our innermost thoughts really dictate our actions. Fortunately, I never passed the criteria they were looking for. I was glad and at the same time I felt ashamed. I knew that it was not the place for me, but I was ashamed to disappoint my family. I called my older sister who lived in Manila to pick me up. She did not know that I was also in the main city and did not have any idea of what I had been doing. I asked her to pick me up and I explained on the phone the situation I was in. She became furious and gave me directions to get to where she was. She was mad with the idea that my mom had given me permission to do that. She allowed me to stay with her for a while until I figured my life out, since I did not want to return to my family just yet and face their disappointment. To lift my own weight, I started working as a maid in Manila. I stayed for a while until my brother who was already abroad in Saudi Arabia told me to go back to our province because eventually he would be able to afford my education. He promised that I would get to study, not just yet but I would sooner or later. My past employers – the grocery store owners -- had also asked me to come back, they wanted to give me my old job back. When I returned home, my mother did not say anything. She probably also received a mouthful from my sister. I never knew if she was repentant but I felt that I had disappointed her. We went on for days without

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talking; not that we used to talk a lot, but it was oddly silent around the house. That was why I liked keeping myself busy. While I was waiting for my brother to give me the “go” signal to enrol in a school, I tried working as a saleslady, then as a waitress and then as a cashier. I liked working and providing income to the family, but each time my salary seemed to decrease or expenses kept rising. I finally got to study at a computer school. But I never finished the course as it became difficult for me to commute back and forth while at the same time, maintaining a job that also provided for my loved ones. In 1995, my brother had a chance to transfer to Italy and then he said that there was a possibility that I could come too. I immediately said “Yes” because it was the opportunity that I was waiting for! I could now try to fulfil my mom’s hopes and dreams of me travelling and working abroad. I could probably now ease our financial situation. These roads and choices I’ve taken eventually led me here to Rome.

Challenge and Contentment 1997 was the year I first came to Rome. I had ideas of what working abroad meant, and I was filled with many hopes and dreams. I was used to hard work back home, so I had nothing to complain about, working as a domestic helper. Among my biggest challenges were learning the language, and getting along with the people I worked for, and worked with. Many times, what kept me going was


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my faith in God, having my work, thinking of my family. Indeed, in the 13 years since then that I have been living and working here in Rome, I have felt contented being able to provide for my family. I am still single as of today.

Facing the Future: A Sunday Encounter My Sundays or days off, usually consisted of going to church, participating in some community activities, or wandering through the streets, window shopping. One Sunday while I was on my day off and a bit mindful that it was about to end, I met another Filipina on the bus. Since we have always been social beings, we casually talked. She was quite older than I was, yet time and work did not seem to wear her down. She opened up saying ‘Lunes na naman bukas, ang tagal na naman ng Linggo’. (“Tomorrow is Monday again and Sunday is such a long way off ”). She did not have any family here and mentioned that she was afraid to get sick since she was her family’s sole provider. She was supporting her siblings and her niece and nephews too. When she got off the bus, I realized that she mirrored me. She was ME - in the future. I contemplated for a while about her situation: what would happen to her when she got ill? What would happen to her when she stopped working, with whom would she stay in the Philippines? It left me to think about all these some more, in the context of my own future.

Finding Community Good thing, here in Rome, when we are not occupied, we engage in different activities. We like finding ourselves in the presence of others. We look for Filipino

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communities that match our interests. We do these during our free time on Sundays and some Thursdays. Normally, churches offer this nesting ground; we try to socialize and join groups within the church which serve as our cocoon. In these communities and groups we try to find ourselves; they help us locate our ground by engaging us in different activities and programs. From time to time, they run seminars and group field trips. They have community celebrations and other happenings that certainly pass as entertainment. During one of those days that I went to as usual in our church community, I received an invitation to an activity - a Leadership training seminar that also teaches the concept of Social Entrepreneurship (LSE). It turned out to be one of the most fruitful activities I had ever involved myself in.

Gifts of the Present I became part of that first group of trainees of this LSE program. It was beneficial for a lot of the things I have been doing of late. For instance, after LSE we started the Financial Literacy Group Project or FLG. I considered it very important to learn the principles of Financial Literacy in this day and age, even if a lot of us would think of it as mostly common sense. It was a learning experience all over again. “Relearning� clarified my uncertainties and fears, about myself, my family, my future. I began to start saving and thinking of investment. The program helped me to change as a person. Today, more than two years after finishing the program, I have


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become more assertive. I began to grow more confident in dealing with my family, my employer, my friends. One of my greatest support systems living and working in Italy has been my faith in God. Now, when I look at others, I see God’s gifts to me. Today I apply the training on Leadership by being focused on the community, specifically the LSE community. What helps me keep going and strong is my extended family now, the LSE family. That’s why for me, LSE is not only about becoming an agent of “change”, but an agent of “holiness”. Because -- here, we have formed a little LSE group we call “LEMON-AID” which means “connecting people to God.” We have a support community, a barkada to help each other in our problems in life, in the family, financially, personally or in relationships in the community. I feel a great change in me, in my attitudes, how I relate with people. I realized that I have been angry for a long time and my anger ate me up, forcing me to hide and not to face life. I used to walk with my head down or eyes gazing down. But now I face where I am headed, chin up with clear eyes and open mind. I have become happy today, now sharing my gifts and blessings with others.

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Blood sweat  
Blood sweat  
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