What It Means to be an OFW in 2019

December 12, 2019

In the Philippines, Overseas Filipino Workers or OFW are perceived as the modern-day heroes. One of the reasons is their economic impact on the country. OFWs provide strong remittance inflows for the Philippines. Because of the remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers, the country’s economic system becomes more stable with its influx of cash flow and circulation, playing a key role in alleviating the country’s poverty.

In the Los Angeles Times, Richard C. Paddock expounds on his article The Overseas Class about OFW as being economically perceived by the Philippine government as its most successful export:

“They nurse the sick in California, drive fuel trucks in Iraq, sail cargo ships through the Panama Canal and cruise ships through the Gulf of Alaska. They pour sake for Japanese salarymen and raise the children of Saudi businessmen. They are the Philippines' most successful export: its workers. Three decades ago, seeking sources of hard currency and an outlet for a fast-growing population, then-President Ferdinand Marcos encouraged Filipinos to find jobs in other countries. Over time, the overseas worker has become a pillar of the economy. Every day, more than 3,100 leave the country. Philippine workers sent home more than $10.7 billion last year, equal to about 12% of the gross domestic product. The current president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, calls them ‘the backbone of the new global workforce’ and ‘our greatest export’.”

Paddock wrote this story back in 2006, during a surge of Filipino workers all around the globe. And during that time, it was statistically recorded that 10 percent of the Philippines population is composed of OFW, with more than 2.5 million in the United States, nearly a million in Saudi Arabia, and thousands in different parts of the world.

But now, what does it mean to be an OFW?

If you will ask the government and search through media platforms, you will still find the same answer: Overseas Filipino Workers as economic modern-day heroes. Filipino abroad workers still play a crucial role in Philippine's economic development as it experiences economic troubles with the Duterte administration.

But what the media doesn’t highlight are the stories behind the concept of economics: a story of a Filipino mother who left her children, a newly wedded Filipino couple who are separated by distance and loneliness, a Filipino father who can only see his family once a year, and unfortunate stories of abuse and torture.

If you will directly ask a Filipino who’s been separated from her family to work abroad what it means to be an OFW, she will say with a frail and sad tone, “It means sacrifice.” She will tell you a story of the loneliness of being a Filipino in the diaspora. She will tell you a story of being an OFW, sending most of her salary to her family to fulfill her obligation and to fulfill her families’ dreams. She will tell you a story of a Filipino who endures the deleterious effect of homesickness, being on her own during days of celebrations and gatherings.

Overseas Filipino Workers and their stories of the diaspora are all about emotional scars. A Filipino working abroad to earn money for their families is a modern-day tale of war. They are not different from soldiers who fought during the World War, who sacrificed separation and dignity to be of service to other people. The only difference, an OFW battles with her own emotions, enduring every minute of loneliness, tears, and homesickness. It’s internal warfare for a Filipino to be away in a foreign land, away from loved ones.

Overseas Filipino Workers’ value isn’t about the contribution they make on the economic status of the Philippines. Every Filipino working away from their families have stories that should spark inspiration and discussion. Their stories are what make them more than just a remittance.