The kids are alright: What happens to the kids OFWs leave behind

A 2016 survey revealed that over two million Filipinos are working abroad. The national heroes in our history books may have made the biggest sacrifices for the nation, but their genuine intentions could be set next to Overseas Filipino Workers today who uproot themselves from their homes to provide for their families.

To the outsider, an OFW’s job sounds glamorous. To their child, it’s more like a sacrifice. We talk to four OFW kids to divulge how this sacrifice has molded their growth and changed their concept of presence.

Read more: In ‘Hello, Love, Goodbye,’ an OFW gets a chance to choose herself

RENZ
Interview by Giselle Barrientos

In 10 years, Renz sees himself still fulfilling his passion in a design studio. He’d be somewhere with big opportunities, and maybe four seasons. Snow would be a big plus. This somewhere would not be in the Philippines. “I feel like it’s my turn,” he muses. For him, being an OFW’s child means a give-and-take. His father has been on the other side of the world for over a decade. “’Yung dad ko naman ang makauwi [sana] para makapag-bond naman sila ng mom ko.” Evidently, it’s a favor he wants to return.

Could you tell us about yourself?
Hi! I’m Renz, 25, and I’m a graphic designer for Scout.

Could you tell us about your parents?
My mom’s a housewife and my dad’s an OFW in California.

How long has your dad been away?
It’s been 17 years since my dad moved to California. I think I was 9 or 10.

Can you narrate the day that he left for the first time? What was running through your mind then?
My father went to the States to attend my grandfather’s funeral, and I thought we were going to follow.  Before my grandfather passed away kasi, he was fixing our papers for us to migrate to the US. So nung bata ako, alam kong aalis ’yung dad ko, pero I didn’t know for how long kasi akala ko hindi na kami magtatagal dito

Why did he choose to pursue a job overseas? Do you know the reason why your dad stayed?
He stayed in California to take care of my grandmother because she was alone and bedridden. Eventually, he stayed there to work.

When your father left, did the changes in your life feel abrupt? Did you adapt accordingly, or was it a gradual acceptance?
It wasn’t really abrupt ’cause my family had been expecting to leave the country. We already expected that we’ll follow him after a few years since we filed a petition to move to the States. There was enough time to set my mind to it, it’s just that I didn’t know how long he was going to be away. Over the years, nasanay na lang ako na parang walang physical father figure. Pero siyempre alam kong he has always been supporting us. 

How was your household dynamic affected?
I guess at some point kasi kahit noong bata pa kami, ’yung mom ko talaga ’yung superior. Kaya kahit nung nasa States na siya, ’yung mom ko pa rin ang nag-take charge.

Read more: A trip to Sangley Point: Notes on returning to my hometown

Meron bang mga events in your life na you thought, “I wish my dad were here to see this,” ganun?
Yeah. There were a lot of times. For example, nung graduation ko ng grade school, I was expecting na uuwi siya pero hindi siya natuloy.  So inisip ko baka sa high school na lang. Lumipas na naman ’yung high school [graduation], and then baka ’eto na [for college graduation], baka makakauwi na dad ko, and then it passed by. Hindi pa rin. So all those years, even up until my college graduation, which I think is my greatest achievement, I wish my dad was there to see it. Pero wala eh, kapag umuwi siya rito, hindi na siya makakabalik doon at wala na kaming source of income. And right now, hindi pa namin kaya ng sister ko na i-sustain ’yung lifestyle namin and i-support [ang family namin]. 

How do you maintain your connection with your dad?
Honestly, over the years, parang nagiging detached na ako. Hindi kami close pero I love him deep inside. Pero hindi ako ’yung nakikipag-chat talaga even in this age na anyone’s a video chat away.

Nagpapadala ba siya ng mga balikbayan box?
Nung early years niya doon, since mas madali dati. Every year ’yun and sinasabay rin ng relatives namin ’yung mga hand-me-downs and gifts din. Pero ngayon, hindi na kasi practical kasi usually mas mahal pa ’yung pag-ship, kaya kina-cash na lang niya

What is the best and worst gift that you got from a balikbayan box?
I guess ’yung best is lagi niya ako binibilhan ng GameBoy. Like, kung ano ’yung bagong model sa States ng GameBoy, pinapadala niya, from Advance to SP. Hindi naman worst pero dahil hindi niya ako nakilala while growing up, I mean dahil magkalayo kami, hindi ko masyadong gusto [’yung napapadala niyang mga damit], pero I still appreciate it. Wow! I-ju-judge ko pa ba e ang layo na nga niya.  

Read more: We ranked 7 video games, from WTF to existential dread

While you were growing up did you feel you were different from other kids?
I think hindi naman in terms of friendship. Pero it did affect how I project myself to others [in a romantic relationship] since lumaki ako na wala sa tabi ko ’yung father ko. Feeling ko prino-project ko ’yung yearning ko for a father figure sa partner na hinahanap ko. 

“For me, outdated na ’yung notion na kapag nag-OFW ka, it gets better. Feel ko ang nangyayari lang kasi is undervalued ’yung professionals dito sa atin.

Since you’ve experienced having an OFW parent, is working abroad also an option for you?
Yes. Noon ko pa talaga gusto mag-abroad. Other than I want a breath of fresh air, I guess dito na papasok ’yung utang na loob. I feel like it’s my turn, na ’yung dad ko naman ang makauwi para makapag-bond naman sila ng mom ko.

What was the thing that helped ease your situation the most?
Na all those years na wala siya, he was still doing it for us, our needs. Naniniwala pa rin akong wala siyang kabit doon. (laughs) 

’Yung pagiging OFW to support your family, do you think it’s an ideal solution? Or is there a change you wish you would see in our country?
For me, outdated na ’yung notion na kapag nag-OFW ka, it gets better. Feel ko ang nangyayari lang kasi is undervalued ’yung professionals dito sa atin. So feeling ko hangga’t hindi naaayos ’yung issues sa labor dito sa bansa, hindi  mawawala ’yung option na mangibang bansa.

JENNIFER*
Interview by Giselle Barrientos

When asked if becoming an OFW would be an option for her, Jennifer replied after a long pause. “Oo, aalis ako kung kakailanganin,” she decides, if it’s for family. If it’s for herself, she’s conflicted. It’s hard to find reasons to stay. The country has become inhospitable to her own people, enough that only a grim sense of duty is what compels a Filipino to stay. 

*Subject’s real name was concealed per request.

Tell us about your dad. How long has he been an OFW? What does he do?
Twelve years. Engineer siya sa ibang bansa pati rito, pero dati nag-work siya ng kung anu-ano sa ibang bansa. Hindi ako sure kung ano ’yung totoong reason kasi super bata pa’ko nung umalis siya. Ang sinabi lang niya before, kailangan talagang umalis para mas maging magaan buhay namin at ’di naman siya aalis kung ’di kailangan. 

When he left, how did that change your household dynamics?
Ako, ’di ko napansin ’yung difference kasi kahit nung dito siya nag-wo-work, lagi rin siyang wala. Na-realize ko lang na nahihirapan pala mom ko. Nag-break down siya nung nag-away kami ng kuya ko one time. After, nag-sorry siya. Sabi niya pagod na pagod lang siya kasi siya na lang nag-aalaga sa’min. So for us, wala masyadong nagbago, pero for my mom sobrang nagbago lahat.

How about in your personal life?
Wala naan, I think? Or ’di ko lang ma-recognize ’yung changes in my behavior.

Were there any important events in your life that you wished your dad had seen?
Ang babaw, pero nung natuto akong mag-bike. (laughs) Hindi ko rin alam bakit ito. Siguro kasi mga kapatid ko natuto mag-bike kasi si dad nagturo, pero umalis siya nung bata pa’ko so ’di niya ako naturuan. Late na’ko natuto mag-bike. Doon ako nahiya kasi friends ko marunong mag-bike, ako hindi. Wala akong paki na na-miss niya graduations ko or whatever kasi ’di naman ako nag-struggle sa school masyado. Pero sana ’yung college graduation ko makapunta siya kasi ito pinaghirapan ko.

Read more: Being independent at 20 before graduating can be tiring

During your childhood, did you feel different from other kids because of your situation? Or did you maybe connect more with other kids of OFWs?
Hindi naman. Well, apart dun sa pag-bike. (laughs) ’Di ko na-feel na may kulang sa’kin, siguro kasi swerte ako sa family and friends ko na sapat ’yung love na nabigay sa’kin. 

How do you think you would have developed differently as a person if your dad didn’t leave?
Mas ’di siguro ako nakasama sa mga gala kasi strict ’yung tatay ko. (laughs) Joke. Feel ko kung ’di umalis tatay ko, mas ’di ko siya ma-a-appreciate. Nung umalis kasi siya, mas naging aware ako sa sacrifices na ginagawa ng mga magulang at kapatid ko para sa’kin. Mas naging grateful and thankful ako sa mga ginagawa ng mga tao for me.

What’s the most important thing you do to maintain your relationship with your dad?
Kailangan ko lang tandaan na para sa’min ’yung pag alis niya. Never ko na-feel ’yung TV moments like, “’Di ko kailangan ng pera, kailangan ko ng magulang,” kasi na-explain ng magulang ko na aalis siya para makapag-provide sa amin. Para makakain ako, para makapag-aral sa magandang school, ganon. I have friends na na-feel na iniwan sila ng magulang nila sa formative years nila kaya may galit sila, and no judgment naman if ayun nararamdaman nila. Pero ako, na-feel kong mas malaking sacrifice ’yung ginawa niya para lang hindi kami mag-suffer financially. Ano ba naman yung ma-miss ko siya minsan compared sa pag-uproot niya ng buong buhay niya para lang mapaaral at mapakain kaming magkakapatid. Ang dami kong sinabi. (laughs) Pero ang point ko lang, alam ko dahilan ng pag-alis niya kaya never akong nagalit. ’Pag umuuwi siya at kailangan isiksik happy moments, parang “bayad” ko na sa sacrifice niya for us.

Ang selfish lang kung aalis ako ng bansa kasi I’m privileged enough to leave, tapos fuck those who can’t na lang.

During the short periods when your father comes home, how do you spend your time with him?
Ayun nga, since kaunti lang time, usually umaalis kami and mag-va-vacation or something. Walang lazy day. So ’pag umuuwi dad ko, araw-araw maaga kami gigising, sabay-sabay kakain, bawal humiga lang and mag-phone. Dapat may activity. Pag wala, sama-sama kami maglilinis ng buong bahay.

Do you wish things would change here in the Philippines?
Oo. Siyempre. Ang daming nahihiwalay sa family nila dahil lang ang mahal ng goods and services sa bansa and sa earnings nila, ’di kaya i-afford ang mga ’yun. Siguro sana mag-invest ’yung gobyerno natin sa bansa at tao niya. I-fund nila ’yung mga research ng Filipino scientists. Mag-invest sa farmers and fishermen. Mga ganyang bagay, to create more jobs and opportunities for the people. Hindi ’yung hahanap lang nang hahanap ng foreign investors to fund short-term projects para makapag-bulsa sila ng pera.

Read more: Acknowledging privilege and what you should do about it

Because you experienced being a child of one, would becoming an OFW be an option for you in the future?
Ang daming factor kasi sa pagiging OFW. Hanggang ngayon ’di ko alam. If para sa family someday, oo, aalis ako kung kakailanganin. Lalo na kung ganito pa din ’yung state ng bansa na ’di livable wage ’yung minimum wage. Pero siyempre, ayoko pa rin maging bilang ’yung oras ko kasama family ko, so isasama ko sila kung kaya. 

If personal lang, ’di pa ako decided. Kasi sobrang pangit na ng state ng bansa, nabebenta na tayo unti-unti. Dati ayoko, kasi pinag-aral nga ako ng bayan at gusto kong ma-apply ’yung pinag-aralan ko para sa ikauunlad ng bayan natin. Ayoko rin maging second-class citizen. Pero ngayon nga sa Pilipinas mismo parang second-class citizen na ’yung trato ng gobyerno sa atin, so why not leave? Pero at the same time, ang selfish kasi may laban pa rito na kailangang labanin. Ang selfish lang kung aalis ako ng bansa kasi I’m privileged enough to leave, tapos fuck those who can’t na lang. Pero ang depressing kasi talaga ng mga nangyayari rito. Ewan, conflicted ako.

JETHRO
Interview by Jelou Galang

“It’s torturous,” Jethro says when asked if he would be willing to be an OFW like his dad someday. “For now, huwag muna. I can’t spare myself being away for too long,” says the 21-year-old bank operations staff member, who has experienced the absence of his father for almost 20 years. As he sees physical proximity as a priority, he shares that no amount of balikbayan box sweaters can make up for the gap. Though he’s not proud of the situation he’s in, he’s confident about how this made him more understanding with regards to sacrifice. 

Can you narrate the scene of the first time your dad left? What was running through your mind?
Bakit kailangan pang umalis? Oh my god. (laughs) I’ve been an OFW kid since year 2000. I vividly remember my dad telling me the story of how he went abroad and how I cried, that our whole street woke up. Kasi hinatid namin si papa n’un, then sumasama ako sa taxi, [pero] ayaw akong pasamahin. So ever since I was three years old, alam kong wala na si papa. Then my mom used to work so I was left with our neighbors, and family friends. And then, every year naman, umuuwi si papa until suddenly he had to extend. Almost two years na siyang hindi umuuwi.

Describe a household without your dad.
Siyempre mahirap, like, in the simplest form, when you have repairs in the house, minsan hindi namin magawa, we have to go to a junk shop or some vulcanizing shop to have repairs na ’di namin kayang gawin. Siyempre most of the time walang father figure, so ayun siguro isang factor din talaga siya on some of my decisions. I’m still at the stage where I’m finding myself to sort it out. I could’ve really been greater if I had a dad to guide me na, “Oh, dapat ganito. Dapat ganyan,” or, “You’re doing it wrong, you should be doing this right.” Siguro if I had my dad beside me, I could’ve opened up my concerns. I don’t know, I mean, household-wise we’re holding up. It’s okay, I guess.

Among your classmates, did you ever feel you were different?
Not really. I wasn’t sad; probably more on indifferent. Though may feeling na sayang, I wish my dad was here during special events in school, like family day and recognition day, it was a chill feeling nonetheless. I didn’t feel isolated. Parang nasanay na lang din ako. Siguro at an early age, it’s a gift that I understood it. I knew what the family was going through, and how we were in debt for so long. 

Read more: Airports and storms: Notes on accepting absence on Christmas Day

So the best coping mechanism was to understand the situation?
It doesn’t mean naman na when he’s not here, he’s absent. As long as we communicate, it’s okay. But for me, my coping mechanism was to comfort myself na nandiyan naman si mama eh. Why not [acknowledge] my mom? My mom can be my dad, too. So it’s more of accepting the reality na, I don’t have my dad with me right now, but I have my mom. That’s okay. I mean, that made me feel better. She saw me cry, she saw me at my rock bottom. The next thing I know, she’s with me in my ups. So it’s good to accept reality as a coping mechanism.

Agree. So were you able to bond with other kids in the same situation?
Oh my god, there was a club during high school called CUTE. CUTE stands for Children Under Transformation Everyday. Organization siya sa school where all OFW kids gather and then they celebrate their independence. They have workshops and seminars. It’s like a support group na you come to understand na you’re not alone in this kind of situation. So, I felt like there were less reasons to be sad. 

What’s the best and the worst lesson you’ve learned from the situation—growing up without a dad at most times?
The best lesson I learned was first of all, to be really independent. There are some things that I really had to bear on my own and do on my own. One thing I also learned from being an OFW kid is it’s really good to appreciate time and people. Because you don’t know until when they’re going to be with you. The worst lesson…siguro kung may worst na nangyari, you compare yourself to other kids sometimes. All the while, at some point of my high school or grade school life, I felt an occuring “buti pa sila.” So ’yun lang naman ’yung worst na nangyari, na I felt like a fatherless kid. Nevertheless, my dad was able to assure me that he’s not away.

TONI
Interview by Giselle Barrientos

Nineteen-year-old Toni lives with her grandmother, her mother, and her three siblings, two of whom share a different father. Her dad continues to work as an OFW. It’s a modern family, to say the least. Separated by circumstance, Toni grew up with two mothers to look up to: her lola, who raised her, and her mama, who provided for her kids by working in other countries for most of Toni’s childhood. It was complicated, and it continues to be now that both of her “mothers” are under the same roof.

Can you tell us about your OFW parents?
Parehas silang naging OFW sa Dubai, dun din sila nagkakilala. ’Yung job nila dun aybasta related sa food eh. (laughs) Kaya sila nagkakilala kasi naging magkatrabaho sila. Tapos ’yon, nabuo na’ko. Dito [in Manila] na’ko pinanganak nung bumalik si mama, pero ’yung father ko naiwan doon para at least may pang sustento sa’kin. Bumalik si mama doon, tapos naiwan na’ko sa lola ko.

So your mom left, but came back and stayed put for a while. Why do you think your dad chose to stay overseas for work instead of coming home, too?
Parehas kasi sila, hindi nakatapos ng college. Dito sa Pilipinas, ’pag ’di ka naman nagtapos ng college, parang hindi ka ganon kadali makakahanap ng maganda at stable na trabaho. ’Di tulad sa ibang bansa, kahit trabaho na hindi naman ganon kagandahan, at least mas malaki pa rin ’yung sweldo. Si papa, naiwan siya doon para mapag-aral ako. Meron ding other issues, like meron pa’kong ibang kapatid.

Sinusuportahan niya rin ‘yon. 

So your grandmother became your mom?
Naging ganon ’yung setup. Habang lumalaki kami, lola ko ’yung nandiyan. Pero continuous naman ’yung pag-uusap namin ni mama. Hindi naman ’yon nawala. Kaya lang, iba pa rin talaga kung physically present siya. Sa edad na ’yon, sa lola ko nabuo ’yung attachment kasi nga siya ’yung nag-aalaga sa’kin.

Read more: A trans Filipina immigrant stars in this indie American film

How did you maintain your connection with your mother then?
Nung bata ako, naaalala ko, Skype. Ganon lang. Pero dati naman, umuuwi sila every two years. Ganon ’yung naging setup nun. ’Yun, tapos video calls na lang talaga.

But then you mentioned that your mom is here now, for good. How did that change your household’s dynamic when she first arrived?
’Yun ’yung medyo mahirap kasi habang lumalaki ako, na-attach ako sa lola ko. Nung bumalik na ’yung mom ko, nalilito ako kung sino ’yung susundin ko. Kasi nanay ko pa rin ’yon, but on the other hand, lola ko ’yung nagpalaki sa’kin. Pero sa bahay kasi namin, since lola ko naman ’yung talagang nakatira dun, parang siya pa rin ’yung pinakanasusunod. Minsan lang, hindi maiiwasan yung pag-clash. 

What’s one of your favorite memories with your parents?
’Yung father ko umuwi siya isang beses. Graduation day ko. Sakto ’yon, mismong mine-makeup-an na’ko for graduation. Biglang tumatahol na ’yung mga aso. Sabi ko, “Ano ’yun?” tapos ang dami palang nag-vi-video! “Andiyan na, dumating na!sabi nila, tapos umiyak ako nun. Dati kasi ’pag tinatanong sa’kin kung sino mas close ko, sinasabi ko papa ko. (laughs)

Dito sa Pilipinas, ’pag ’di ka naman nagtapos ng college, parang hindi ka ganon kadali makakahanap ng maganda at stable na trabaho.”

Since you’ve been the child of an OFW, would becoming an OFW yourself be an option for you in the future?
Parang hindi. Kung naranasan ko na siya bilang anak, ayoko siyang maranasan bilang magulang balang araw. Parang ngayon pa lang, nararamdaman ko na ’yung magiging pakiramdam. Sobrang hirap talaga na mga magulang mo dapat ’yung nandito pero wala sila. Gusto ko na maka-graduate para makahanap na’ko ng stable job dito sa Pinas. “Okay lang na hindi mayaman, hindi masyadong maganda ’yung bahay, basta sama-sama kayo.” ’Yun yung turo ng lola ko sa’kin.

So do you think that becoming an OFW is still a viable solution to sustain a family?
Para sa’kin, issue talaga sa bansayung marami [pa ring] OFW, kasi bakit ’yung ibang bansa nakakapag-provide sila ng magandang trabaho kahit hindi ka college graduate? Bakit dito sa Pilipinas, kailangan pang mangibang bansa para lang matustusan yung pamilya mo? Para sa’kin, ’yung job market dito ’yung nagiging problema kasi masyadong mataas ’yung standards, pero ’yung sweldo, hindi naman siya tugma. Ngayon may K-12 pa. Bakit kailangan natin lumebel agad sa first world country, eh iba ’yung mga pangangailangan natin? Parang pinalayo mo pa eh. Heto na, mag-co-college na, tapos dadagdagan mo pa ng dalawang taon. ’Di ba parang pabigat?

What change would you like to see in the country to lessen the need for becoming an OFW?
Imbis na kung anu-ano ’yung pinaglalaanan ng gobyerno ng pera, gumawa na lang sila ng initiatives para magkaroon ng trabaho ’yung mga tao. Ayos lang naman sana rito sa Pilipinas kung tutok lang sana ’yung gobyerno sa mga mamamayan dito.

This story is originally published in our 35th issue and has been edited for web. The digital copy of Scout’s 35th issue is accessible here.

Header art by Gabriel Cruz

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