How OFW parents make up for lost time

More than the toys and gifts, it's the little things that Pedro and Morena do for their son whenever they're at home that count

Rappler.com

1:49:59am April 30, 2018

3:51:32am May 10, 2018

This is the third of a three-part series, each one an in-depth look at the story of a family featured in Tang’s latest video series that showed the different faces of the modern Filipino family.

MANILA, Philippines – Raising a family is difficult in itself. And when you factor in economic and financial challenges to the equation, for many families, it can get a little too much.

This is why every year, millions of Filipinos leave the motherland in the hopes of giving their families a better life. 

For a vast majority of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), although it means being away from their loved ones for long periods of time, it’s a necessary sacrifice they have to make to give them a comfortable life.

In 2013, the family of Morena and her husband Pedro Manapat was facing financial difficulties. Her mother was just diagnosed with a kidney disorder and was thus required to undergo dialysis. The money coming from the sari-sari store business she ran at home in Bulacan and from Pedro’s job as a driver-courier just wasn’t enough to support this on top of their day-to-day expenses.

To make ends meet, Morena and Pedro decided to try their luck in the Middle East, leaving their son Jhei-Ehm, then only five years old, in the care of Morena’s parents. 

The struggles of OFW parents

Morena and Pedro served as domestic helper and family driver, respectively, for a family in Saudi Arabia.

Morena, who had to care for two children, a four-year-old girl and a boy around Jhei-Em’s age, tearfully recalls, “Napakahirap din po lalo din sa part ko kasi po sa totoo lang, nag-aalaga ako ng dalawang bata do’n sa Saudi. Tuwing inaalagaan ko sila, naaalala ko ‘yung anak ko. Ang hirap sa part ko kasi ‘yung ibang bata naaalagaan ko pero ‘yung sarili kong anak, ‘di ko maalagaan.”

(It’s very difficult on my part because honestly, I was looking after two kids there in Saudi. When I’m with them, I remember my son. It’s difficult on my part because I was able to look after other children but I can’t care for my own.) 

The couple worked for two years straight in Saudi, missing important events like birthdays and holidays. To make up for their absence, Morena and Pedro went on video calls with Jhei-Ehm almost every day.

“Every time na nagvi-video call kami, [sinasabi] ng anak ko na, ‘Mama, ok lang ako dito. Inaalagaan naman ako nila nanay.’ Iiyak na lang din kami pero pinapakita namin sa anak namin na kaya namin para hindi rin siya panghinaan ng loob,” she shares. 

(Every time we would go on video calls, my son would tell us, ‘Mama, I’m okay here. Nanay is taking care of me.’ We would cry but we would also show our son that we could do it so he wouldn’t lose heart.)

Making up for lost time

When they returned home in 2015, they were determined to make up for every lost moment with Jhei-Ehm. They went to every place he wanted to go to, even if it meant having little time to rest. 

“Nu’ng nando’n kami sa Saudi, pasyal din kami nang pasyal. Maiisip mo, ‘Pagdating ko sa Pilipinas, gagawin ko ‘to sa anak ko,’ kasi two years na nawala sa piling mo ‘yung anak mo eh,” Morena shares.

(Back in Saudi, we would often go out. We thought, ‘When we go back to the Philippines, I’ll do this with my child,’ because he wasn’t with us for two years.) 

But more important than the trips to malls and other places are their bonding moments at home. As she fed him desserts she made with recipes she learned in Saudi along with a glass of juice – Tang orange juice is Jhei-Ehm’s favorite, Morena reveals – she would share with him stories of their experiences abroad. 

As simple as these would seem compared to their trips, Morena considers these moments more important because it allows her to do things for her son herself.

“Napaka-importante po para sa ‘kin [‘yun] kasi may personal touch ko talaga na ako ‘yung nakapagluto para sa kanya kaysa dun sa lalabas kami, kumbaga. Ano lang naman ‘yun eh, kung bibili ka lang. Eh ‘pag nagsabi ‘yung anak ko, ‘Ma, sarap naman,’ ‘di ba parang ang sarap din sa pakiramdam mo?” she says.

(They’re very important for me because it allows me to give things like cooking for him a personal touch as opposed to going out. Going out is for buying things, anyway. But when my son tells me, ‘Ma, this is delicious,’ it makes me feel good.)

Staying together 

This was the first and, so far, the only time that Morena and Pedro went to work as OFWs.

Morena, who gave birth to their second son in early December, wishes they could stay here for good. But Pedro remains over the fence with this decision, and so she tries to convince him to stay.

She shares at length, “Ang hirap na mawawala siya. Lalaki ‘yung anak namin na hindi siya makikita. Kasi naranasan na namin, eh. Nawala kami ng two years sa buhay ng anak ko.

“Actually, nag-7th birthday ‘yung anak ko, wala kami. Napakahirap. Alam mo ‘yung may naipadala ka ngang pera, nagse-celebrate siya, pero wala kayo. Parang kulang na kulang pa rin sa kanya ‘yun.”

(It would be difficult if he leaves. Our children would grow up without him. We’ve already experienced it. We were away for two years from our son. He had his 7th birthday without us. We were able to send him money to celebrate but we weren’t there. It wasn’t enough for him.) 

To Jhei-Ehm, who pleas for them to stay, Morena has this message.

“Sabi ko nga sa ‘yo, pinaka pinapangako ko talaga, hangga’t kaya namin ni Papa, dito na lang kami. Lalo na ‘ko. Kaya nagsusumikap kami ni Papa na mag-negosyo na lang kasi talagang pinaka tumatak sa isip namin ‘yung sinabi mo na ‘yon na, ‘Mama, Papa, ‘wag na kayong umalis. ‘Di bale nang wala tayong maraming pera basta sama-sama’t nagmamahalan tayo.’ 

“‘Yun talaga ‘yung pinakatumatak sa ‘kin kaya talagang pinipilit ko ngayon na hindi na kami umalis.” 

(Like I told you, I promise that Papa and I will stay here as much as possible. Especially me. This is why your Papa and I try to run our business well because what you said stuck in our minds. “Mama, Papa, don’t leave anymore. Never mind that we don’t have much money as long as we’re together and loving one another.”) 

Showing love despite the distance 

Morena was referring to a quote that Jhei-Ehm uttered in a video for Tang, which highlighted their struggles as an OFW family. 

The story of the Manapat family was included in the brand’s latest video series, which depicted the different faces of the modern Filipino family.

In the video, the Manapats shed light on the relationship between parents and child in an OFW family like theirs. They bonded over a pitcher of Tang, which Morena personally prepared, showing that a simple act such as this gives enough opportunity for a family to talk and share intimate moments during the day.

In line with this, Rappler and Tang conducted a poll on Facebook asking OFW parents how they show their love and involvement to their children’s lives in spite of the distance.

Our survey results show that like Morena and Pedro, most OFWs communicate everyday through a family chat group. This is followed by those who fly home regularly (32%) and those who send them things they want to make up for their absence (21%).

All told, even if it means giving your loved ones a more comfortable life, it will never be an easy decision to leave and work in places thousands of miles away. In Morena’s words, homesickness is the worst enemy of an OFW especially during important occasions that they can’t be home for.

When loneliness strikes, this, she says, is what they should do.

“Magpakatatag lang. Alam ko ‘yung lungkot na nararamdaman nila lalo ‘pag may okasyon like ‘yung birthday, Pasko, Bagong Taon. Lagi lang magdadasal.

“Tapos ‘wag kalimutan ‘yung communication. Kahit ga’no ka pa ka-busy, mag-spend ka ng oras na mag-text ka sa kanila or ano. Sa ngayon kasi, pwede naman tayo mag-video call. Para ma-lessen din ‘yung pagka homesick mo para makatagal ka rin sa trabaho mo. Kasi para sa kanila rin naman ‘yung ginagawa mo.”

(Be strong. I know the loneliness that you feel especially during important occasions like birthdays, Christmas, New Year. Always pray.

(And don’t forget about communication. No matter how busy you get, spenthe d time to send them a text or something. Today, we can even do video calls. Do this to keep homesickness at bay so that you’ll be able to stay longer at your job. This is for your family’s sake.) – Rappler.com

All illustrations in this article by Shellette Gipa. 

In this series:

How a mother moves forward from grief

A mother’s unconditional love

In tough situations such as the recent increase in tax for sugar-sweetened beverages, parents can still make things lighter with family favorites like Tang. Remember that bonding moments remembering surprises and difficulties in life over well-loved brands will always be priceless.

Tang believes that the time and effort  you put in for your family, even for small and simple things, matter. Time making Tang can be worthwhile. Time making Tang is time well spent.