Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

How to handle a hero

Posted on August 02, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The OFW  (overseas Filipino worker), who used to be known as OCW (overseas contract worker), is now an integral part of our national culture and consciousness — as Pinoy as pakbet and adobo. It is a cultural template that came to be primarily because our country could not — and still cannot — provide enough employment for its citizens. People have had to find jobs abroad to earn enough to clothe, feed and care for their constantly growing families that, to add to their problems, their faith discourages them from keeping small.

OFWs have been dubbed by the very system that created them as “heroes” for bringing home dollars that provide much needed economic benefits to their families and, consequently, to the system itself. And while they may in fact be a big factor why our country has not collapsed despite the culture of inertia, corruption and government mismanagement that plague it, OFWs are, in their own view, reluctant heroes, to be sure.

One, most of them really have no choice but to go abroad for lack of opportunities here. Two, many of them will abandon the “hero” label in a heartbeat if they can simply find some way to feed their families and stay in the Philippines at the same time. We know that they and their loved ones pay too high a price for the economic benefits they enjoy. And this includes being away from their loved ones and missing out as their family stories are written. They are absent from family pictures, albums, house blessings, graduations, births, birthdays, anniversaries and family reunions because ironically, they have to earn their money elsewhere to finance all this.

They have children who are fed and clothed but are orphaned of at least one parent. Their main consolation is, at least, the people they love are experiencing these wonderful economic benefits even if they cannot physically be part of it and enjoying with them.

I have met many OFWs during my travels abroad and even now that I live parttime in Sydney. I have observed that as much as they are the providers and the sustainers of life back home they, too, need care and sustenance which many of them hardly get. A lot of them complain about being trapped or doomed to being lonely and missing out on life just so their loved ones can have a better life.

This article is about the caring and encouragement these reluctant heroes, who up hold the sky up for our families and our society, need on their end. Here are a few things to keep in mind when relating to the fathers, mothers, kuyas, ates, uncles, aunts and other relatives who have left us temporarily to keep the rest of us alive.

1. Relate to them as people, not just as providers.

Many times, the relationship between OFWs and their families back home is sadly reduced to an almost solely economic one. A lot of OFWs complain that most of the time, they only hear from the beneficiaries of their hard-earned salaries when the roof needs fixing, the tuition needs paying, someone is sick, or a relative needs money. They feel like slaves trapped in a cycle of backbreaking work in order to grant their families’ wishes.

Although I live abroad, I’m what you may call an OFW in reverse. A big part of my family is in Sydney, and I come quite often to Manila to earn and pay for the house, schooling, food, electricity, etc. As an “Aussie W,” as Danny Javier likes to call me, I go through the same loneliness and deprivation that regular OFWs go through, although not as intensely and desperately. At least I am able to go back every few months and stay for a few weeks unlike the majority who go home only once every year or two and stay only for a couple of weeks.

2. Find more things to write or communicate to them about other than asking for money.

The main loss that OFWs feel is the deprivation of affection from their loved ones. It starts off as a physical loss which they and their families feel initially. After a while, when the dust has settled and the reality sets in that the relative will be gone for quite a while, indifference can creep in. Families can get used to their member being far away, leading to an alienation that can be most painful especially for the person who is away.

A soon-to-be-released documentary I watched a few days ago showed a group of Filipino teachers employed in the United States who felt a lot of frustration while doing video chats with their families. Apart from presenting a list of things they needed financed, many of their family members had little else to talk to them about.

Things changed dramatically when one of the teachers committed suicide due to sheer loneliness. After that, the family video chats became less of an asking or begging session, and more of a genuine exchange of love and caring. This is what OFWs miss the most. So make sure they are kept in the loop and abreast of what’s going on in everyone’s lives.

3. Constantly shower the OFW with gratitude.

There is nothing more gratifying than being appreciated for the sacrifices one makes. A simple, heartfelt “thank you” from a loved one can be profoundly uplifting to someone who is feeling the alienation and meaninglessness of living in some foreign place. It can give one a sense of purpose, direction and reward for a job well done. Gratitude can be a tonic that revitalizes the OFW to continue working under lonely, stressful conditions.

4. Don’t blame them for being away.

Many times, the pain OFWs feel can be a double whammy. Not only is it difficult to be away from their families, it hurts them even more when they are blamed for everything that is wrong with their relationships with their loved ones. Everything is dumped on their lap because they are not present to fix things. While their absence may very well be a factor in why certain things are wrong, e.g. why his son has taken to drugs, why the daughter failed in school or ran away, why the family was cheated of its savings, or whatever else can go wrong, it does not really help the situation to pin the accusation solely or needlessly on someone who is helpless at the moment because he is abroad and is therefore not in a position to fix things. 

Instead of blaming, families could attempt to engage one another, including the overseas member in a serious conversation about what together they can do about the situation.

5. Encourage them to get a life outside of work.

While the OFW may not really choose to live abroad but for necessity, it can be a great learning opportunity to learn a new language, understand a new culture, meet new friends and enrich one’s life overall. Many people on both sides of the fence, at home and abroad, mistakenly tend to view the situation largely as one of pure sacrifice with little joys to anticipate wherever one is.

That’s really too bad because being abroad can be a great learning experience in independence, creativity, culture, adjustment and discovery. I’ve been amazed at how some of our countrymen have built happy lives in remote, seemingly inhospitable cultures. It is wonderful how they can make something good out of a bad situation.

For families at home, it is OK to encourage the OFW to pursue personal growth and happiness. Some may worry that growth or embracing their situation can cause them to be estranged from their significant others back home. That can be a valid worry. While it is necessary to remind them to be anchored to the family, it is also important to slacken just a bit the chains or ties that bind.

6. Don’t forget to greet them on their birthdays, Christmas, New Year, Father’s Day, etc.

These special days may not seem as special or have the same urgency to the people at home, but believe me, to the one who left and is living in some alien place, to be forgotten on a special day is a pain that can induce overwhelming sadness. This is especially true when all the other Filipinos they work with receive greetings, gifts and calls from their loved ones back home.

7. Put aside some of the money the OFW sends home for a rainy day.

Many families who are beneficiaries of the OFW’s blood, sweat and tears have the attitude that daddy or mommy, kuya or ate will always provide. Thus they spend on trivial unimportant things and are caught flatfooted when the job contract is not renewed and the money runs out. They soon discover that all that sacrifice was for naught and they are all back where they started!

8. When they come home, make sure to be around for them and for events where the returning relative can experience the family life he or she has missed.

Many OFWs come home for that rare visit looking forward to family bonding, only to discover that the people he wants to spend time with are busy, or worse, not interested to be with him/her. They discover that they have become strangers to their families and only token greetings and affection are accorded them. They do not feel integrated, only accommodated. Their presence after a long absence may even be seen as disruptive to the household’s daily routine.

This can be a big disappointment and may even discourage the OFW from coming home as often. Losing a reason to come home is a tragedy that he and his family can ill afford.

The OFW phenomenon is here to stay. Thank God modern communication can somehow ease its alienating effects on families. But even as we learn to live with it, we should continually find ways to keep OFW families from becoming dysfunctional despite the absence of some of its members. The family is one of our nation’s stronger institutions, our joy and our treasure. We owe it to ourselves and our countrymen to keep it intact, even under the worst of circumstances.

* * *

This is the last call for those wishing to attend the 42nd run of Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop. The next session runs Aug. 4 to 8 and concludes Aug. 11. It will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Workshop cost is still P5,000. Please contact emailjimp@gmail.com or call Ollie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for any queries or for reservations. Visit http://tappingthecreativeuniverse.com for the syllabus, FAQ, testimonials and other details.

29 to “How to handle a hero”

  1. Rino says:

    hi Jim,

    you got it right. reading your article seems it was written by an “Aussie W”. 🙂

    i don’t know but you hit it where it hurts. being an OFW myself i know the feeling and am thankful that someone can relate. a very wonderfully written article with much thought and consideration put in.

    keep on bloggin’!

  2. Kenjebz says:

    As an expat/OFW here in Saudi Arabia, we feel exactly the same, loneliness, boredom, and yes terrible cravings for ‘BuKo’…as my wife said while writing this comment, Lol!

    Thank you again for this amazing post! If I compile all your blog entries, I could make a Jim Paredes Inspirational Blog Book!(haha, make one Kuya Jim)

    Keep posting and continue to stand as a beacon of hope to Filipinos like us who struggle each day, trying to find the much needed enthusiasm, and inspiration to carry on.

  3. Mon says:

    I especially feel bad for the domestic workers in the middle east.

  4. eric says:

    Great article. Would you mind that we pass it along to others? Would acknowledge that you wrote it.

  5. winnie says:

    Apo Jim,

    Was just thinking of this very matter earlier… and this post just hit it right in the head! I have a strong urge to join the ‘Aussie W’ bandwagon soon and can already relate to the very things you’ve written about…

    Salamat po, Apo.

  6. jimparedes says:

    rino– YOU are welcome
    kenjebz–I just might actually.

    Mon–Yes, especially from the Middle East. Saudi is not an easy place to live in as many other places in the region. But to the credite of our kababayans, they can manage to find happiness wherever they are.

    eric–go ahead

    Winnie–My experience may not be the usual template to follow. I came in quite prepared. Aus is not a paradise but at least you know there are rules and they work. But be prepared for both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. There is loneliness you will go through, and Aus is an expensive place. It takes awhile to get a job and get settled as well. Good luck wherever your wandering spirit takes you.

  7. Bass Poet says:

    Hi Sir Jim,

    Wow, being away from our beloved Philippines since 1993 and never been back home since…you’ve strike my heart to think of visiting our home, the Philippines soon. Our Filipino heroes aboard are our “Global Transformers” for the whole wide world. I remember watching a show on immigrants living in Nunavut of Arctic Canada and saw Filipinos living in Nunavut not just surviving but thriving as well even in -40 C climate and weather!

    It’s interesting that we Filipinos can find happiness anytime, anywhere in the most difficult and unexpected places and situations…It make us Filipinos even better as ever because we always show the world that we are light hearted and full of sense of humour with no strings and expectations attached, we are simply happy people. We, Filipinos, are generally happy and almost and always smiling even in the midst of boredom, alienation and loneliness. I am fortunate to be a Filipino and my absolute reverence and respect to all the OFW’s in every corner of the world. Mabuhay!

    hello jim: we’ve had the privilege to watch last night’s Sharon. It was so nice to see you (APO) three sing together again. however, my brother and i have been wondering whatever happened to Danny. Was he sick? Or maybe I could just complement that you and buboy still look as young way back 5 or 10 years ago 🙂

    anyway, it was so much fun to hear you sing those songs I have loved for so many years. keep up!

  9. jimparedes says:

    Danny is older by 4 years, and is diabetic. He is actually healthy though. I was not too happy with the medley actually since it was written for Sharon’s key, and we had to sing the songs at a much lower key. OK lang. That’s TV!

  10. arnel says:

    I look forward to the day when we do not need to send our countrymen to work abroad…

  11. Tony says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for writing about the millions of OFWs around the world. I was one myself in the early 80’s in Saudi Arabia and experienced first hand the many things you mentioned. The OFWs need a lot of news about their love ones left behind. They need to receive emails and cards, letters and pictures, voice tapes or videos, texts or phone calls. I since migrated here in California and have my own family and I can never imagine to be away from them for years at a time as these “heroes” do. I sometimes wonder what are the real effects to the Filipino “family” when one or both of the parents are absent for long periods of time.
    Thank you and regards,

  12. eli says:

    hi sir,

    nice article po.

    how i wish..no more nanay or tatay have to leave their little kids just to give them a decent life.

  13. I like your site. And being an OFW myself, I can relate. But I can say I have been pretty lucky as my family is very supportive. And since they do not rely on my salary, whatever I give them is voluntary. I love my family and miss them. But I regularly talk to them. Which is why the Internet is such a necessity nowadays. At least we can talk about anything and everything under the sun without having to worry about the cost. Thanks for writing this.

  14. Gerald says:

    As a kid, before i used to blame my dad for working overseas and leaving us all alone with my mom then my father told me that he was doing it for us to survive the harsh poverty stricken country.
    He was mostly absent during my 17 yrs of existence i only saw him once every two years, sure i was fed i had a roof over me but my father and son relationship is zero he was never there when i rode my first bike he was never there to see how good i was playing hoops and during all my graduations i was known “the kid with no dad” sure money was always there, but there are more important things in life rather than material things.
    I just wanna scream how i miss and want my dad to be here by my side. Now, my parents are separated and i don’t know what to do which side to go to i forever love my mom but i do feel sorry for my dad i see him as a complete stranger to me for being far away for far to long…
    So, i pledge na Lahat ng hindi ko nadama sa aking tatay ay papadama ko sa aking magiging anak.

    Screw the government! for making our father’s work abroad.

  15. caryn says:

    this is a great article jim. it completely encapsulates all the little tidbits you want to share with people back home. people often reduce relationships to economy. some ofws i know here in tokyo have said “wala naman akong ankaalagay na ATM sa noo” its just true. OFWs are not money-making machines, they’re people too. and they need a life outside work, they long to be back home with their family and i often hear “konting tiis na lang, gagraduate na ang bunso ko”

    another point great point you made is about saving. in tokyo, we have established the Philippine Assistance Group to give financial support to pinoys in need. but its sometimes frustrating to help someone who has been here for 25 years and then he tells us he hasn’t set anything aside. i came to tokyo as a grad students, and a group of us have invested efforts in educating some of our kababayans (re:computers, entrepreneurship, etc.) we’re thinking of organizing investment seminars soon. these seminars work for some, but other can just be so jaded sometimes that its really disheartening! but, gambarimasu (we’ll try our best!)

  16. caryn says:

    re: #5, funny how basketball plays a big part of this. when i was in st.gallen for a symposium, i met a bunch of pinoys at zurich who were off to practice for the summer euro pa-liga. sossy!

    in tokyo, my hubby and i find emancipation in volunteer work (read: embassy slaves) and in art and music.

    BTW, this may sound crass, but if you have time, we’d be honored if you could visit us via my blog, the Tampipi website (http://tampipi.stmike-iloilo.com/), or on youtube (http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=JhPH-AUPYkI or http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=zBOLgWKXAX8). my hubby has a band which performs original compositions based on OFW themes.we’d love to hear what you think of our music. thank you! 😉

  17. Dine Racoma says:

    well said Jim, i am not an OFW but for the past 15 years before i took early retirement, i have been traveling 1/3 of the time in line with my work with ADB (practically a semi-ofw na din). i have been witness to the plight of many ofws, even in poor countries like pakistan, bangladesh, and i have wanted to write about the filipino diaspora, but didn’t have the chance.

    they really need as much support as we can give them. i have also observed, in real life, and in tv shows the behaviour of a lot of ofw dependents/families, who would act as if there were endless supply of money, texting here and there, spending, and even at times going astray. while at the same time, the ofw parent toils many hours a day under dire circumstances, lonely environment, and even earning less than what their families way back home think they earn. in the same way that loan sharks thrive here, they also do in places where fiipino ofws are a-plenty.

    t’s high time that the dependents/families be educated, support groups be put up so that they may be oriented about the harsh realities of the life of an ofw. that way, whatever suggestions you placed in your article can be more meaningful. how i wish our authorities be mindful of these things, as the ofw and the filipino diaspora are here to stay.

    in the same way that the same support groups be set up for the ofw to be more down to earth, communicate with their families, open up to them, so that both parties may be understanding of each other’s situations. so that even if families were dysfunctional, the dysfunctionality may be as minimum as possible.

  18. daybreaker says:

    you said it all and you said it well… thanks for uplifting the “AUSSIE W” spirit, Sir Jim!

  19. od3ck says:

    OFW here from Middle East, very much appreciate what you have written Sir Jim, everything was hit head on… as our Pinoy culture says “dibale ng maghirap tayo, basta mapasaya at matustusan lang natin ang pamilya natin sa Pinas” that’s how much we loved our Family…

    So il better keep on working work work work! =D

    Well Sir Jim, keep on blogging… God Bless…

  20. melds says:


    I have a sister who is working abroad. I am managing her finances right now, (she is single) with all the money she sent to me to be her savings and for assistance to my other brothers and sisters (because my salary is still good for our needs) i help her settled her outstanding housing lean from the bank. meaning she earned already the title to her house, and i bought her a life insurance. I ensure that her money would be meaningful because i feel the hardships in terms of emotions, physical and social acceptance outside your country.

    So for everyone there, please help our hereos, always shower them love and care. As much as possible keep them posted of happines moments and not problems or needs.

  21. Euroangel says:

    very interesting site..i love jim paredes songs!!

  22. MommyBa says:

    very well said. this is really a timely post. it’s not easy to be away from the family to sustain their needs. appreciation for their efforts will truly inspire them to strive more and ease the pain of being away from their loved ones. and i agree that the families should always think about the future. it’s always safe to stash away something for the rainy days.

    happy weekend!

  23. curl says:

    Hi, Jim,
    I’ve been an avid reader of your blog. I never felt I had to comment until now. I’m a daughter of an OFW in Saudi, spent most of my childhood without my dad (who goes home once in 2 years for a few weeks). I wish I read this blog when I was young.
    Thanks for inspiring other people! =)

  24. john says:

    i read your blogs all the time i’m not a OFW but i lived here in states for 22 years now. but now with my wife helping her family i can relate to this , i now understand why she gets annoyed when she received text messages back home. very wonderful post and i will forward this people back home.thanks so much

  25. jimparedes says:

    To everyone who wrote, a big thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. It is good that a lot of you see the importance of staying emotionally connected with our loved ones who toil under harsh, alien conditions to keep life going for many of or countrymen.

    Feel free to share this with anyone who may benefit from it.



  26. edelweiza says:

    you nailed it, Sir Jim. the plight of the OFWs is the plight of every Filipino. It is expected of us to continuously support them and appreciate their contributions not only to our economy but also to our identity and strength as a nation.

  27. richi says:

    dear kuya jim,
    wow, akmang akma talaga sa aming mga OFW ang inyong blog.
    i am so touched that i cried a river of joy na somehow a person like your caliber is appreciating the OFW and you surely got the point of our existence in doing the job that we dont like just to give our family a thing or two para maenjoy din nila ang kanilang life kahit ang kapalit ay ang aming pagiging lonely sa foriegn land without the love of the family that we longed for.
    ”kung makati nga likod ko,no one will make kamot kamot of my likod and in these times that i missed my family”
    i have forwarded your blog sites to all my friends here in london.
    theres no better place but in the place of the people you loved most.
    yun nga lang pag andyan din ako sa pinas, pano na lang kami kakain, dahil lahat sila umaasa sa akin.
    lalo na these past year, i have a terrible life, dahil my only brother was brutally murdered in aklan, and still now we dont know the reason why he was killed. it disheartened me so much that i dont want to go back in my home province anymore. i dont know who to hate or who to blame for the incident.i am just praying that may the good LORD will give us answer for the incident.
    above all

    thank you very much for appreciating the OFW’s

    mabuhay po kayo.

  28. AJ says:

    good to be back here sir Jim!

    this is true, touching, inspiring and very contemporary.

    Filipinos could simply reflect..

    thanks for giving the country’s so-called modern heroes the acknowledgement and/or recognition they truly deserved!

    more of this! 🙂

  29. Jo-AnnJo-Jo-Anne says:

    I was so touched by this entry, thank you for appreciating us, OFW!

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