Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for March 1st, 2009

12 million storytellers for change! 7

Posted on March 01, 2009 by jimparedes

Last week’s article was an expression of concern about the coming 2010 elections and the sweeping changes we need in our country. Although I was not surprised at the tremendous reader reactions via letters, e-mail, calls from people everywhere, I must say that the response has been quite inspiring. There is a constituency for change out there and it is pretty sizeable.

A lot of the reactions came from overseas, from disgruntled Filipinos who have given up completely on the Philippines and left the country in disgust, and from those who, while they live abroad, continue to pine for their homeland and want to do their share in taking it out of the rut it is in.

To both groups, this column is for you.

There are around 12 million overseas Filipino workers spread out all over the world. Their blood, sweat and tears are what keep this country financially afloat. The money they send home keeps many kids in school, feeds families and generates a lot of the economic activity that keeps the entire Philippines humming. In many ways, it is only fitting that OFWs should be encouraged to play a role and have a say in creating a vision of what the Philippines can be.

Aside from their economic contribution, OFWs have made many personal sacrifices to hold up the sky for their loved ones. They have missed out on birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, Christmases and other milestones in the lives of those they cherish. Ironically, they know quite well that it is precisely their absence that makes the observance of such major events possible.

But more important than all that is the untapped capability of OFWs to bring about meaningful change in the country. OFWs have had the opportunity to live and work in many functional societies around the world, and have thrived in them. To my mind, their experiences abroad can be very valuable in helping create a functional vision of our country’s future.

Our OFWs can be the storytellers, narrators and witnesses of how the lives of ordinary Filipinos can move ahead if the system only allows them to. Their very lives are testimonies to this. Where for years, their dream of becoming something had not been possible in their homeland because of the social inequity and lack of opportunities, now they are proud, productive and prosperous people.

One of the joys of traveling is in meeting our kababayans who, though they still exhibit traits of their humble beginnings (noticeable only to a fellow Pinoy), now carry themselves with dignity that says they are equal to everyone else in the new country they live in. It tells me that we, as a people, have what it takes to get ahead and achieve excellence when the cards are dealt fairly.

Contrast this to life here at home where the average guy must dream smaller, live with more indignities and less breaks because “mahirap ang panahon at ganyan talaga ang buhay.” There is in the culture here at home an inertia that kills dreams. The sense of what is possible here is so limited and cramped that many are tempted to relocate and pursue their future abroad.

Imagine, then, a scenario where Filipinos abroad speak in support of change, telling their families back home about real places where societies function much better than what we have here. Imagine them writing to their kababayans back home and telling them there is no reason — except for our collective apathy — why we cannot have the same in the Philippines.

Imagine these OFWs throwing their influence behind a progressive candidate who has the right ideas on how to modernize the country and make government not only more functional, but also more prosperous. Imagine 12 million voices for change influencing their families and friends in the Philippines on what to ask for in a candidate and who to vote for! This could electrify the electoral process. Now, that would be something to contend with.

If this OFW block were to get organized and speak as one, they could be as influential as the Catholic Church, and much more progressive.

Much has been said about OFWs being “heroes” of our society because of the personal sacrifices they continue to endure for their families. I do not contest that. But I would like to add another dimension to the heroism that we have bestowed on them.

In writer Joseph Campbell’s view, every life is a hero’s journey and goes through stages as it unfolds. In his view, the hero’s journey starts when a hero leaves a familiar place (psychological or literal, or both) and is thrown into the unknown. In short, life and circumstances have conspired to throw him out of Eden and he/she is off to the adventure of a lifetime. This is the common thread found in big and small hero stories, whether fiction or non-fiction. Look at Rizal, Ninoy, Shakyamuni, Jesus, Frodo, Ulysses. This, of course, will take the hero to places where he will be deeply challenged in all aspects. In “herospeak,” he goes “through the fire.”

Now there are two things that can happen. He either burns out completely and the journey ends, or he survives. If he survives, the next stage is for the hero to return to his hometown and testify about the lessons and truths he/she has learned.

From this angle, our OFWs may have a new role waiting for them. After going through the fire in their previously unfamiliar locations which have become home, and with their newly-earned status of personal success and financial capability, it is time for them to play the bigger role of not just turning the lives of their families from poverty to prosperity, but to be the voices of wisdom, modernity and progress and the examples of personal change that many of them have become.

It’s time to not just inspire our kababayans, since they are already doing that. It’s now time for OFWs to influence us to do the right thing, to dream and act to “make the word flesh” and bring about the necessary changes the Philippines needs.

This may yet be the OFWs’ biggest contribution to our country.

  • March 2009
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