Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for March 17th, 2012

Our modern day heroes need healing and compassion 0

Posted on March 17, 2012 by jimparedes

Jim Paredes

I recently met with Ms. Kay Bunagan and Ms. Teddi Dizon, two young
psychologists with the Ugat Foundation, an NGO that helps families in
the grassroots deal with psychological problems. They wanted to get me
interested in something they are very passionate about: Project Leap
Year,  a mission to help our OFWs cope with the psychological problems
they go through because they are away from their home, loved ones and

Try to imagine being an OFW in, say, Italy where Kay and Teddi and
their group of psychologists currently operate. Let’s get into the
mind of someone who has left everything familiar and important in the
hope of earning enough money to keep his loved ones alive. In the name
of love, one turns his back on everything that spells ‘home’ and lives
and works in an alien culture away from the people whom he loves and
who sustain him. It is hard to miss the cruel twist of fate here.

There are countless hardships and sacrifices OFWs encounter. The
feeling of alienation living in a strange culture, and learning a new
language and customs are just some of the tough situations they face.
Add the disempowering feeling of being denigrated to the task of doing
lowly menial jobs even if they have college degrees and professional
experience in the Philippines. That does something quite devastating
to a person psychologically. There is also the extreme loneliness in
being far away from the reach and touch of loved ones.

There are a lot of things OFWs and their families go through. There
are the unintended and unpredictable changes in the family dynamics.
OFWs miss out on birthdays, weddings, graduations, baptisms, house
blessings, anniversaries, Christmas, Easter and other family bonding
moments. They are also not there for the less dramatic but equally
important moments like family dinners and simple family time with the
spouse and kids. Children in turn grow up without one or sometimes
both parents, missing out on the parental love and guidance they need.
They are raised by surrogate parents like ates, kuyas, lolo, lola,
aunties, uncles or whoever is the adult they are assigned to.

All these surely take a toll on family life. The situation is bound to
cause some kind of resentment on the part of the children. As time
goes by, the unusual situation loses its novelty but not its
unintentional negative consequences. Family life settles into
something less than what it once was. The formerly richly nuanced
relationships are reduced to something more like a simple financial
arrangement. One parent works abroad while the spouse and children
left behind spend the money.

The effect of all this on the OFW’s psyche can be quite a burden. He
can suffer a kind of  psychological fragmentation. In his mind, the
family members are somewhat unrealistically ‘frozen’ in time, and he
lives with an idealized impression of the kind of people his children
or his spouse really are or have become. There is a gaping hole in his
understanding of the reality of what has happened to the family. He
has after all missed out on much of their lives, and vice-versa.

Kay and Teddi point out that many OFWs are in denial and even
delusional about their situations, and that of their loved ones. Their
capacity to earn money and send it home has superseded all other
responsibilities and concerns.  It has become the justification for
everything. And it is easy to understand how this has come to be.

Kay told me about an OFW woman enrolled in the therapy they offer who
had stayed in Italy for many years. She was finally able to bring over
a daughter she hardly knew, only to discover that they were both
alienated from each other. Her daughter was not only a stranger but
harbored so much resentment towards her mother for having ‘abandoned’
her. As part of the woman’s therapy, she had to vent all her bad
feelings by writing down everything she had gone through and
sacrificed as an OFW. Since she was not computer literate, she asked
her daughter to type the document for her. It was only then that her
daughter realized what it took for her mother to ‘raise’ her
financially until they could be reunited.

The Leap Year Project, so named since it was started only this year,
offers psychological workshops, interventions that deal with the
fragmentation and ‘compartmentalization’ OFWs suffer in the hope that
they can be whole and empowered enough to reconnect with themselves,
and eventually their loved ones and their community. And the great
thing is, according to Kay and Teddi, the Leap Year Project is
remarkably effective. OFWs who go through the workshop not only heal
but also pick up skills that help them help others in the community.
In effect, it is a great service to our modern day ‘heroes’ who most
need it.

It takes a lot of resources to keep this going. The cost of airline
tickets alone is a big drain on meager resources. Kay and Teddi’s team
of four psychologists would like to get more of their colleagues
involved to deliver this service to other OFW communities in other
countries. The workshops demand that the psychologists stay a month at
a time to make sure that the process is thorough, even if they hardly
receive any compensation for it.

I am writing to urge you, dear reader, to help this compassionate
effort in any way. Aside from financial contributions, they also need
volunteer staff, videographers, editors and even participants who can
help them raise funds by joining the workshops they offer.

To inquire how to help, please call 4265992 or email ugat@admu.edu.ph.
The way to help our OFWs is to help them restore a true sense of
authenticity in their lives, and their relationship with themselves,
their loved ones and their own Filipino-ness.

#  #  #
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