I first arrived in the Philippines in December 2007 and have been assigned in Mandanao ever since. I am currently engaged in a resettlement project for the victims and survivors of typhoon Sendong (Tropical Storm Washi) that caused catastrophic damage in late 2011, based in the Mother of Divine Mercy Village in the outskirts of Cagayan de Oro.
I feel at home here and have considered the village my second home. There are 540 families living in the village. Having been here for many years has made me recognize that every family has their own problems and struggles. These problems are basically due to lack of opportunities for the families to earn a living. My work involves regular house visitations. During my visits to these families, they share their life struggles. It is heartbreaking to see not having the opportunity to go to school because they lack financial support.
We have initiated a livelihood program where women are taught to sew clothes. The sewing project is helping some mothers who learn and acquire skills to be empowered to earn a living. While some women choose to be part of the project, others decide to leave home and try their luck working abroad. Most women feel that they don’t have any choice except to leave home to work abroad because their husband’s income isn’t sufficient to sustain the financial needs of the family. It pains me to see that their children are left in the care of others while they are away.
It is sad and difficult to see the ladies leaving home to work abroad. Some of them don’t even have the money to travel to the capital to process their papers. Instead, they rely solely on the employment agency and are subsequently indebted to them for a huge amount of money. Most of the time the money they earn abroad is not enough to pay the exorbitant fees these manpower agencies demand from the workers.
While the ladies are abroad, the husbands are working as tricycle drivers or in the construction industry earning an insubstantial amount of money, not nearly enough for the whole family. The children are often left on their own while the adult is out earning a enough money to survive for the day. This is a sad day-to-day scenario in my ministry. Seeing the children alone is disheartening, and most of the time I just look up to the skies to utter a prayer for them.
Because of the advances in technology, I still have communication with the ladies abroad through social media. This is a good avenue for us to catch up and sometimes give an update on their children. Parenting their children from a distance requires a lot of responsibility, perseverance and a lot of trust, especially when a family member or a relative would pass away or multiple problems concerning their children would arise. All they can do is cry and continue to move on, again and again. I must say that I admire their courage and resilience. These women are very brave. They are risk-takers.
They give their lives for their family and their children, even knowing that when they return home, their families will be different, some may even be gone. For my part, I only share with them my presence; I listen to their stories. I put myself in their place and empathize with them. At the same time, I am praying for them that God will give them more courage to continue living.
Columban lay missionary Ana Flores lives and works in the Philippines.