With a drizzly cold six degrees outside, Rebecca, (not her real name) a Cordilleran OFW bid us goodbye after an acquaintance meeting over pannetone bread and coffee inside a hospitable OFW’s apartment in Milan in January this year. She put on her knitted hat and scarf to keep her warm as she stepped out into the cold and travel by train to her workplace—an Italian’s house. “Ay apu madikon nga agkuskus kuma,” Rebecca confessed. She is one among many Filipino domestic helpers in Italy who describe themselves as having jobs “bowing down.” Former engineers, accountants, professionals back home in the Philippines are now cleaning toilet bowls of Europeans daily, bowing down their heads to scrub the dirt of foreigners in exchange for precious Euros and Pounds to be sent home.
“Marami dito former engineers at accountants, nagkukuskus na lang ng toilet bowl, kaya parang nawawala na ang kanilang self-confidence,” Marie, (not her real name) a beautiful and young Cordilleran working on different part time domestic jobs in Milan said. The irony, she added, is that these professionals encourage their kids to follow them after they finish their degrees and licensure examinations in the Philippines so they could earn Euros like their parents by doing the same job of cleaning toilet bowls.
Her friend Janice (not her real name) said there are a lot of older OFW domestic helpers in Italy or domesticas as they are locally called in Milan whose hands seem to be disfigured by the household cleaning chemicals they have been using for years.Their hands almost resemble the ones working in salt mines, or worse—sore, cracked, chapped, rough. The sad thing is these older OFWs confessed they don’t want to go home because they have no earnings nor better houses to go home to.
This is the reason why Goshen Land CEO-President Atty. Alexander Bangsoy was invited by Europe-based OFWs in December 2013 through January this year to teach and encourage OFWs through his series of free entrepreneurship seminars. The free seminars were conducted in Walthamstow London, Wimbledon UK, Rome, Milan and Como Italy and in Paris, France. The seminar taught them not just about financial literacy but the “heart and hand” of entrepreneurship as a mindset and applied principle fit for their concerns.
Conchita Pooten, a nurse and longtime London resident from Baguio and owner of several businesses based in Walthamstow, London, Baguio, Benguet and Mt. Province said the seminar should be attended by more OFWs. “I even like my children to listen to it,” she added. Her children, Wendy and Ingrid are now barristers in the UK.
“Life is hard here, contrary to the popular perception back home that it’s a much better state to be in, it’s not,” Lisa, a college graduate from Baguio who now takes care of senior citizens said. As caregivers, they don’t just give the medicines of their wards but clean them up as well.
Donna, (not her real name), an OFW we met in London who came to attend Goshen Land’s free entrepreneurship seminar at Walthamstow, London where a lot of Cordillerans reside and work said she wished it’s just easy to bring her family to London so they could see how hard her work is — cleaning and scrubbing. Other OFWs in the UK also shared they feel like they are treated as though they are automatic teller machines (ATM) by families back home. “Haan da lang ammo nu kasanu karigat ti biag ditoy,” Donna added.
Longtime residents at Walthamstow say a lot of OFWs from the Cordilleras who went to the UK recently have to make do with cramped living spaces like having three small rooms that accommodate 11 persons and only one toilet and bath. They also have to contend with the effects of recession in Europe which makes jobs harder to find. It is common then to find an OFW in UK, France, and Italy now who has no stable job. Plus, in the European Union itself, there are a lot of jobless Europeans from the Eastern bloc who are looking for jobs in more stable countries in the EU. For jobless OFWs, some have been sent home but others are still grinding it out, even if their salaries are just enough to cover their rent, hoping they could still send money back home. ***Annabelle Bangsoy, JD