Thursday, November 13, 2008

Filipinos in the Gulf

If only the opportunities offered in the Gulf countries are available in the Philippines... that would be great! We, who work here in the Gulf would be back home with our families... but such is not the case so we can only dream and hope for a bright future for our beloved country.

Nevertheless, Filipinos here are able to take full advantage of the opportunity - we can adapt easily to any situation, we have the values of honesty and integrity, we have high quality of education and good English skills. These are probably some of the reasons why there is a diaspora of the Pinoys.

Here's one article that's worth your time...

Filipinos in the Gulf
By Jerick T. Aguilar Saturday, April 12, 2008

I am fortunate enough to have traveled to all the Gulf countries. I was able to visit Kuwait and Qatar a couple of times as overnight stopovers between my trips to the Philippines and Europe. While my mother was working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, I was able to spend time with her there courtesy of a family visit visa. And just recently, during my break from work here in Yemen, I went on a brief vacation to the neighboring countries of the U.A.E., Oman, and Bahrain.

The Gulf is where overseas Filipino workers or OFWs are concentrated. They number by the millions so it was not really surprising to see “kababayans” everywhere in these countries. And they number by the millions because the Gulf was the first region of Filipino labor migration that started in the 1970’s and has continued until now. There, I met Filipinos who have worked there not for years but for decades.

It was also there that I met Filipinos who at least have a relative or two also working and living in the same country. For most of these Filipinos, they came to the Gulf with a family visit visa not just to visit a family member or relative but to eventually find work and have their visa converted into a work permit. In Abu Dhabi for example, I came across a hotel receptionist (an electronics and communications engineer in the Philippines) who was initially sponsored by his (or her, as “she” insisted) aunt to visit her and, at the last minute, was able to get a job in the same hotel.

A host of Filipino family members not only visit their spouses or parents in the Gulf but get to live with them there with a dependent visa. I remember grocery shopping with my mother in Riyadh and I had to look twice at two Filipino kids inside the cart pushed by their parents. In Sharjah, a couple of Filipino families were having lunch at Chowking (yup, “our” Chowking) and I didn’t have to look twice to register what I had seen.

I guess these OFWs who took their husbands or wives and children with them have resigned to the fact that their family’s future is in the Gulf so they have to continue working there indefinitely. And instead of being painfully away from their loved ones, they decided to bring them to a foreign country (a non-English speaking one at that!) in order to be together. I gathered that some spouses eventually found a job so their double-income family is like a typical one in the Philippines except that they are not in the Philippines.

And they are a typical double-income family indeed! In Muscat, I have seen Filipino families inside their cars with the father driving on the highway or parking outside a shopping mall (and a Filipino family walking their dogs in Salalah!). In Manama, I have been with them inside the church on a Friday (as Sunday is a regular working day in most Muslim countries) with the children seated between their parents. (I have also heard that their children go to private schools to continue their English-language education. In some cities like Dubai, there are schools exclusive for Filipinos).

For a first-time OFW in the Gulf, the adjustment period while working in these countries is probably the shortest given the existent support system around him (or her) – such as relatives who have been there longer so they know and can help her (or him) with the ropes, fellow Filipino colleagues who pass the time at work with an intermittent joke or two, and even the presence of TFC (The Filipino Channel) on satellite or cable TV to get their daily fix of Wowowee and up-to-the-minute “chismis” in Philippine showbiz. It is also very easy to meet and make friends among “kababayans” and should there be a fall-out (as with any other friendship), it is as easy to find new ones.

For a Filipino tourist in the Gulf, it is as if one has not traveled to the Gulf at all. As I wrote, Filipinos are everywhere so it is like he (or she) has not left the Philippines. Filipino restaurants and stores selling Philippine products also abound. Even local newspapers have a specific section on the Philippines and the Filipino community (aside from our diaspora’s own publications) so anyone can be kept abreast with the latest events. And it is ironic that she (or he) is in a foreign country yet can speak Tagalog to get by.

The absence of a language barrier is a real advantage for a Filipino traveling to the Gulf. As for me, I never got lost in these countries. It was such a breeze to ask any “kababayan” for directions. Their local knowledge has also made me save money from not taking the taxi as I took buses and other forms of public transportation to get from place to place, as well as to and from the airport (as well as from not getting ripped-off by taxi drivers as they told me how much certain trips actually cost). I too got better service in restaurants, shops, and hotels from fellow Filipinos working there.

I guess the only disadvantage is not having as much time to go sightseeing. At least in my case as the talkative and inquisitive me tried and wanted to talk to as many Filipinos as possible. There were times when I had to stop smiling at “kababayans” I encountered on the streets, look straight, and miss out on a possible conversation so that I didn’t miss entering a museum before its closing time. And there were times when I had to ignore other “kababayans” around me as I was already talking to a Filipino at a particular place.

As a final note, Filipinos have been in the Gulf since the seventies and I can argue that the region’s rapid development has a lot to do with the presence of our “kababayans”. Their cheap labor (Westerners are paid much more than their Filipino counterparts) and their irreproachable work ethic have helped transform the economies of these countries to what they are today – with a host of business people investing and tourists flocking. If the locals, their employers, and the respective governments acknowledge and recognize this fact, then our “kababayans” should be paid higher and treated better as they rightly deserve.

I am fortunate enough to have traveled to all the Gulf countries – and even more fortunate to have met and talked to Filipinos there who have successfully created a better life for themselves and their families. There is no doubt that for most of these Filipinos, they are better off in the Gulf now than they were in the Philippines before. This only goes to show that given an opportunity (no matter how limited), Filipinos are able to take full advantage of and make the most out of it. And if only such an opportunity were present in our country…

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