Are Overseas Workers Really Contributing To The "Brain Drain"?

To hail our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) as “Modern-Day Heroes” is a noble and worthy way of honoring the crucial role they play in the economic life of our beloved country.

But, in a larger sense, the diaspora of Filipinos achieves a more significant and longer-lasting accomplishment to our country as a whole. We have heard of “Brain drain,” but have we ever stopped to think about the other side of the story? What is happening now, if one looks at the bigger picture, is “Brain gain” – gifting us with the experiences and skills learned from other cultures to enhance and enrich our own.

This is the essence of the anthology From America To Africa, a collection of tales of Filipino women from all corners of the globe – encompassing also the entire spectrum of the human condition.

This humble piece is more than just an essay, it is also a celebration of the achievements – and victories – of Filipino women on the world arena.

There is something providential when a life touches another. We are here on earth to fulfill our own destinies, and it is the people we meet along the way who bequeath to us lessons that there is more to life than living. I have been blessed with being associated with beautiful souls. The late Senator Raul Roco is a prime example, for whose presidential bid I have volunteered and campaigned. His sincerity and genuineness as a human being inspired me and evoked within me those ideals that fortify decent people in our “quite imperfect world,” to borrow a line from a classic song by the Carpenters.

It is Roco’s solid conviction about the equality of women that made me see them in a new light, as if for the first time. And it is also because of this new-found enlightenment that I was able to fully realize the significance of a particular book that I would not have otherwise. Allow me to share with you the story of how this book came to be.

In the beginning was a woman. Journalist and book editor Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, co-founder of the Phil. Center for Investigative Journalism, has reaped National Book Awards for her works such as Duet for Edsa and The World of 1896. Adding to this partial list of stellar achievements is Coming To Terms, a collection of 15 essays about midlife.

One of the invited contributors was Imelda M. Nicolas, the chair of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women from 1992 to 1998, and would later on organize the first Global Forum for Woman Political Leaders in the Philippines in January 2000.

The book was read, among hundreds of thousands around the world, by Josie Opeña Disterhoft, a Chicago-based advocate for education and human rights. She is the author of Developing A Child Care Program:  A Health System Decision-Making Guide, and a consultant to the American Medical Women’s Association. Touched by the stories, she suggested to Imelda: Why not publish a similar book of essays about Filipino women overseas?

“I embraced the idea wholeheartedly,” writes Imelda in the Foreword. “Among other reasons, I wanted to pass on the gratifying experience I had in writing my essay to all the women whose stories needed to be told and shared. Lorna was just as enthusiastic about being the book’s editor and co-publisher.”

With 19 writers, pen-and-ink portraits from Lynett Villariba, and a thought-provoking painting by Lina Llaguno Ciano in the cover – plus a lot of people who had contributed in their own significant ways – the book From America to Africa: Voices of Filipino Women Overseas, my favorite anthology, was born, and eventually proved to be an evocative and stereotype-shattering literary experience.

It is a beautiful cross section of people, places and experiences, “a wonderful diversity of Filipino women who have found homes everywhere in the world,” writes Imelda.

What can one glean from this book? For one thing, it shows the many ways Filipino women have achieved her rightful place as a co-equal in what are still largely men’s turfs. Take my hand and let us journey into the wonderful world of women –Filipinas all.

One of the most exhilarating adventures is the life of Ambassador Narcisa “Ching” Escaler – a perfect poster girl of what Filipinas can perform on the world stage. As chief of the Philippine Mission in the United Nations, she had “a front row seat to world events as they happened, like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequent reunification of the two Germanys, the Gulf War, Nelson Mandela’s release and the beginning of a post-apartheid South Africa, Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s first appearance in an UN conference, the collapse of communism ad the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the failed Uruguay Round trade negotiations. More than the front-row seat, however, I was an active participant in negotiating international decisions that impacted on such world events.”

Juanita Salvador-Burris, PhD, is the founder and first executive director of Woodlawn Development Associates, a non-profit community development corporation in Chicago. An articulate advocate of right to accessible human need, specifically jobs, she gave a rousing speech to Chicago city officials and taught them that individuals are more important than institutions.

“I spoke of how deeply fundamental a job is to an individual’s life. I spoke of knowing many in my community who, for two or three generations, have never had jobs, and generally have a debilitating helplessness and lack of initiative in creating their days, much less their future.”

There was enthusiastic applause after her speech. “When I went back to my seat, the officials leaned over to me and asked me to go with them to the banks and corporations to get them to give funds and jobs to their programs.”

My favorite passage is the beautiful, bittersweet, liberating revelation from Dr. Eumilia “Nini” Bautista, a retired nuclear safeguards inspector at the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN, and a sobresaliente cum laude PhD holder from the Universidad de Madrid in Spain, who’s now based in Vienna. She is the epitome of a successful life. But the road to the top, as we all know, is filled with detours, She gives voice  to our collective ennui.

“Modesty aside, I might even have had it all: envious friends jabbing left-handed compliments; career, home and family, friends; a modicum of creature comforts, travel, awards, community involvement. But I have also had my share of frenzy, of hectic workaholism, co-dependence, frustrations, disappointments, intrigues, almost legal battles, broken relationships, envious friends, and ruthless backbiting – the whole gamut of human existence. In fact, that’s the whole caboodle that’s called life. And one learns and tries to remember the lessons well, and one forgives again and yet again, and tries to forget. One is wounded and embittered, and then is healed. One stumbles again and again, limps, and finally gets back on one’s feet.”

See my profile on Raul Roco on The League of Extraordinary Filipino Gentlemen. Photo courtesy of NewFilipina


JonathanAquino said…
I just want to say that some of my closest friends are working abroad and they have done more for this country than people who stay behind and be bums