THERE IS a simple term we use to call our compatriots who are most exceptionally vulnerable to nostalgia and that is, the overseas Filipino worker (OFW).

At the mention of OFWs, an image of millions of Filipinos who may not have the opportunity to come home for the holidays or any other special occasion comes to mind and leaves me with not only a sadness for the economically poor conditions of the country but also a personal kind of sadness drawn from having myself experienced too many family members and relatives leaving the country.

Gone are the days that working abroad was something that sounded temporary and exciting. It is now more permanent and wearisome—unless of course lucky enough to make a fortune in a year or less. The OFW success stories usually take long periods to attain. Some unluckier ones end up kicking the bucket too early and are a subject to their bodies being mailed back in a casket.

Among the early instance of these so-called OFW blues could be observed from Jose Rizal’s letters to his family and friends that reflect the nostalgia, yearning and selflessness that many OFWs go through today. Of course, Rizal was not regarded as the “first OFW” as there were many Filipinos who worked outside the country even before Rizal’s parents were born.

The 2008 study by the UST Social Research Center (SRC) titled “Determining the Social Costs of Overseas Filipino Workers’ Remittances: A Check through Education Indicators” has shown that students with OFW parents are apt to be more active in school and focused in their studies, but it does not show if the same circumstances go for their parents in their work as well.

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It is difficult for an OFW to go abroad and leave family behind but it is even more difficult to stay home and endure altogether. While it could be hard for children to grow up with the absence of their parents, how much more hurtful would it  be for parents growing old and knowing that they are missing out on what should have been quality time with their children?

How could OFWs not catch the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when depression is more or less likely to occur and recur, especially now with the Christmas season being just around the corner? How much lonelier does it get for OFWs who stay in countries that experience decreasing amounts of sunlight and colder temperatures as winter progresses? SAD-ness does not only strike during winter, mind you.

Even professionals like doctors, teachers, engineers and professors are willing to make the ‘sacrifice’ in order to work abroad in the soonest possible time. This is absurd. They would rather be underemployed than unemployed which is downright unfair. I could not tell which one is worse.  

Of course, Filipinos need to work abroad to keep up with their families’ standard of living. Parents can only do so much as to have relatives teach their children the difference between what is right and what is wrong. Our generation is left unaided to figure out how to become responsible citizens without role models of their own.

OFWs are spread across the globe, supporting not only their families but their own country as well. The dangers they face are rampant, including death, but the income they earn for their families matter much more to them than their own lives. These remittances have raised more income for our country than tourism does. It is now the core strength of the Philippine economy and the largest source of foreign exchange.

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In the face of loneliness, OFWs strive so they could give their families a better future. The physical distance is the worst part, because Filipinos, if only given an easier choice, would want, more than anything, to have their families close by.

It is not new how OFWs are most likely to suffer from homesickness, alas, the high unemployment rate drives them to leave.  OFWs send money back home to their families leaving very few or almost none for themselves.

In the words of a speechwriter for the Department of Tourism Jahzeel Abihail G. Cruz, “OFWs are in a situation which we shouldn’t be proud of and trumpet about, they’re in a situation that we should instead remedy”. So goes the unrelenting tale of the overseas Filipino, woeful.

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