Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew of the bittersweet stories of returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Often, they go abroad for high-paying jobs so that they can save and send money to their families back home. But migration stories don’t always guarantee a happy ending, and they need help when they are forced to return home.
“Dahil ang pagkakaakala ko ay ang pagiging OFW ang sagot sa lahat ng naging problemang financial namin at gusto kong maiahon ang aking pamilya at mapagtapos ang aking anak,” said returning OFW Marites Coronado. The journey, however, wasn’t simple.
Take the case of another former OFW, Alma Palafox. She recounted: “Hindi po ako sini-suwerte sa napupuntahan na bansa. Laging may masamang nangyayari po sa akin. At minsan na rin muntik na akong hindi nakabalik ng Pinas ng buhay. Kaya hindi ko po natatapos kontrata ko.”
Gerlie Austria shares a similar experience but remains grateful despite the hardships she endured abroad. “Hindi man po ako naging maswerte sa ibang bansa, pero nagpapasalamat po ako sa Panginoong Diyos at ako po ay nakauwi nang buhay.”
Myrna Peñosa Corporal recalled the gloom she felt when she decided to go back to her family. “Noong nagsabi ako sa amo ko na ibalik na ako sa agency, dinala po nila ako sa Labor. Ang unang pumasok sa isip ko at naiyak ako, ‘Paano na ang pamilya ko? Uuwi ako na walang pera at naipon’,” said Corporal.
Coronado, Palafox, Austria, and Corporal are among the OFWs who had to return home even if they haven’t achieved yet the financial goals they set for themselves.
The Balikabayanihan campaign, a program supported by the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), seeks to help these OFWs whose dreams were interrupted for various reasons.
Spearheaded by NEDA-Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency and Atikha — a non-government organization working with OFWs and their families to maximize the gains of working abroad — Balikabayanihan calls on the spirit of volunteerism of Filipinos to help returning OFWs.
It is a call for partnership by the Overseas Filipino organizations with government agencies, local government units, and the private sector to help OFWs by providing the needed resources — manpower and funds or mobilizing their volunteer network to serve as mentors to the OFWs.
Melanie Labera, a returning OFW whose plan to resume her work abroad was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, benefitted from the program. “Nang umuwi ako ng Pilipinas, nagkataon naman na pandemic. Gusto ko sana bumalik [abroad], pero di na ako makabalik. Kaya malaki ang pasasalamat ko sa programang ito, pati sa BPI. May konting puhunan naman ako sa aking tindahan, pero konti lang. Kaya nagpapasalamat ako na nadagdagan dahil sa inyo.”
For her part, Austria, also a program beneficiary, said, “Nang makabalik po ako sa Pilipinas, isa po ako sa maswerteng napili ng Atikha na mabigyan ng tulong upang ako’y makapagsimula ulit sa aking buhay. Naging masaya po ako at nagkaroon ng pag-asa sa buhay. Ngayon po ay natupad ang isa kong pangarap na makabili ng makina.”
As one of the program supporters, BPI aims to empower repatriated OFWs by helping them manage their finances through learning webinars and by mobilizing volunteers and sponsors. BPI implements their programs through its business units BPI Foundation, BPI-Philam, and Remittance and Fund Transfers.
“This pandemic has been hard on everyone, but repatriated OFWs and their families have been particularly affected. OFWs have done so much to uplift our entire nation’s economy over the decades. It’s only right that we stand by them now and help them get back on their feet and establish a financially secure life for themselves and their families,” said Reggie Cariaso, BPI Head of Corporate Banking Strategy, Products, and Support.
“Napakaganda po ng aking karanasan dahil nagkaroon po ako ng pag-asa sa buhay at talagang ipinangako ko po sa aking sarili na pagbubutihin ko po itong tulong na ibinigay sa akin ng Atikha at BPI Pamana Padala. At ang nagustuhan ko po dito ay ang mga taong kasapi dito na maaayos ang pakikitungo at napakamapagkumbaba at napakababait upang matulungan kaming lahat,” said Coronado.
BPI Foundation holds mentoring sessions for OFWs with BPI Unibankers as volunteer mentors. For its part, BPI Philam provides free COVID-19 insurance coverage worth P200,000. BPI’s Remittance and Fund Transfers offers financial grants and monthly mentoring sessions for chosen OFWs and instills the value of saving using their BPI Pamana Padala account.
With opportunities such as the Balikabayanihan, returning OFWs are more empowered than ever to try their luck in their home country.
Palafox said, “Dito nalang po ako sa Pinas. Kahit mahirap po basta’t sama-sama kami ng mga anak ko. Kaya nagpapasalamat kami sa Balikabayanihan at sa BPI. Ang tanging hinahangad ko po sa aking sarili ay mapaunlad ko ang munting negosyo at magkaroon pa ng maraming kaalaman.”
Corporal shared another insight: “Natutunan ko po sa Balikabayanihan na kailangan po tayong magtulungan para makabangon ulit sa hamon ng buhay.”