If you’re a Filipino, chances are, you have a relative or know a family friend working abroad.
When in Manila, we refer to them as OFW’s: our modern day heroes, so to speak. These hard-working individuals have deliberately chosen to live far away from home and their loved ones to work abroad because of higher salaries and better working conditions, and we think this is a good thing–a shining possibility, even–not only because of the current unemployment rate (refer to infographic below) but also because it’s been ingrained in us that working abroad equals making it “big”. I know a lot of college students like me, for instance, whose goal is to work abroad the moment they graduate.
Infographic courtesy of Maria Jeriesa Osorio
It does seem great, doesn’t it – to be able to provide more for one’s family, despite the distance and the different time zones and being “geographically single”? Communication Research students from UP Diliman thought otherwise, though, having conducted a study on married couples separated by labor migration.
The findings of their study reveal that being apart has become more manageable in the advent of technology, with Viber, Skype, email, and a whole lot of instant-messaging and videochatting platforms at the couples’ disposal. However, the interviewed couples don’t deny that it’s causing some strains in their marriage, from having to negotiate parental and household roles and dealing with emergencies while the other one is away.
Migrant husbands struggle with leaving very young children behind who may not be accustomed to their presence and take a while adjusting to them being back. Some left-behind wives even confessed to having to make decisions on their own because they don’t want to add to the burdens their husbands are facing at work in a foreign country with foreign co-workers far away from them. This leaves little room for couples to discuss personal problems and relationship issues because catching up and updating each other on the things that matter–finances, the children’s education, work, other practical matters–takes a lot of time.
While they do agree that communication is still the most important thing keeping their relationships going, an “I love you” on Facebook or through webcam still does not compare to a hug or kiss in real life. These intangibles are what make the homecoming that much sweeter and the leaving twice as hard.
As long as labor migration continues to be discreetly advertised in the country, these couples will use anything they can to stay connected. It doesn’t matter whether they have to schedule their video chats, make do with an email for updates about family members and co-workers, or watch their children growing up through the glare of their computer screens.
Family members patiently waiting for their loved ones’ arrival
This sad reality poses an important question for us all: can’t it be possible to have higher paying jobs WITHOUT having to leave the country? Why have to sacrifice that much? When everything and everyone you love is in Manila, wouldn’t you wan’t to stay in Manila, too?
Seven couples from the Greater Manila Area were interviewed for the said study. Of the 7 couples, only one couple has a female migrant spouse while the rest are males.