Left behind, but not forgotten  

ALL does not glisten—or glitter—in foreign lands. This was the gist of the partnership between the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Mindanao Migrants Center for Empowering Action Inc. (MMCEAI), as they attempt to extend government social services, this time, to the distraught children of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) left behind here in the Philippines, and to the OFWs themselves.

While parents or their children resort to migration to seek economic relief from dire straits at home, data from government and NGOs like MMCEAI reveal the human toll: distressed situations encountered by some returning OFWs, indicating that the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow could sometimes be  nothing but a myth, or a bad tradeoff for ruined lives at home.

There would be periodic cases of abuse of whatever form, whether financial, physical or social, mental or sexual, and there would be cases of misfortune every now and then.

Thus, it would not surprise Filipinos that even in the government’s conditional cash transfer program for the poorest of the poor, there would be beneficiaries from even among the OFWs themselves.

The pact

IN the memorandum of agreement the parties signed on May 24, the government and the Mindanao NGO pledged to work together “in extending programs and services to children of OFW parents who are Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries.” It said they would also promote and strengthen the implementation of 4Ps in the Davao Region.

Lawyer Vanessa B. Goc-ong, DSWD director for the Davao Region, said government has acknowledged the profound work of the MMCEAI for migrant workers, especially among distressed returning OFWs, and among their children and families left behind in their hometowns in Mindanao.

This made the MMCEAI the ideal partner to ensure an enhanced implementation of the conditional cash transfer program among OFW beneficiaries.

“Working with MMCEAI has allowed us to take a deeper look at the phenomenon of distressed OFWs and their children. We also see how our joint efforts started with rescue, and then later these evolved into other programs like rehabilitation and referral to psychosocial legal experts,” she said at the signing ceremony witnessed by teams from the regional DSWD office and some officers of OFW community organizations in Davao City.

She said the organization’s long experience would help DSWD extend its financial and social services assistance program to the children, especially those of returning OFWs traumatized by physical and sexual abuse by employers, or facing abandonment by spouses and of the squander of their hard-earned remittances by guardians.

MMCEAI creation

THE MMCEAI was established in 2007 as a center to promote the rights of migrant workers, lobby for policies on safe migration and ensure adequate protection for OFWs.

The organization focuses on identifying distressed and abandoned OFWs and provide or refer them to appropriate government agencies and facilities for any type of assistance, from rescue to providing psychosocial therapy and legal services.

It also has special programs for children of OFWs, called Anak OFW, to provide therapeutic activities and counselling, as well as educational assistance and further counselling and advice in the schools.

It has formed community associations of OFWs and linked them with their respective barangays for official recognition and accreditation.

Inorisa Sealana-Elento, MMCEAI executive director, said the NGO has 10 organizations in the blighted communities where the distressed OFWs and their families also reside. It has also established footholds in the cities of Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato and Zamboanga, with the core group composed of heads of regional offices of government agencies and key leaders of associations with migrant concerns.

She said the MMCEAI has already served or established initial contacts with more than 4,000 OFWs in distressed conditions.

The MMCEAI has also referred the families left behind by the OFWs to appropriate government agencies for assistance.

Culture of money savings

THE children and the families were also introduced to a savings activity. Here, small amounts, mostly in coins, are dropped in plastic bottles or kept in small cubicles, with the MMCEAI or its community coordinators ensuring that the piggy-banks are kept safe and the small savings recorded appropriately. This was intended to develop a culture of savings and responsible attitude toward spending.

The DSWD’s focus on services for children of OFWs springs from one of its focus of Human Capital Development on Republic Act 11310, the law creating  the 4Ps, which grants the minimum financial assistance on condition that the parents comply with certain requirements, especially on care of children—from conception to the nurturing of their basic education and ensuring their regular attendance in prenatal care to class attendance of children.

Raising the ‘grit’

SO far, the DSWD found out, for instance, that regular attendance in schools and getting the habit of getting education the condition for 4P’s inclusion, has increased the “grit” or determination among their children “to ask help when lesson is difficult (up by 91.2 percent), to strive to get higher grades (up by 91.7 percent) and to finish school work before they play (up by 77 percent)”.

“4Ps children have stronger determination [grit], which is an important socioeconomic skill in achieving goals,” a 4Ps primer said.

In previous years, the DSWD has reported cases of families which graduated from the 4Ps program due to the compliance with these education conditions, as children also later found ways to enrol in college or find gainful employment to help boost the family’s income.

The DSWD-MMCEAI agreement would also encourage the latter to join the periodic training on the 4Ps program, so that the MMCEAI may develop its own activities that would cater to the needs of the current and “would-be beneficiaries of the program.”

Image credits: Czarnybez | Dreamstime.com

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