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NGO Rebuilds OFW Families

By Maricar Cinco (Southern Luzon Bureau) Posted date: March 15, 2009

SAN PABLO CITY – Atikha, which literally means “to slowly rebuild” in old Tagalog, is one organization’s way of helping rebuild the families of migrant Filipino workers.

Believing that “investments” are not only financial concerns but also emotional and social issues, a group of migrant returnees founded the Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiative Inc. in 1996.

The group chose to pilot the program in Laguna and Batangas, as these provinces registered the most number of migrant workers.

In 2000, the organization conducted research on the families left behind by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and found the situation alarming, said founding member and executive director Estrella Añonuevo.

Quoting the Department of Social Welfare and Development, she said “almost all” juveniles in drug rehabilitation centers, at least those in Laguna, are children of OFWs.

Feminization of migration

Atikha’s findings showed how the labor demand abroad had shifted from male laborers in the Middle East during the 1970s to domestic helpers, caregivers or nurses in Italy, Spain and Hong Kong in the 1980s.

The increased employment opportunities for women today are a result of what she called the growing feminization of migration.

She said most children found it difficult to cope with the “separation” when it is the mother, who normally takes up the “nurturing role” in the family, leaves to work abroad.

“This should not be the case, but society does not condition husbands to cook, do the laundry or feed the kids,” she said.

If there are some men who do, social pressures ridicule them as being “under the saya” or henpecked.


Migration’s effects also vary depending on how early the parents leave. If the children were still infants at the time the parents leave, the danger is one of alienation.

There are cases when children would later refer to their mothers as “tita” (aunt) because they do not know them, said Añonuevo.

On the other hand, children left behind during their teen years develop the feeling of abandonment because of the idea that parents left them for a better life abroad.

Communication gap

Atikha conducts school-based workshops in 13 pilot schools at present to assess the relationship of the OFW to the family.

It has tapped at least 1,000 children of OFWs, aged 10 and above, for the workshops they conduct two Saturdays each month.

One exercise involves drawing a “constellation” – where the children represent the sun, and the other members of the family would represent other heavenly bodies.

“In some cases, you’ll find the mother on another page [of the paper]. That shows how far they are,” Añonuevo said.
Añonuevo believes that lack of information on the real conditions abroad causes the gap.

Often times, she said, OFWs would not speak of their problems to keep their families from worrying. They also have the tendency to lavishly send remittances and packages to ease the guilt of not being physically present for the family.
During a recent activity of Atikha in Italy, a group of female domestic helpers were asked who among them still send letters to their families.

Out of 100 participants, only one raised her hand.

“It turned out that this OFW is the only one [among the participants] whose family is doing well and whose kids are honor students – the ideal OFW family we can think of,” said Añonuevo.

“It is not the frequency but the quality of communication,” she pointed out.


“A lot of OFWs feel they are a failure,” said Añonuevo.

She remembered one domestic helper who worked in Hong Kong for 20 years.

“When she came back, she was asking me, ‘Have I made the right decision to work abroad?’ because she was able to have her house renovated and extended, but none of her children finished college and her husband left her,” Añonuevo recalled.

Atikha believes emotional problems are just as serious as financial problems. The feeling of homesickness or missing a loved one is a matter that needs to be taken seriously as much as financial concerns.

In the same manner, Atikha also helps the family save, believing this will shorten the time the OFW needs to work away from the family.


Aside from the schools, Atikha taps local government, cooperatives, banks and microfinance organizations to replicate the financial literacy program to OFWs.

“Normally, there is no particular program set for OFWs just because people think they are relatively well-off and needs no more help,” Añonuevo said.

The organization conducts workshops for OFWs and whoever manages the remittances (spouse, mother or siblings) in the Philippines.

They screen reliable cooperatives and banks in the country to “create an enabling environment” for the OFWs’ investments when they come home.

“The challenge is to prepare the community to absorb the savings and investment of OFWS that will contribute to the local economic development,” said Añonuevo.

She believes intervention should not only begin during times of crises, but as part of a long-term advocacy.

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