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Migrants’ Children Struggle with Absence of Loved Ones
According to various UNICEF studies, children of Filipino overseas workers bear the brunt of the 'painful effects' of separation

By Girlie Linao AFP , SAN PABLO CITY, PHILIPPINES Thursday, Oct 08, 2009, Page 14

Jocelyn Banez doesn’t know how to tell her mother that she will not graduate with her class after missing all but nine days last year at a private high school in the Philippines. I just didn’t want to study, said the 16-year-old, who spoke on the condition of being identified by a false name. I also spent a big bulk of my tuition money to go out with friends, buy all the things I wanted and drink with my friends.

Jocelyn ran away from home for almost two weeks last year when her mother left for a job in Bahrain as a domestic worker. I was drunk most of the time, she said. It was better than to think about what’s happening at home.

Jocelyn is among an estimated 6 million children left behind in the Philippines by parents who went overseas to find better-paying jobs. There are currently more than

8 million Filipinos working abroad, an estimated 25 percent of whom are married with children.

Jocelyn and her three siblings, ages 4, 5 and 11, live with their grandparents in a small bungalow in San Pablo City in Laguna province, 90km south of Manila. Their father has been gone for more than 10 years, working as an electrician in Saudi Arabia, and they no longer expect him to return. “My father has a new family in Riyadh,” Jocelyn said, wiping tears from her eyes. T”he last time we saw him was in 2003 when he came for a visit, and we found out that he has a pregnant girlfriend. It was very hurtful, and I don’t know how to tell my siblings.”

Last year, Jocelyn’s mother was forced to find work abroad because her husband suddenly stopped sending money home. “When Mama left, I lost my only ally at home,” Jocelyn said, sobbing. “She was my best friend, my confidante, my biggest supporter. We even used to share one bed at night. I really miss her a lot.”

According to various UNICEF studies, children of Filipino overseas workers bear the brunt of the painful effects of migration. Migration can result in an orphan feeling among the children who are left behind, as well as prevent them from getting the sufficient knowledge of their social, cultural and historical background that is necessary for them to shape their identity, a 2007 study found.

Luela Villagarcia, a social worker with the Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiative, a non-governmental organization that helps the children and families of Filipino workers, said children go through greater adjustments when their mothers leave.

She said juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, psychological impairment, loss of self-esteem, early marriages and family breakdowns are some of the negative impacts of migration that greatly affect children. The kids may be getting every expensive gadget they want, but the emotional loss is huge for them, she said. They suffer separation anxiety. Some of them are angry because they do not understand what was happening.

At the Lakes City Christian School in San Pablo City, about 60 percent of students have at least one parent overseas, mostly as domestic workers. Atikha has been holding counseling sessions for students with the help of their teachers.

Kyle Lorenzo Suarez, 15, burst into tears during one session as he revealed how he found out that his father was having an affair while his mother worked as a nurse in Canada. “It’s very sad that my Mama is not here,” he said. “Now, I just discovered that my Papa is having an affair. He was drunk one night, and the woman called. My younger sister and I heard everything they were talking about, and it’s so hurtful.”

Kyle, who also asked not to be identified by his real name, said he does not intend to tell his mother about the affair, for fear that she might not return to the Philippines. “I just use that information to blackmail my Papa to give me things that I want,” he said, grinning.

In nearby Alaminos town, 70 percent of the more than 4,000 residents of Santa Rosa village have relatives working as domestic helpers in Italy. Most are mothers forced to leave their children in the care of fathers or grandparents.

Ernesto Sahagun, Santa Rosa village chairman, said that some fathers have become irresponsible, merely waiting for the monthly remittances from their wives. “Instead of taking care of their children, they do nothing but hang out with friends,” he said. “They drink, and some even have extramarital affairs. Since 2007, I’ve had to close down four beer houses in the village to stop fathers from drinking.”

Arlene Sanchez, 19, and her three sisters, ages 16, 15 and 10, know the problem too well: their father has become a drunk since their mother left in 2002 to work as a domestic helper in Milan. “I don’t even know where Papa is now,” Arlene, who did not want to give her real name, said during a visit to their house. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I see him drunk somewhere even if it’s only noontime.”

Arlene admitted that after their mother left, she and her sisters got into trouble for skipping school, drinking with friends and squandering their allowances on shopping sprees. “But our grandparents loved us as their own children, and they gave us second chances, so we learned our lessons well,” she said. “Now we have matured, and we’re doing better.”

Arlene, who last year married her boyfriend and now lives with his parents who are working in Italy, said she was looking forward to leaving Santa Rosa and starting life with her husband in Tuscany, where she hopes to find work, too.

She said her mother was working on bringing her three sisters to Italy as immigrants so the family would eventually be together.

Asked what would happen to her father, Arlene said: “I don’t know if my mother will work on his papers to come to Italy. She’s mad at him.

For Jocelyn, who has gone back to school and plans to take up criminology in college, going abroad is not an option in the future. “Our lives became miserable when my parents left for abroad,” she said. “We have more problems now, but we still don’t have enough money. I don’t care if we only have a small house or if there’s only dried fish on the table, as long as we are all together as family. Nothing’s more important.”

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