Saturday, April 30, 2011

ASHA: Turning Our Wounds Into Wisdom

The 20 Ople-Villar OFW sCHOLARS WITH
Toots with ASHA officials, led by President
Marinella Guerrero-Trinidad, Mrs. Annie
Pascual-Guerrero, ASHA Director Angie Blanco,
CCA Director Dr. Tawi, and ASHA Sales and
Marketing Director Jane Ampoloquio
I admit---I bear witness to a transformation that a few thought impossible. As an Overseas Filipino Worker myself, I am privy to some of the most distressing news about the plight and condition of our fellow Filipinos in some parts of world. I read their stories. I shared their pain. And nothing is more disconcerting than to hear a fellow Filipino, abused and abandoned by the government, to fend for herself.

That's why, I always tell myself to help Susan "Toots" Ople whenever and whichever possible. Toots is the only person I know that is totally dedicated to the genuine pursuit of the rights of the OFW and of ordinary workers. 

The Nationalistic staff of ASHA
For me there are only THREE Filipinos right now whose heart is definitely in the right place:

1. Toots Ople for the workers and the OFWs. She really works to help them 
2. Alex Lacson---he's the guy who I think is very fit to become Ombudsman due to his solid moral reputation and his strong advocacy towards change.
3. Amina Rasul---she continues to fight for the rights of the Bangsamoro and continues to aspire for peace in her homeland inspite of personal risks to her and her family. She is one tough Harvard cookie.

Incidentally, all of them are Harvard alumni. I am no Harvard alumnus. I am just a UP alumnus.

The OFW scholars now proud
graduates of ASHA
Yet, we shared the same vision---our belief in change. There is no change if there is no action. And we act based on what we believe is right and true.

Last week, I witnessed a spectacle that brought tears to my eyes. Our project already bore fruit. I am not in the business of self-promoting so, I will just let Philippine Daily Inquirer Tara Quismundo narrate what happened.

This my friends, hugged the frontpage of the Inquirer yesterday. Tara wrote very passionately about this. She felt their pain. She felt their triumph. And I think now, Tara and another good friend, Carlo of the Manila Bulletin, also shared our advocacy.

School turns ex-OFWs’ wounds into wisdom 
By Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:27:00 04/29/2011

Filed Under: Overseas Employment, Good news, Grants and Scholarships, Labor
MANILA, Philippines—Feeling helpless and exhausted working 22-hour days as a housemaid in Singapore, she was beginning to entertain thoughts of taking her own life.

That was less than a year ago. Now, Myra Grafil is back home and constantly smiling.

She’s a fresh graduate of a certificate course that has given her job prospects in the service industry. And she’s even quoting American media mogul Oprah Winfrey’s memorable line about getting back up.

“Thank you so much for turning our wounds into wisdom,” Grafil said in behalf of her fellow graduates in a ceremony at the Asian School of Hospitality Arts (ASHA) in San Juan City on Wednesday.

Grafil is among 20 former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and balikbayan relatives who completed a three-month housekeeping course at ASHA on scholarships sponsored by the school, Sen. Manny Villar and the Blas F. Ople Policy 
Center, a nongovernment organization for labor and migration concerns.

“Before, we thought, what will we do with a course in housekeeping? We might just be mopping around. But we found out that it was also teaching us the proper way of talking to people,” Grafil, a native of Samar, said in Filipino.

“We have regained the self-confidence that we lost because of our experiences overseas,” she said.

17 years

Having a certificate in her name ended Grafil’s 17 years of traveling back and forth to work as house help in Taiwan and Singapore. Her last stint, when she experienced being in the employ of a repressive boss, left painful memories.

“Sometimes I only had 2 hours of sleep,” Grafil said in an interview. “My boss would take me to Malaysia to clean another house. She didn’t pay me in full. I was thinking of killing myself.”

During that desperate time, she was somehow able to post a message about her situation on the Facebook page of Susan Ople, a staunch advocate of Filipino migrant workers’ rights and welfare.

On Ople’s plea, Filipino labor officials in Singapore rescued Grafil from her employer in October last year.
“We are OFWs who did not succeed overseas … Some of us are victims of illegal recruiters and abusive employers. She (Ople) was the one who helped us get back up,” Grafil said.

Realizing dreams

The group of OFWs was at first “skeptical” and somewhat awkward during the training, with many still withdrawn because of their traumatic experience abroad, ASHA president and CEO Marinela Trinidad said.

“At first, they would clam up … Some were shy … But there was a lot of interaction, so they bonded well,” she said.
Trinidad said the scholars were provided a short program to ease them into training. But they have the option to continue schooling under ASHA’s ladderized program.

She added that most of the scholars would be placed in jobs in the Cravings group of hotels and restaurants, the school’s mother company to which most of its graduates go.

At the ceremony, Ople challenged the graduates to “prove us right” in investing in their potential.

“We all want you to be optimistic about your future. A dream should not be encased in boundaries, and you should fight for it,” Ople said.

Every year, hundreds, if not thousands, of OFWs are rescued from abusive employers and repatriated to the Philippines.
Amid poor chances of employment at home, cases of illegal recruitment also continue to be reported as more Filipinos hope to land overseas jobs to help their families crawl out of poverty.

Imagine the dreams that scholars like Grafil are able to realize.

I urge our fellow Filipinos to help us send more scholars to ASHA so that we can transform many lives shattered by a false dream.