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The group of OFWs was at first “skeptical” and somewhat awkward during the training, with many still withdrawn because of their traumatic experience abroad, ASHA president and CEO Marinela Trinidad said.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