COVID-19 bolsters hero stature of OFWs like Mary

Published July 26, 2021, 12:21 AM

by Jun Concepcion

OFW Forum

Jun Concepcion

When crisis struck in the family, with the life of an elder sibling in grave danger, Mary Deso-acido, 45, a single mother, did not dilly dally and immediately took action boldly.

A domestic helper in Hong Kong for more than 15 years, she readily found a way to raise a substantial sum to save her brother’s life. Thanks to her female employer who helped her buy US stocks, she was able to liquefy her equity investment, thus raising nearly P200,000 which funded her brother’s emergency treatment.

“My brother’s life was in danger and I had to do something quickly. Between preserving my investment for retirement and saving my brother’s life, my choice was easy and I didn’t hesitate to make it,” she relates.

Mary’s heroic deed saved his brother, who came to the brink of death as tetanus had already spread all over his body.

“Life is more precious than all the money in this world. Family and God are always first and foremost to me than any other wordly possession,” she adds.

As COVID-19 and its variants continue to wreak havoc and hardships across the world, including the Philippines, OFWs, like Mary, a native of Negros Occidental, accentuate further their stature as “modern-day heroes” and even saviors of the country.

With millions thrown out of jobs amid COVID-19 and government aid sorely inadequate and inconsistent, many turn more and more to OFWs for much-needed financial and material support. Not unexpectedly and inevitably, many OFWs now face a heavier burden than before COVID’s outbreak in early 2020.

And Mary is no exception. “There were times when I imagined carrying the world on my shoulders because of severe financial pressures. All five of my siblings have their respective families but I often end up helping them one way or the other, aside from looking after the daily necessities of our parents. Good thing my long-time partner is always on my side who takes head-on major challenges and problems that confront our family,” she says.

A case in point was when one of her nephews was detained one time by police for suspected drug abuse. The case understandably struck great fear as no one knew if other family members had been added to the police “drug watch” list. Fortunately, prompt and robust action by her partner saved her nephew from the trumped-up charge.

Like Mary, many other current OFWs or former OFWs have tales of heroism though they’ve prudently kept them away from public attention.

One of them is Evelyn, 32, a single mother of three, who is increasingly getting anxious to leave for overseas as hunger exacts a heavy toll on her children and mother. After a brief one-year stint as a domestic helper in the Middle East, she decided to come home and found work in a Makati spa as a guest relations officer.

But with COVID-induced lockdowns and in and out of work, Evelyn now presses hard to leave again for abroad no matter where – just to spare her mother and children from further pangs of hunger.

While family members of Mary and Evelyn regard them both as heroes, OFWs in general are collectively regarded in similar fashion as they help keep afloat the country’s economy amid the continuing devastation of COVID-19 and its increasingly virulent and deadly variants. Although about one million OFWs are estimated to have lost their jobs overseas and have returned since 2020, overall OFW remittances have surprisingly remained resilient and steady – presumably as scores raised the amount of money that they send home to meet inflated costs of living of their loved ones.

In May this year, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas data showed that OFW money transfers made via banks grew 13.1 percent to US$2.38 billion from $2.106 billion in the same month last year. Meanwhile, money transfers made through informal channels, including money brought home by relatives or friends of OFWs, rose 13.3 percent to $2.65 billion from $2.34 billion a year earlier.

Just imagine the $4.72 billion or P237.08 billion sent home in one month alone in May this year. The massive amount must have provided  food on the table for tens of millions of hungry mouths, especially those unable to receive COVID-related food aid from their local governments.

The huge sum must have also kept sales going in numerous retail stores and kept operations humming at thousands of micro, small and medium-size enterprises, enabling hundreds of thousands or millions of their workers to keep their jobs and their ability to meet food and other daily necessities of their family members.

While the gross $4.72 billion remittances for May was the lowest in 11 months, the level for the whole year appears on track to reach the annual average of $30 billion – making OFWs one of the vital and essential pillars of the country’s economy.

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