The Philippines’ migrant workers, as well as the children left behind

No mother wants to leave her child — however within the Philippines, the item can feel like there’s no additional choice. Unable to earn enough money at home, an estimated 2.2 million Filipinos worked overseas last year, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. The majority were women, many hoping to give their child a better future.

They work as nurses, hospitality staff, nannies as well as cleaners. Last year, they sent $33.5 billion back to the Philippines in personal remittances — a record high, according to the country’s central bank.

More than 2.2 million Filipinos worked overseas in 2019The top 5 destinations were in Asia as well as the Middle East

Source: Philippines Statistics Authority

however their income comes at a high personal cost. Mothers can miss out on entire childhoods. Sometimes their relationship with their children remains damaged as well as distant, years after they return. additional times, their children’s lives can veer off course without a parent at home.

In Hong Kong, the vast majority of Filipino migrants are domestic workers, often raising additional people’s children. CNN spoke with several of these women, as well as adults who grew up within the Philippines without their mothers, about the emotional toll of being separated for years.

Dolores can count on one hand the number of times she has seen her seven-year-old son.

She left him with his grandmother within the Philippines when he was six months old — she needed to return to work in Hong Kong to earn income to support them, as well as her niece as well as additional family members. Her husband worked overseas, too.

Without much annual leave or the funds to travel, Dolores, who asked to be identified only by her first name for privacy reasons, didn’t see her son again until he was two-as well as-a-half years old.

“the item’s genuinely hard to leave. You don’t want to leave, actually … (however) I don’t have genuinely a choice.”

“the item’s difficult — you left your son not knowing you,” she said. “He doesn’t know anything about you. Then you come back, as well as he can talk, he can run, however he doesn’t recognize you.”

Those first years were heartbreaking. Dolores could only afford two long-distance phone calls a week, because her family didn’t have internet access at home. She would likely call late at night after finishing work, just to listen to her son babble.

Dolores shows a picture of her son, who lives within the Philippines. Credit: Jessie Yeung

Things have gotten easier over time. currently, her family has internet access as well as they make video calls three times a day. however she still worries the item isn’t enough. “How can I nurture my child, considering that will he’s within the Philippines?” she said. “When he comes home through school, I can’t teach him his homework.”

She felt the distance most two years ago, when her son was hospitalized for an ear blockage. Neither Dolores nor her husband were able to return home, as well as could only talk to their son over the phone after his operation was finished.

“I had a heavy heart that will I was not there (while) he had to undergo the operation,” she said. “We were crying, because your son can be telling you the item’s painful, as well as you can’t comfort him. Of course, we are calling (on the phone), however the item’s different if you’re beside (him).”

The reasons they leave

within the Philippines, high birth rates have created a labor force that will’s growing faster than the economy can create jobs. Unemployment has pushed many to go abroad to find work.

In Hong Kong, there are almost 400,000 domestic workers, the majority of whom are women through the Philippines. They get paid at least $0 (29,500 pesos) a month – far higher than the average nominal wage within the Philippines of about $213 (10,460 pesos) a month, according to the International Labour Organization.

These conditions, which have persisted for decades, push more than a million Filipinos to leave the country every year for work abroad, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The additional income provides much-needed security — not just for children’s education, however for additional crucial needs like medical costs or recovery through natural disasters.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte praised these workers for their economic contribution at a 2019 event. however the migration of Filipino workers has also left millions of children without a parent at home.

currently, more than ever, we need you, the (overseas Filipino workers) as well as your families, to take part in our nation-building efforts. I thus call on you to … continue to make our country proud.”

Rodrigo Duterte President of the Philippines

Francis Tumpalan doesn’t remember his mother leaving home; he was only four years old at the time. What he does remember can be being raised by his grandparents as well as wearing wrinkled uniforms to school.

His mother’s visits, which came once every two years, were bittersweet, he said — the item always felt like “living in a fantasy” that will he knew wouldn’t last long.

His mother’s sacrifices did provide him with opportunities. He went to college, though he says he spent more time hanging out with his friends as well as girlfriend than studying, as well as regrets dropping out before graduating.

Tumpalan can be currently 22, as well as his mother still works in Hong Kong. They talk every night, swapping stories about their days as well as about his young daughter, Phoebe. These long conversations have brought them closer, as well as help him understand why she left so many years ago.

Francis Tumpalan with his wife as well as daughter at home in Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines. Credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani

“Mama’s sacrifices are worth the item because she provided (for) my needs, however I dream of her to come home for Great as well as wish that will I can also give her a better life someday,” he said.

His mother declined to speak with CNN due to a busy work schedule.

Francis hopes his job at an automobile shop, along with the modest store his wife runs, will earn enough for both of them to stay within the Philippines — as well as allow his mother to save money for her own return, currently that will she no longer has to support him.

“the item’s difficult to grow up without a mother … I want Phoebe to grow up in a complete family,” he said. “A simple life can be okay as long as we are complete.”

The dream of education

TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images

JAY DIRECTO/AFP via Getty Images

Despite the high unemployment rates for graduates, many Filipinos still believe higher education could help lift their children out of poverty. however the item’s an expensive dream.

Affordable public schools are often chronically underfunded, so many parents strive to send their children to expensive however better-resourced private schools.

College tuition can cost up to $6,0 a year, far out of reach for millions of Filipinos. Many migrant workers spend decades working overseas to save up for these fees.

however there’s no guarantee that will a degree can grant success as well as stability, as so many parents wish. Many workers who go overseas tochase This specific generational dream had high school diplomas as well as college degrees themselves, that will were of little help within the job market.

Even Duterte acknowledged the hardships that will pushed workers abroad in his 2019 speech, saying that will one of his top priorities was to provide “sustainable work as well as livelihood opportunities in our country.”

Catalina Magno as well as her husband both lost their jobs in 2001, as well as watched their savings drain away over months of unemployment. Struggling to provide for their two sons, Magno found a job in Hong Kong as well as left the children, one as well as four years old at the time, with their father.

She had one goal — to earn enough to fund their education through college. the item’s what “every mother dreams about,” she said.

however over time, her children asked why she wasn’t home. When her son was six, he said, “Why do you look after additional kids however you can’t look after us?” said Magno, who visited home twice a year — more than many additional domestic workers can afford.

“I told him, This specific can be a trade-off. If I look after additional kids, I can send you to school, you can have greater education. however usually they don’t understand that will.”

Magno declined to be photographed because of This specific piece.

Her sons are 21 as well as 23 currently. Both got into college to study engineering, as she had desperately hoped, however dropped out before graduating. Magno was devastated. “At first, I didn’t believe the item,” she said. “the item’s tough, the item’s very tough.”

One currently works at a call center. The additional can be “working online,” however she isn’t completely sure what that will means since “he doesn’t talk about the item.” She still doesn’t know why they dropped out. Her relationship with her sons can be still marked by a sense of distance as well as resignation.

When asked if she would likely have come to Hong Kong all those years ago if she had known her sons wouldn’t finish college, her answer was immediate.

“No, of course not,” she said. “My goal to go abroad was to earn money to send them to school. that will was the only goal.”

The tragic reality

In a tragic twist, children whose parents work overseas may actually do worse in school, even if that will education can be a major reason their parents leave, experts say.

“In school activities, children of migrant mothers tend to score lower as well as to have poorer performance,” said a 2013 study by Philippines researchers at De La Salle University.

“The absence of mothers can be consistently identified as having a more pervasive influence on the lives of their children,” the study added.

The researchers said some of these children end up failing classes or dropping out due to a variety of factors.

They may feel more responsible to care for their siblings in their parents’ absence, drawing attention away through school; they may feel like they don’t belong with peers; or they may simply stray through studies without the structure typically provided by parental presence.

Krizzel Orpilla was on a family holiday when she got her first menstrual period as a young girl.

Most girls turn to their mothers for guidance, however Orpilla didn’t feel like she could tell her mother, Divina Valdez, who had left when she was 10 years old to work in Taiwan as well as Hong Kong.

“My mother was on vacation with us however I cannot genuinely tell her because I feel like there can be a wall between us, because she was not always around,” said Orpilla, who was raised by her grandparents. Instead, she sought out her older sister, who filled the gap as well as “acted like a mother” as they grew up.

Top: A photo of Divina Valdez, her husband, as well as their employers’ children in Taiwan. Bottom: Krizzel celebrating a birthday without her parents. Credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani

The feeling of estrangement lingered after Valdez returned to the Philippines permanently in 2003, when Orpilla was about 15. however everything changed a year later, when Valdez was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“I felt cheated because the item’s the only time that will she can be finally with us — then the cancer happened,” said Orpilla, currently 32.

“I can never leave my babies, I can never go abroad as well as be apart through them; I could never do what my mother sacrificed for us.”

They caught the cancer early as well as Valdez recovered, however the experience made Orpilla realize that will she needed to “forgive her as well as be close to her to make up for the lost time.”

the item was difficult for Orpilla to resolve the unfulfilled longing for her mother’s presence during childhood, especially since they aren’t the type to have heart-to-hearts. “We never genuinely talked about the item,” she said.

however living together, as well as having Valdez care for Orpilla’s own children, helped their relationship to heal over time. “When I became a mother, I realized how brave my mother can be,” Orpilla said.

Divina Valdez, Krizzel Orpilla’s mother, never planned to work overseas — however as her kids grew older, she worried she wouldn’t have enough money to send them all to school, especially when the family farm flooded as well as cost the family its income.

So, she left the Philippines when Orpilla was 10 years old, as well as spent the next six years working in Taiwan as well as Hong Kong. Her husband left as well, finding work in various countries.

She missed her children all the time. however, unlike Orpilla, Valdez never felt like there was distance between them.

Divina Valdez’s old Hong Kong ID card through when she used to work within the city. Credit: Xyza Cruz Bacani

“I wrote to them weekly as well as they reply,” she said. “When I come home, they always miss me.”

Her decision to work abroad paid off in some ways. With higher incomes as well as savings, the family was able to build a bigger home within the Philippines. More importantly, all three kids graduated college; the eldest can be currently an engineer, the middle child a teacher, as well as Orpilla can be a nurse. Their success, achieved even without their parents by their side, made Valdez “genuinely proud,” she said.

currently that will she has settled back home as well as can be cancer-free, Valdez enjoys spending time with her grandchildren — as well as closing the chasm with Orpilla she never realized was there.

“I make up for the lost time with Krizzel by taking care of her children,” she said.

The risk of exploitation

As well as their huge emotional sacrifice, Filipino workers in Hong Kong also often face gruelling – as well as sometimes dangerous – living as well as working conditions.

Domestic workers are legally required to live in their employers’ homes — a rule that will many activists as well as advocates have decried as trapping women in potentially exploitative or abusive situations.

A domestic worker lost a legal challenge against the live-in requirement in 2016; she appealed, however the court ruled against her This specific September as well as upheld the requirement.

A survey of 5,023 domestic workers last year found that will 15% had been physically abused during employment as well as 2% reported being sexually assaulted or harassed. Nearly half said they worked more than 16 hours a day; Hong Kong has no laws around maximum working hours per day or week.

Domestic workers in Hong Kong report high rates of poor working as well as living conditions

Source: Mission for migrant workers, 2019

additional complaints include not being given enough food to eat, not having a proper bed or privacy at night, as well as being asked to work on their days off.

however for some, the hardest part of the job can be being separated through their children.

As a child, Vivien Leigh Ortiz was always envious of her classmates. They all had mothers at home, who attended school events as well as bought them nice clothes. Ortiz’s mother left when she was 5, as well as she was raised by her father.

As she grew up, she got used to her mother’s absence — however childhood envy shifted into adolescent rebellion. When her mother sent home money for supplies, Ortiz would likely often spend the item on food as well as drinks for her friends.

Her mother paid for college, however Ortiz didn’t put much effort into studying — she changed her major four times, dropped out at one point, as well as took eight years to finish her degree in teaching as well as education.

Only as she grew older, got married as well as had three kids did she begin to regret “all the time as well as money” she “wasted.”

“When I became a mother, I realized her sacrifices. I loved her more because the item can be hard for a mother to be separated through her children.”

Decades later, her mother — who declined to speak with CNN — can be still working in Hong Kong.

Determined not to let her mother’s hardship go to waste, Ortiz can be pursuing a master’s degree in education within the Philippines, with financial support through her mother. She hopes the item’ll help her find a teaching job overseas as well as earn enough money to give her children greater opportunities — an echo of her own mother’s dream. Even if she can’t go abroad, the degree could still help her secure a better job within the Philippines.

“I feel that will Mama’s sacrifice can be still not worth the item until I’m done,” she said.

She knows that will leaving might be difficult for her children — however says “the situation can be different” because she separated through her husband last year. “I have three kids, I’m one particular mother as well as I need to support them … I want to give my children a better life.”

Allyn Alcala Frades found herself heavily in debt after graduating college. She’d wanted to be a teacher, however was unable to find a well-paying job in her Philippines hometown, as well as couldn’t afford to raise two children as one particular mother.

So, two years ago, she followed in her cousins’ footsteps as well as found employment hundreds of miles away in Hong Kong as a domestic worker — a job that will combines housekeeping, cooking as well as childcare. As she works, she thinks of her children.

“When I planned for their education, I (thought), what if they take higher-cost education? What can I give them if I don’t have money?” said Frades, 35. Her twin sons are only 10, however she wants them to have options — unlike herself, her cousins, as well as her sister, who also left to work in Hong Kong.

She sends home at least 10,000 Philippine pesos (about $204) each month — about a third of her monthly minimum wage salary.

Allyn Alcala Frades shows a photo of her children within the Philippines. Credit: Jessie Yeung

“Maybe if I can save up enough for their future, they won’t need to go to additional countries to work,” she said. “If they have families, they can take care of their families.”

She tries to be there for them through afar. During weekly video calls, she tells them to brush their teeth as well as eat their vegetables, mindful that will their father died of diabetes. Still, she’s sometimes hit with guilt that will she can’t take them to school or cook their meals — all the things a mother traditionally does within the Philippines.

“however then I think, This specific can be for them,” she said.

Israel Manuel was two years old when his mother left, first to work in Singapore then in Hong Kong.

He was raised by his father as well as grandparents — however despite the distance, he always felt closer to his mother. He was an only child, as well as loved spending time with her during her annual visits home. Once social media became widely accessible, they called each additional every day.

Manuel’s mother played an active role in his life, gently steering him towards his studies instead of video games in high school. the item paid off — he got into college, as well as can be currently a criminology student.

He also felt her presence through gifts. Throughout his childhood, she would likely send games, brand-new clothes as well as toys like soldier figurines as well as miniature car products. This specific year, she bought him a real vehicle — a motorbike, as a gift “for being a Great son,” he said. He loves the bike, rides the item every day as well as often spends time diligently cleaning the item.

“I feel that will the item’s a way for my mother to make me feel her love,” said Manuel, currently 20.

however, he added, he hopes she will return home once her current job contract ends.

Source : The Philippines’ migrant workers, as well as the children left behind