Returning OFWs find hope in Balikabayanihan Program

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew of the bittersweet stories of returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Often, they go abroad for high-paying jobs so that they can save and send money to their families back home. But migration storiesdon’talwaysguarantee a happy ending, and they need help when they are forced toreturnhome.

“Dahil ang pagkakaakala ko ay ang pagigingOFW ang sagotsalahat ng nagingproblemangfinancial namin at gusto kongmaiahon ang akingpamilya at mapagtapos ang akinganak,” said returning OFW Marites Coronado.The journey, however,wasn’t simple.

Take the case of another former OFW, Alma Palafox. She recounted: “Hindi po ako sini-suwerte sana pupuntahan na bansa. Laging may masamang nangyayari po sa akin. At minsan narin muntik na akong hindi nakabalik ng Pinas ng buhay. Kaya hindi ko po natataposkontrata ko.”

Gerlie Austria shares a similar experiencebut remains grateful despite the hardships she endured abroad. “Hindi man po ako naging maswerte sa ibang bansa,pero nagpapasalamat po ako sa Panginoong Diyos at ako po ay nakauwi nang buhay.”

Myrna Peñosa Corporal recalled the gloom she felt when she decided to go back to her family. “Noongnagsabiakosaamo ko naibaliknaakosaagency,dinala po nilaakosaLabor. Ang unang pumasok sa isip ko at naiyakako, ‘Paanona ang pamilya ko? Uuwi ako nawalang pera at naipon’,” said Corporal.

Coronado, Palafox,Austria, and Corporalare among the OFWs who hadto return home even if they haven’t achieved yet the financial goals they set for themselves.

The Balikabayanihan campaign, a program supported by the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), seeks to help these OFWs whose dreams were interrupted for various reasons.

Spearheaded by NEDA-Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency and Atikha — a non-government organization working with OFWs and their families to maximize the gains of working abroad — Balikabayanihan calls on the spirit of volunteerism of Filipinos to help returning OFWs.

It is a call for partnership by the Overseas Filipino organizations with government agencies, local government units, and the private sector to help OFWs by providing the needed resources—manpower and funds or mobilizing their volunteer network to serve as mentors to the OFWs.

Melanie Labera, a returning OFW whose plan to resume her work abroad was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, benefitted from the program. “Nang umuwiako ng Pilipinas, nagkataon naman na pandemic.Gusto ko sana bumalik [abroad], pero dina ako makabalik. Kaya malakiang pasasalamat ko saprogramangito, patisa BPI. May konting puhunan naman ako sa aking tindahan, pero konti lang. Kaya nagpapasalamat ako nanadagdagan dahil sainyo.”

For her part, Austria, also a program beneficiary, said, “Nang makabalik po ako sa Pilipinas, isa po ako sa maswerteng napili ng Atikha namabigyan ng tulong upang ako’ymakapagsimula ulit sa aking buhay. Nagingmasaya po ako at nagkaroon ng pag-asasabuhay. Ngayon po ay natupad ang isakongpangarapnamakabili ng makina.”

Financial empowerment

As one of the program supporters, BPI aims to empower repatriated OFWs by helping them manage their finances through learning webinars and by mobilizing volunteers and sponsors. BPI implements their programs through its business unitsBPI Foundation, BPI-Philam,and Remittance and Fund Transfers.

“This pandemic has been hard on everyone, but repatriated OFWs and their families have been particularly affected. OFWs have done so much to uplift our entire nation’s economy over the decades. It’s only right that we stand by them now and help them get back on their feet and establish a financially secure life for themselves and their families,” said Reggie Cariaso, BPI Head of Corporate Banking Strategy, Products, and Support.

Napakaganda po ng akingkaranasandahilnagkaroon po ako ng pag-asasabuhay at talagangipinangako ko po saakingsarilinapagbubutihin kopo itongtulongnaibinigaysa akin ng Atikha at BPI PamanaPadala. At ang nagustuhan ko po dito ay ang mga taong kasapi dito na maaayos ang pakikitungo at napakamapagkumbaba at napakababait upang matulungan kaming lahat,” said Coronado.

BPI Foundation holds mentoring sessions for OFWs with BPI Unibankersas volunteermentors.For its part, BPI Philam provides free COVID-19 insurance coverage worth P200,000. BPI’s Remittance and Fund Transfers offersfinancial grants and monthly mentoring sessions for chosenOFWs and instills the value of saving using their BPI PamanaPadala account.

With opportunities such as the Balikabayanihan,returning OFWsare more empowered than ever totry their luck in their home country.

Palafox said, “Ditonalang po akosaPinas.Kahit mahirap po basta’tsama-samakami ng mgaanak ko. Kaya nagpapasalamatkami saBalikabayanihanat saBPI. Ang tanging hinahangad ko po saakingsarili ay mapaunlad ko ang muntingnegosyo at magkaroon pa ng maramingkaalaman.”

Corporal shared another insight: “Natutunan ko po saBalikabayanihan nakailangan po tayon gmagtulungan para makabangon ulit sa hamon ng buhay.”

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