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Incredible Turnaround in Life of Former Hongkong Domestic Worker

engie (400x358)BY J. DELA TORRE  –  I was amazed at the way Engie Ringonan, originally of  Cugman, Cagayan de Oro City , told her story: linear, unembellished, matter-of-fact.  I couldn’t find a chink in the armor, except only when she was advising OFWs to seek the help of the Almighty when in trouble, when she almost broke off in tears, but recovered just in time. At the end of the story, I was left with nothing but admiration for this woman who from such a humble financial assistance from the government of  PHP10,000  was able to achieve so many things other people with more resources couldn’t have.

Her strength of character and her unyielding spirit, and the way her family rallied behind her, were what delivered Engie and her family out of a deep financial hole.

Her husband, Joshue, was laid off by ABS-CBN as Technical Director sometime in 2006, and their five children being all of school age already, the couple went through some rough times. They were forced to borrow money and soon were deep in debt. They decided it was time one of them went abroad to earn more and get them through their crisis. She applied with a POEA-licensed agency, and in a few weeks time, she was in the former British colony to begin working as a domestic helper, along with nearly 170,000 other Filipinas.

Hong Kong is home to a large community of Filipinas who are forced, with a few exceptions, to live in crowded apartments. Though the labor justice system there generally works, there are sometimes horrid examples of maltreatment and abuse. In my time as Labour Attache there, we had documented cases of employers burning their domestic helpers with an iron or with scalding water.

It’s probably the cramped conditions which breeds contempt and resentment and make for these acts of cruelty—employer and domestic helper are in such close proximity to each other, they notice each other’s every little fault. There’s no space that could act as a barrier. But I’m just engaging in conjecture because there are also many employers who treat their domestic helpers well, and consider them a part of the family.

Engie’s first employer had a machine-fed, wheelchair-bound 2-year old child. Unfortunately for Engie, she didn’t know how to operate the feeding machine. She was neither told by the agency that she needed to have knowledge of how the machine worked, nor was she given time to train, so she had to be transferred to a new employer. It was incredible that an agency, and a mother of a sick child, could be so irresponsible not to make sure that the domestic helper to be assigned to take care of the child knew how to operate the feeding machine.

Her employment didn’t work out well under the new employer, either. She had forgotten one morning to boil water for the employer, and after she had boiled the kettle of water, the employer in a fit of anger came close to throwing the scalding water at her. She demanded a new employer from her agency.

When the Immigration authorities demanded that she exit Hong Kong first before the visa with the third employer could be processed, the couple decided that she return to the Philippines for them to start a new life together. Joshue didn’t want her wife to come home inside a coffin.

She was jobless for a year after that. Finally, they chanced upon an announcement that OWWA was granting financial assistance for small businesses to be set up by former OFWs. She applied and got 10k.

The business that was approved for assistance? Longanisa making.

The check must have been blessed. In a few years time, the business has grown to such proportions that the couple had paid their placement fee loan of PHP 80,000, they had moved from a slum area to a proper housing subdivision, and her children have been enrolled in the schools and in the courses of their choice—all these from a small capitalization of 10k. Magic? Or just plain old dogged determination?

How did she do it?

“I began peddling our product to our neighbors, to small stores, at my husband’s office and at my daughter’s work. In six months’ time, we began to make a profit. And we started to pay off our many debts, and our placement fee loan. Finally, we made the move from our home in a squatters’ area to a subdivision,” she exuded the sense of satisfaction at seeing their life turned around through success in her home-based business.

She estimates that she had made a profit of PHP250,000 from just PHP10,000 starting capital, a remarkable return on investment of 2,400%.

She had also expanded to making other food products like tocino, patties, boneless bangus, siomai, lumpia and other meat products, which she supplied to her husband’s officemates.

“And now, due to the small capital provided by the government, my daughter has graduated from Xavier University and is now gainfully employed at Isuzu,” she beamed with obvious pride. The other children are either graduating or are presently enrolled.

Still unbelieving that she’d done all that she said she had, I asked her pointblank: “Did your husband add any amount to the 10k to add to your capital?” She swears, “No, Sir, he never did.”

She counsels other OFWs who have been granted the same financial assistance:

“In business, whether small or big, if you don’t apply yourself, if you’re not aggressive—you will never prosper. If you really think about it, 10k is very small, but due to the fact that the whole family was involved in production and selling of our products, we were successful, not only in making a profit, but in turning our life around. We have constructed our house. We have gotten our eldest through college and the rest of our children are now enrolled in the schools and courses of their choice.

I hope that all those OFWs who have also been provided with capital by the NRCO should apply themselves and work hard at making the business a success. Hard work is the only way to success. If you have to wake up early and retire late at night, you have to do it. Do not give up. Don’t be discouraged by the setbacks that you will encounter. Most of all, never forget to ask for help from the Lord.”

At this point, her voice broke. “He is the only One you can turn to in times of troubles in your life.”

For a housewife like her, she says there’s no other way but to work hard. She’d wake up 4 o’clock in the morning and sleep late at night.

“There is no other way. There is no one else who can help us but ourselves. If it were up to me, I would encourage all the wives and mothers planning to go abroad to just stay and be with their families. Go into business. If we can make it here, why go abroad? If we can sustain our needs through our business, there is no point in going away and be separated from your families. If you stay, you will improve your family’s life. You will improve your city. You will improve your country.”

If it were up to her, she wouldn’t want any of her children to go abroad for employment. But if they themselves want it, there’s nothing I can do, she says with uncharacteristic resignation.

“But,” her eyes lit up, “I’m glad two of her children have already shown promise of becoming entrepreneurs on their own right. They’re selling our products to their classmates. I want to encourage them to do more for our business. I want to break this cycle of having to seek employment in other lands, at least for our family.”