A Reluctant Overseas Worker

How many of you remember your first overseas sojourn outside the Philippines?

I am sure you were very excited with a mixture of apprehension of not knowing what to expect from the airport of origin to the new port of entry.

I finished a course in college where we are destined to be working overseas. My friends already had contracts signed for the US before they even graduated. They cannot stop talking where they will go, but not me. I didn’t find working overseas appealing until I experienced it myself.

A little backstory

I content myself working in a tertiary hospital 10 minutes walk from my house. The hospital was behind the zoo and next to the Manila Bay. The lion was my alarm clock, but I don’t need to rush to go to work. I eat proper breakfast, and I always get to attend the morning mass before I head to my department to prepare.

I was seeing an average of 40 patients every day and supervised at least six students. I was not obliged to attend any meetings, so all the time spent in the hospital was mostly patient care and supervision-training of future therapists.

And then I got bored. I got disillusioned with my chosen profession because being in a tertiary hospital; you don’t get much excitement regarding the type of cases to treat. We had the usual instances of strokes. Then there would be the occasional fracture, cerebral palsy, and plenty of arthritis.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be with those people, but it just became monotonous and mediocre before I even knew that word exists.

Despite the department being the hub for cases that take forever to heal, the people I met and gave treatment to are the best people you will encounter in your life. The most grateful people. I was well fed with local delicacies because one of my oldest patients owns the biggest stall in the Paco Market, selling all local “kakanin” (treats). We met special people too, and they get attached to their therapist that sometimes it becomes a competition – a healthy one to who should go first.

Then I changed work. 

For a year, I became a secretary of one medical association. I can’t say it enriched my life except being organized. I discovered how awful some doctors are in real life at the same time I made friends for life.

I decided to quit for my sanity’s sake and took the ship to go to the south of the Philippines and discover General Santos and Davao. It was a good break, and it also broke the bank that pushed me to accept the first job offered by a competent doctor I met the year before.

I became a research assistant and bypassed the recruitment process until I can’t anymore. That stint enriched my life – it opened my eyes to a full new understanding of research and ethics. And of course office politics.

A blessing in disguise 

I can’t seem to get my laboratory to become a regular employee. After several attempts, I accepted that I would only work as a temp and wilt away in the lab with the monkeys.

Until I got a call from my brother saying he gave my credential to one international organization in Cambodia and should wait to be contacted. Eventually got the proverbial call, offering a short term job training local physiotherapists on the job. How hard can it be? Since I was already doing it, the decision to accept didn’t take too long to come.

I got hired.

The organization processed my paper immediately once I had all my documents in order, and two months after my birthday celebration in the year 2000, I flew out of the Philippines landing in Cambodia to start a new adventure, and I never looked back.


Traveling for Work

Its Sunday in the Philippines, and I am halfway to my final destination in Entebbe.

The seven weeks holiday is finally coming to an end and will soon be going back to humanitarian work.

Many, if not all, of my friends except of course those I knew from expatriations do not understand what I do. I mentioned that to Yaya Sabel and said: “she thinks she knows what I do but don’t understand.”

She is not alone.

Even my dad was clueless and only realized what I’ve been doing overseas when I shared with him the information I need to share with family in case something happens to me. That was five years ago.

Many people, when they see you travel for work, the first impression would be to work as domestic help or DH. Many Filipino and other countries like Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, and India have people leave home to work as domestic regardless of background to support their families back home.

But I learned a long time ago also that there are skilled workers like my dad was when he worked in Saudi Arabia for 23 years.

Then with all my travels, I met a lot of Filipino working in hospitality, including those in the duty-free shops in small and big airports. Health workers, and of course, there’s a bunch of us working in the field of humanitarian and development in countries with varying security levels.

Working for the vulnerable

Such a big word, vulnerable. I learned that word over time. It was not in my vocabulary when I joined the diaspora in 2000.

All I have was technical medical and rehabilitation words and management jargon.

I am not the kind that goes on the ground when an emergency happens.

I am more the second wave humanitarian worker. I do mostly recovery, rehabilitation, and transition together with many colleagues with different expertise.

The kind of work I do allows me to see a different perspective in life after an emergency. It’s completely different from the kind of life most overseas workers have when I meet them in countries that has labor relations with the Philippines.

There’s no monotony in the kind of work I do, but I meet the same types of people you meet when working and traveling overseas – the good, the bad, the ugly, and a mix.

So what exactly do I do?

In the world of technical support and coordination (my big words job title), what I do is to make sure the project and people are aligned to objectives that have been agreed on when the project was designed. This happens when the emergency settles, and security is restored, or sometimes it can arrive at the same time.

I join the team to ensure we are within acceptable standards locally and internationally to the limits of my specialty and practicality. Which often is overlooked when responding to emergencies.

It may mean I train people, and I check their work as we implement projects, at the same time, prepare for the materials and links that can help them remotely. Since we take care of people’s wellbeing, I have to be very clear, and no misunderstanding or my ass is on the line.

It may also mean I handle transitional work or I read and review documents which require more time and brain cells to do than actual fieldwork if you get my drift 😉

From time to time, I share snippets of my work and some photo of the people and places I’ve been. But I try to be careful too and not overshare. As we sometimes deal with sensitive issues or simply exercising better judgment. There’s a better platform for it if one is keen to find out.

So as I wait for my connecting flight to Entebbe, I sit here in Doha people watching, composing this article, and drinking my first cup of coffee for the day.

Talk soon in East Africa!

The Veep and Those at the Hem and Sleeves of the Philippine Society

The Tagalog translation of sleeve is “mangas,” and those are part of clothes that is optional to have especially in the kind of weather we have in my country.

I can relate that to a provocative highly frown upon (a)political word … “laylayan” which translates to hem. The end part of any clothing that attracts all the dirt and snags as it is used for those who doesn’t know.

My country, the Philippines,  had reached 100 million in 2012, and after 5 years we are a little over 106 million, a merely 6 percent increase. According to some publication, there are new babies born every 13 seconds while the reaper takes someone every 46 seconds, makes me wonder how much of them are TokHang related?  A very high population for a country as small and developing as us. Although in the last government we were on the way to maybe developing further as the “tiger in us had awakened” but we got sick again.


The problem of drugs and Tokhang highlighted the societies divide in the Philippines … only the poor get penalized while the rich and influentials are given a free pass


Anyway, as my essay goes, those hanging by the sleeves or by the hem are what the current vice president proposed to help during the campaign period. She talks about the marginalized, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised, the poor and the helpless (writing those words made we want to contact the Avengers to ask for help).

It appealed to many that is why the Veep got elected. It appealed to many that is why we have demi-god for president.

The issue of poverty is not new to the Philippines, there is never enough to provide for all, there are those who will always be left behind in development and progress. In 2015 there is 21.6 percent of Filipino below the national poverty line https://www.adb.org/countries/philippines/poverty. Any talks of helping the poor get politicians elected because maybe poverty according to the politicians are easy to solve.

But look at us now. The poor are feeling more and more the oppression from this government and too bad for the Veep she’s the only one prominent enough to be doing what she had promised. Bringing along with her those that genuinely want to help but wants to make sure the help they provide reach those that really need them.


The Veep as she goes to visit one village had been vilified for doing something for the rural folks in the Philippines. Now her very position is being challenged by someone who helped put this country in bad place in the 70’s


My country is a country of irony. We have ultra rich politicians promising the moon to the masses but once elected forgets to share the promised moon. Those that are genuinely doing something are vilified and even accused of cheating the election or just showing off.

While the Veep keeps meeting those in the hem, the rest of our overzealous politicians (during the campaign and after winning) are all talks and intimidations with nothing concrete to show for it.