As this column goes to press, I am on my way to Rome to preside over the graduation ceremonies of the latest batch of the Ateneo School of Government’s Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship course for overseas Filipino workers. And as with any graduation ceremony, I do so with pride for these students, no less than any other Ateneo graduate, deserve to celebrate their accomplishments. Considering that these OFW students have pursued their course, for the better part of a year, while so far from home, from the familiar, comfortable, and reassuring, they ought to be commended for their perseverance. Those who have read my previous column in this series on the LSE and its students would be familiar with how much they’ve gone through already.
In this third part of the series, we see that the blood and sweat of our OFWs (as chronicled in the recently-published book, “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers: Changed Lives of Overseas Filipino Workers”) are not shed in vain. Even if far from the fairy-tale dreams they entertained while still in the Philippines, the tenacity and adaptability of the Filipino spirit gives the Filipino Diaspora a chance to carve a new niche in distant shores, a new life in a foreign land. (And aren’t the most familiar fairy-tales those whose heroes and heroines survive and surmount the obstacles through tenacity and adaptability?)
Leo Virtucio (whose story is chronicled in “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers”) is one such OFW. Like many OFWs, he sought additional employment such as taxi driving and domestic services, but thanks to prior educational and training experience, his primary employment was as an insurance agent. Later, he would become an OFW entrepreneur in the door-to-door delivery business. More importantly, that same educational and employment background gave him a wider purview of OFW life than his peers, struggling from one paycheck-remittance cycle to the next. He expressed that it was a joy to impart this purview to his peers, to remind them of the importance of financial prudence. If LSE gave other OFWs the opportunity to spread their wings, for Leo instead, it was the opportunity to take others under wing: the social enterprise project he and others have embarked on centers around financial literacy education.
And not all riches are gold, either. Two LSE students, Roschelle Ventura and Marlon Isla, found each other, and married each other in December 2011, after a seven-year courtship and engagement. Their wedding was held in the Philippines, a joyous homecoming for two heroes abroad and their families, in which fortunately I had the chance to participate as a ninong. Though Roschelle’s story in “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers” also focuses on the travails of her journey to Rome, I choose instead to touch on the happiest moment of her life, perhaps to remind my readers and other LSE students that some of the greatest rewards of life are not material.
LSE’s greatest value is not measured in financial terms, either. For sure, that graduates are capable of setting up viable businesses, or to take the necessary steps, is testament to the immediate impact of the skills imparted by the course. Apart from Leo’s financial literacy outfit, two of the graduates featured in “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers”, Renato Gipan and Ronie Hernandez, have tried their hand out in catering. Both Mary Jane Cruzat and Roschelle are involved in Rome-based AKiT Magazine, set up by LSE graduates. But it cannot, does not, and should not end in dollars and euros.
LSE ultimately is a community-building effort. Just as it was a venue for two hearts to find each other and beat as one, the course provides the catalyst for Filipino communities abroad to coalesce and cooperate. We often take our home-based communities of family, friends, work, and social activities (e.g., church) for granted; among foreign faces and places, our OFWs, as we’ve seen, are stripped of them. The course’s contractual obligation to its graduates to apply their skills in the service of fellow Filipinos imparts a spirit of service unto members of the diaspora, who due to life’s pressures sometimes find themselves disconnected both from their host society and fellow Filipinos. Graduates have also become counselors and pastoral workers, reaching out to other Pinoys in Italy, especially in their moment of need, or the dark of despair.
And this is, I believe, the greatest cheer of “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers.” More than individual lives transformed materially and spiritually, LSE has helped its graduates tap the best within themselves, so that they themselves become transformative for others. This, I feel, is what makes LSE graduates as equally Atenean as Loyola School or Professional School graduates: men and women for others—especially where they are needed the most, overseas Filipino communities in need of on-the-ground servant-leaders. And every LSE graduate is testament to this—as those we’ve surveyed in the past two columns testify.
Migrant workers face a unique challenge: to transform exile into a second home. Those chronicled in “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers” have journeyed far from home to reach their present transformation; yet their journey is not yet over. But their stories should give comfort to all OFWs—to all Filipinos here at home, even—that the socio-economic despair that drives the Filipino Diaspora is neither all-powerful nor all-consuming. It can be conquered. Blood and sweat can lead to good cheer.
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