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Remembering the Sisters I Left Behind - Part 2 of 3

A painful transformation

In Part One, I shared the story of my childhood, my time as a slave and how I ended up surviving the streets of Manila.

Without getting into details, I eventually found myself in a failed marriage to a good man. We were both victims of our traditions and I suffered from the violence imposed on an independent woman who never learned her place.

My next transformation was a deeply painful one…

From that marriage, I was blessed with two beautiful baby girls. Any dreams I had for myself were quickly replaced by dreams for them. Even though I had never graduated high school, I knew the path out of poverty for my two girls was an education. My dream for them was they would not just graduate high school, but also college.

I knew that was not going to happen working as a street vendor. Like many other women born into poverty in the Philippines, my only chance to fulfil those dreams was to go overseas to seek employment.

I became a migrant worker, what is known in the Philippines, as an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). The Philippines is a nation of OFWs. There are over ten million of us scattered all over the world. Ten per cent of our population work abroad.

I travelled first to Singapore, then Taiwan and eventually Hong Kong. I will not focus on the indignities and the abused heaped upon women in my position working as a domestic helper. I have slept on unheated kitchen floors in the dead of winter and eaten scraps fit only for a dog.

But no abuse, verbal or otherwise, remotely compares to the pain and anguish of a mother separated from her children. That is the terrible price millions of women have paid to save our children from poverty. Poverty is a cruel and harsh master.

Community Service, Technology and a Chinese boy…

After almost 12 years of working overseas, I finally found a boss in Hong Kong who was kind to me. Over the years, I earned the family’s trust and respect, and in return, they earned my undying loyalty forever. I became part of that family.

They entrusted me to raise their son. His name was Jonathan. He had just got a new computer and part of my responsibility was to make sure he did his homework and not play games. It was young Jonathan, an eight year old Chinese boy, who taught me how to use a computer.

As a side note, I have since done work with Microsoft Tulay and others here in the Philippines to introduce indigenous women to technology. Trust me when I say, whatever their demeanor may be on the outside, inside they are absolutely terrified. Focus like a laser on overcoming their fears.

For me personally, I did what I have often done when I needed to overcome my fears, I thought back on the little dark skinned girl diving alone in the sea. If I could do that, I could learn to use a mouse.

The empowering nature of technology…

It was also while working for this family that I became active in community service. They encouraged and supported me. In 1999, I founded the Mindanao Hong Kong Workers Federation (MinFed) and I was fortunate to serve as Chairman for 8 years. Eventually I began applying technology to the operation of MinFed.

It was when I began using the internet that I began to fully understand and appreciate that people could perform services without the need to leave home.

For those of you who have never left your children behind for 5, 10 or 15 years you have no idea how powerful a concept that is. I was a transformed woman.

I started dreaming…

In Hong Kong, the Mindanao Hong Kong Worker’s Federation would gather in the park on Sunday. Our only day off.
There, we would conduct our meetings and part of my responsibility as a leader was to listen to my members, listen to their complaints and listen to their stories.

Some of those stories broke my heart.

I cannot count the number of nights I lay in bed crying. Sometimes I cried for myself and other times I cried for my members.

But because of the empowering nature of technology, I started dreaming. I had finally accomplished the task fate had set before me as a mother. Both my girls had graduated college, so now the dreams were mine.

I dreamed of coming home and starting a business. I dreamed of becoming a job creator. I simply did not want another mother or father to follow in my footsteps and suffer the same pain and anguish of being separated from their families.
I now know I was envisioning Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) without even knowing what a BPO was.

Mynd Consulting

To make a very long story short, in 2006, I returned home to the Philippines after almost 20 years and founded a BPO in Davao called Mynd Consulting. We started with two people and an old computer offering bug testing and QA services to US clients.

I do not believe the circumstances that led me to my first client can serve as a model for others to follow. The fact is I got started because I complained. I was using some blogging software for MinFed that was hard to use. So I wrote the developers to complain. They responded they loved my complaints. I am good at complaining, so I sent them three pages of complaints (bugs), along with suggestions to make the software easier for non-technical people. To my surprise they hired me as an Official Complainer (bug tester is the technical term).

A few weeks later, they asked me if I could find a ".NET programmer". I told them I did not know, but I would certainly find out. I Googled and read everything I could on ".NET programmers" and how to catch one. I discovered the best bait to use was a "good job". I learned where they hung out online and I did, what I had done a thousand times as a little girl, I went fishing. To my surprise I caught three of them in just a few days. Because I was not qualified to judge their skill, I focused on their character and their passion. I met with their families. Once satisfied. I introduced them to my client and they chose the best one.

Today, my small company runs multiple shifts supplying virtual teams of programmers on a long term basis to clients in both the US and Europe.

We are slowly gaining a reputation for our expertise in social media and mobile. And my goal is to one day be hired not because we are the cheapest, but because we are one of the best in the world at what we do.

Job creator...

Now that you know my background, you can appreciate I view business from a very different perspective than most. First and foremost, I see myself as a job creator and secondly, I want to find ways to do both good and good business at the same time.

I am also fortunate to have stumbled into the IT-BPO industry in the Philippines. Others talk about our industry and how we are responsible for creating over 800, 000 jobs over the last few years. I have to share with you what that really means to me.

To me it means 800,000 mothers, fathers, sons or daughters who will now stay home in the Philippines, instead of being ripped from their families and shipped overseas. I am so proud of the small part I have played in that.

I know there are people overseas who see outsourcing as a threat and I wish I could make them understand. There was an Australian writer in the outsourcing industry that summed it up better than I, so I will just share that link on The Human Side of Outsourcing.

What success has meant for me…

First and foremost, aside from any financial considerations, success has meant fulfilling my dream of becoming a job creator. A goal I set for myself so many years ago in Hong Kong.

My company is very small, but the employees I have are working for bosses scattered all over the world, but at the end of the day, my people go home to be with their families.

Unless you have been forced to leave your children behind for 20 years, it may be hard to imagine how rewarding that is for me.

However, no amount of success in business will erase the 20 years of memories I have as a migrant worker. As a woman, I was not always treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve.

No amount of success will erase the stories of abuse I have heard and witnessed.

And no amount of success will allow me to forget, at this very moment, there are millions of women who have fallen victim to abusive employers, human trafficking and modern day human slavery.

These women are desperately crying out for help, but no one hears them. My small success in business has given me an opportunity to do something about it.

Advocacy for the migrant worker…

Using the profits from my company, I have been funding a project called OFW Watch. It uses social media and mobile technology to empower women to help themselves and each other. As of this writing we have built a network of over 13,000 tech savvy, migrant workers scattered (mostly domestic workers and nannies) all over the world willing to help those less fortunate than themselves.

But before closing this chapter, I must share one last thing. It was a very special man, Attorney Jalilo Dela Torre, the Philippine Labor Attaché in Hong Kong, who inspired and motivated me to give back to the community by forming the Mindanao Hong Kong Worker’s Federation. And finally, nothing I have accomplished would have been possible without the support of my employers in Hong Kong, Mr. and Mrs. Fung and family.

If they ever read this, I want them to know I will never forget them and I am forever in their debt for encouraging and supporting my involvement in community service. They changed my life forever.

In Part Three, I will share a very different perspective on the problem of human trafficking and explain exactly what we are trying to do about it.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

Women of Mynd
ThePort hired Mynd to create dozens of social networks.

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Comments

RosemaryC's picture

I am in awe...

Dear Myrna:

I am in awe of what you have accomplished for yourself and other women, and how you have managed to turn pain into joy for so many by finding solutions that others were not able to see. Your determination, your courage, and your care for other women is so inspiring - thank you for sharing your story in words that soar and lift us up with them.

The outsourcing debate (at least in the US and Canada) often focuses on the jobs that are lost in North America. I will never think about this debate in this limited way again. Truly, our world is an interdependent place - what we do in one place affects people in another place, as your story makes so clear. I hope that your story is shared very widely through World Pulse - everyone should read what you have written.

Now I am going to read the rest of your story.

Blessings to you,
Rosemary

Mary S's picture

Hi Myrna I read all three

Hi Myrna

I read all three parts of your story, you are a brave and determined woman and a great story teller!

I am someone who lost my job partly due to outsourcing, so it is very interesting to me to see the other side of that. You are obviously a great employer who cares a lot about the people you employ. Do most outsourcing companies in the Philippines treat their staff well?

It is shocking that so many women are still caught up in trafficking and slavery around the world. This is definitely something that needs to change, and people like you will be a central part of that change as you are so good at explaining the situation, and finding solutions.

I wish you luck with the business and with OFW!

Mary

I never know what to say to someone who may have lost their job because of me or because of outsourcing. I know it happens. Here is how I deal with it.

When I hired my first computer programmer, I was shocked to learn how little his salary was. I made more than he did as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. I immediately tripled his salary. I have done that with almost every one I have hired since.

One thing I am most proud of as a business woman is that I am directly responsible for forcing the technology companies in Davao to pay wages equal to Manila, when you adjust for the lower costs of living. I know, because I got complaints from other business owners. They thought I was a naïve and crazy woman, when all I really wanted was to do my part to help create a middle class. My decision was actually good business for everyone involved.

I think when we pay a meaningful wage to our people, we help everyone. We even help companies in other parts of the world when our people have more money to spend.

So I think it is fair for your country to be concerned about outsourcing. The best thing to do is to demand that jobs outsourced are not delivered to places paying slave wages. There everyone loses. But if a meaningful wage is paid, then the playing field is more level and we all win.

As for other companies in the Philippines treating their people well. I think the answer is yes. We are a nation of migrant workers and the mangers of the BPO industry almost all have family members overseas. They know what a job really means.

I will share a link with you. It is a speech I gave to the International Outsourcing Summit a few years ago. There were 400 plus businessmen in the room. When I was done, I looked out among them and most had tears in their eyes. They gave me the first standing ovation in the history of the conference. I think they did that because they really do care. They are human and sometimes just need reminding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nFTB8DVZHE

myrna

Mary S's picture

Hi Myrna What you have

Hi Myrna

What you have achieved is amazing! I don't blame you or any other outsourcing company for losing my job, it is just the way of the world now, the challenge is to find the right balance. Here in Britain, outsourcing of IT, call centre and admin work often goes to India and, as far as I am aware from the contact I had with staff at the company we worked with, their employment conditions were OK. I didn't realise the industry also existed in the Philippines until I read your story.

In so many other industries e.g. clothing and electronics manufacturing and mining, many employees are forced to work in impossible conditions for very little money, with the international companies taking most of the benefit. So it is good to hear that conditions within your industry are generally good, and that you are one of the people working to keep it that way.

I certainly support the idea of businesses starting up in developing countries. I know in some places aid is also required, but in the end it is business, people being able to get jobs in their country/area, having more money to spend on themselves and their families, that will really make a difference. And as the economy grows, you will also have bigger local markets which will create its own job opportunities.

You gave a great speech!

Mary

Nabiye Tal's picture

You are a great Woman!

Dear Myrna,
Your story is so touching, i read part 1 of your story and i look forward to reading the part 3. Myrna, you are a strong and unique woman! Despite all the pains you've been through you were able to put yourself together by believing in yourself and remaining focus. Not only that, you also created successful business opportunities for yourself and for others. I admire your courageous spirit. I am inspired by your story and as we work together i believe we will bring more women who have been abused and neglected to believe in themselves and their potentials to succeed! Thank you Myrna!

Nabiye Tal- Founder/CEO, IEVAWC.
@nabiye, @ievawc
+2348162536058
nabeetal@gmail.com

MyrnaPadilla's picture

I agree...

I agree with you about the neglected and abused women and the need to empower them, but I also want to engage and reach out the women who were lucky to have found a safe place to work. Even though they are in no present danger and have good employers, I want to beg them to help us, because I know engaging them in community service may give their life new meaning. I want these women to one day be recognized as the courageous souls who used technology to watch out for not just themselves, but for the communities they serve. There are millions and millions of them and there is no reason why they can not be there for all of us. We just need to reach out to them and ask them for their help. They will help, if only we ask.

myrna

Mary S's picture

Hello again! I have just read

Hello again!

I have just read a post by Esra'a in Bahrain who, among other things, has set up a website called Migrant Rights http://www.migrant-rights.org/ which, campaigning to improve the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East. You may be able to learn from each other or even link your networks together.

You can see her post at http://worldpulse.com/node/87132

Mary

MariaAle's picture

Dear Myrna, I don't know

Dear Myrna,
I don't know where to start and express in words. I read part 2 of your story and I have to say that you made confirm somethingg that I remain myself everyday. "It is in your heart, it is worth it to take the risk" You are an amazing human being and your courage, vision to have a better life for your kids it is inspiring. Definitely, a big lesson that everything is possible when you really want it and things happen. Thank you for kindness with all people around you, like you said people can go everyday with their famiies, you are giving them opportunities to have the life that everyone deserves.
Grattitude!
Looking forward to read more about your story.
God bless you.
MariaAle

Maria Alejandra Alcaraz

bitani's picture

WOW!

Dear Myrna,

with no compliments, this is the best story i've ever read on WorldPulse since I joined it a year ago. Your story is very inspiring, your voice is so honest and strong. you are a role-model for all the women in the world.

god bless you,
Bayan

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