Remembering the Sisters I Left Behind - Part 2 of 3
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.
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.
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.