"I would like to get married someday. I dream of having a family of my own," said the Filipina with a cheerfulness that is much larger than her petite frame.
Working first as a caregiver in Israel and now as a nanny in Dubai, Edita has put her six younger siblings--including some of their children--through school.
She knows she has some catching up to do but then again, Edita had always been somewhat of a late bloomer.
More Filipino and Indonesian women like Edita are choosing to look for work outside their home country, putting their lives on hold, giving up traditional cultural values like having a family.
The middle child in a family of 12, Edita worked her way through school to complete a degree in Agriculture at the age of 26. "My older siblings and I took turns taking time off from school to take care of my mother whenever she gave birth," she explained.
Even with a college degree, looking for a job was difficult for Edita. At job interviews—if she even got called for one—Edita was always told she was overage.
“My education did not matter. I was just too old,” recalled Edita.
In her mid-20s with no work experience, Edita was less marketable in the sea of other first-time job seekers and fresh graduates who were about 20 to 21 years old. Having a degree in agriculture from her hometown in central Philippines did not help.
“An agriculture graduate belongs in the rice field not in the office,” she said. But Edita’s father had already worked in the rice field and she was fully aware of how much hard work it entailed for so little financial reward.
Thinning job options and the financial needs of her family piling up, Edita needed to find a job fast. Her only option was to look for work outside of the Philippines--as a caregiver in Israel.
First the Men, Now the Women
The Philippines is among the top labor exporting countries in the world, with more than 10 million Filipinos working in just about every part of the world.
In the ‘70s, it was men who packed their bags to earn their keep as migrant guest workers. Their main destination was the Middle East to work in desert oil rigs and construction projects.
Migration patterns began to shift in the ‘90s as an increasing number of working mothers and an aging population in developed countries created a demand for cheap domestic labor. But the destination remained the same; Filipino migrant workers gravitated to the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia is the workplace for an estimated 1.2 million Filipino migrant workers. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) comes at a close second with more than 900,000 Filipino guest laborers.
As service sector demands grows, the gap between female and male migrant workers continues to narrow as Filipino women line up to fill job vacancies for housekeepers, nannies and store attendants. Service and production laborers account for about 80 percent of all OFWs.
Keeping the Economy Afloat
Migrant workers are crucial economic crutches to emerging economies like the Philippines where between 18 percent-25 percent of the population live on $1.25 or less.
A study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that the average Philippine monthly salary of $279 is at the bottom three of the world’s wages.
Remittances from migrant workers provide families with spending power that pumps up the cash flow of local economies. Roughly 10 percent of the Philippine gross domestic product comes from overseas remittances, which last year totaled a record $25 billion.
The last two years of economic growth has put the Philippines in the limelight as the newest emerging economy to behold. But this growth has stopped short at job creation.
A recent country migration report on the Philippines shows that in unemployment among 20 to 24 year olds is at 18 percent and that unemployment increases with education. A third of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are like Edita – they have had some college education or have graduated with a degree but take on jobs below their level of education, indicating brain waste or a mismatch in skills and employment.
It is a trade-off Edita was willing to make. With a monthly salary of AED 2,100 dirhams (Php 20,000 or $571.76) and free board and lodging, she was sure she would not be able to make the same amount in the Philippines.
“And I’m luckier than most domestic workers. We’ve all heard and know about the abuse that goes on,” she said.
“We still do not have enough jobs in the Philippines. And even if we did, could they make the same amount working as a saleslady or office clerk in the Philippines compared to working as a nanny in Dubai? Maybe not,” said Delmer Cruz Labor Attache to the UAE.
Migration provides economic gains for the worker and their country, but there are costs: There is loss of talent and skills badly needed to sustain an emerging economy, but it is also difficult to quantify social cost to women like Edita who put their life on hold for others.
“I don’t look at her (Edita) as a victim,” said Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Foundation, a migrant advocacy NGO. “There is a deep sense of fulfillment in providing for those you love.”
And Edita does feel fulfilled. She just wants a life and a family to call her own now.
"I love my three-year-old ward like my own child, but I have taken care of enough children to know that I need to put a limit. No matter how much I love him, he will never be my son," Edita said.
Reporting for this story was supported with a travel grant by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting under the Persephone Miel Fellowship.
Ana P. Santos is a print and online journalist whose work has been published in IRIN News, Rappler, Marie Claire (Philippines), among others. She has reported on HIV/AIDS, gender issues, sexual violence and reproductive health rights in Indonesia, Thailand, Jordan, Israel, Papua New Guinea and her home country, the Philippines. Living in one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, Ana has also begun writing about disaster preparedness and response and the many ways it is interconnected with reproductive health and population.
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