Some lessons are learned in school, others are in real-life experience, sometimes in a hard way. For us overseas Filipino workers, the learning process begins long before we start our first day at work abroad, and uncover new discoveries by accident or through formal training.
But there are instances that we learn lessons the hard way. Take the case of coronavirus, which wasn’t even a headline in the news as recently as late January but blew out of proportion enough to halt human activity in historic proportions.
As dependents to our jobs abroad, any disruption in transport, economy or peace and order can easily derail an otherwise steady and stable life as OFWs. The current health crisis, which threatens to descend the world into a global recession, could cost us our jobs. But more importantly, the fight extends beyond our means of livelihood. There is no commercially available cure for this disease, and we’re confined into self-isolation to mitigate the spread of this contagion. So we have to look after the health and well-being of our loved ones too.
If there are lessons we OFWs learned so far about the coronavirus health crisis, here are some of them:
Our jobs are at the mercy of circumstances beyond our control
Our job security will depend on how our employers cope up with the impact of coronavirus. Some businesses will see a slowdown of activity. For example, airline flights are suspended to reduce the spread of the virus, restaurants shut down to prevent the congregation of large crowds or cruise ships halt voyages as passengers get afflicted with the virus.
As these developments unfold, employees are forced to stay in the sidelines. This could prove costly, as it’s likely workers are asked to take unpaid leaves, pay cuts or worse, get laid off from their jobs. These are things we don’t control, so we wait anxiously what happens next.
We are subject to discrimination
Such so-called discrimination is necessary to reduce the spread of the disease which is understandable. There are also cases when OFWs are being singled out as a potential carrier of the virus even if not displaying any symptoms of the coronavirus. This is also understandable. But when the society instigates racially inspired crimes caused by fear of coronavirus, like many members of Chinese communities experience in various parts of the world, this is unreasonable and based on ignorance rather than rational thinking.
OFWs can also experience the same thing at work, in our daily commute, or in any public place despite enhanced social distancing measures enforced. We join people of Asian descent who feel the stigma and discrimination in the wake of the pandemic.
Our lives are even more at risk
Many OFWs work as healthcare professionals who inevitably or ultimately get exposed to patients that exhibit symptoms of the virus. In the United States, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom, Filipino nurses comprise a significant ratio of healthcare workers who are hailed as heroes in the current fight to contain the deadly disease. However, lack of proper safety equipment and general lack of knowledge about the virus also puts imperil their lives as they man the frontlines in hospitals and healthcare facilities.
This adds to the usual risk of working as OFWs such as those that are exposed to the usual safety risk such as seafarers plying the pirate-infested seas.
OFWs based in countries hit hard by Covid-19 such as China, South Korea, Iran, France, Italy, and the United States are especially susceptible to infection.
We can’t depend on just one source of living
Many of us depend on our jobs as our sole means of livelihood, which means if we are made redundant, we lose that inflow of cash. That’s why many financial advocates have long encouraged OFWs to use some of the savings into an investment such as buying shares of stocks and bonds, setting up a small business, or establish a side hustle during days off.
We know that being an OFW is not a lifelong career; it has to stop at some point. But instead of investing part of their savings, many OFWs are still tied into a vicious cycle of debt they can hardly get away from. This is why a time like coronavirus crisis could even take them deeper into the financial abyss instead of leading their family into prosperity.