By Allie Cook, KF15, Philippines
There are currently an estimated 10 million Filipinos currently working abroad, about one-tenth of the population. They are called Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs. OFWs generally see their families once a year.
This means there are millions of children growing up without a mother or father. Life is put on hold. Millions of birthdays are missed and marriages are postponed, due to the necessity to work abroad. This is a huge sacrifice to make. Family integrity is an important value for Filipinos. The Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce remains illegal.
For educated Filipinos, there are not enough jobs that provide a living wage. It is difficult to provide for a family if your job does not pay enough to cover the bills. Many Filipinos feel they have no choice but to leave their families in order to provide for them. One OFW said to me, “It’s better to work abroad than sell your body.”
OFWs contribute around 19 billion USD to the Philippines’ economy. This is currently higher than the FDI (foreign direct investment) in the Philippines. This is an important contribution because most remittances return to families to help cover consumption costs (i.e. paying the bills, buying food and clothing). With the cost of OFWs being so high some Filipinos are asking how they can make the most of the sacrifice of OFWs.
ASKI, the microfinance institution (MFI) where I am currently based, is working on an innovative initiative to support OFWs. ASKI Global is based in Singapore where there are over 200,000 OFWs. ASKI Global aims to train and educate OFWs and their families on how remittances can be used to grow wealth, not just offset consumption costs. Currently over 200 OFWs have completed a basic entrepreneurship course. About 30% have already started small enterprises in the Philippines. ASKI Global also conducted a market study to target their services appropriately. The goal of these services is to maximize the impact of remittances and to ensure that OFWs are financially included in the Philippines as well as Asia. The ultimate goal is to create economic growth and opportunities that will allow OFWs to be reunited with their families. ASKI believes families are “the crucial building block in community development” and works hard to support constructive programs.
Allie Cook is currently a Kiva Fellow with Alalay sa Kaunlaran, Inc. (ASKI) in the Philippines. She is in month 14 of a long distance relationship but is thrilled by the welcome she has received from Filipinos and the beauty of her current home. To find out more about ASKI, visit its Kiva Partner page or the ASKI website. Or show your support by lending to an ASKI borrower or join the ASKI lending team! You can read more about ASKI’s OFW initiative here.