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Umela leader looks to home after 21 years

16 September 2017

UMELA president Ofelia Baquirin (right) says she will miss the company of her eldest daughter Juliefe, who will continue training new members in massage therapy while working in Hong Kong.

By Vir B. Lumicao

In the safety of their hangout on a quiet passageway near the High Court building in Central, Ofelia Baquirin supervises about 20 Filipina domestic workers undergoing theoretical and hands-on training in massage therapy.

The session, which lasts from 10am to 1pm, is the usual Sunday activity in that obscure corner of the building that is otherwise busy on a normal working day.

For the past few years, the area has been used by the United Migrants Entrepreneurship and Livelihood Association (Umela-HK) to train interested OFWs in various skills they that they will need to make a living when they go home for good.

Umela has more than 100 members, mostly graduates of the massage therapy course conducted by trainers duly certified by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, a training arm of the Department of Labor and Employment.

Like a good teacher, Baquirin guides her students through an illustrated book on reflexology as she immerses them in basic anatomy and physiology,  pathology and microbiology, before they go into practice.

Like any good team leader, too, the 49-year-old domestic worker goes hands-on showing a trainee the proper strokes of Swedish massage and the vital points of a human body as well as corresponding pressure points to relieve pain anywhere in the body.

“See, the learners go through both theoretical and hands-on training here. They are also like students in a formal school who go through theory and practice,” Baquirin tells The SUN.

“We conduct massage therapy training every Sunday and also teach other skills such as macrame bag making and basic dressmaking.”

The workshop training includes preparing each individual trainee for the NC II certification examination to be taken in the Philippines or at a TESDA onsite assessment in Hong Kong so she will become a more competitive massage therapist.

As gusty winds and intermittent rain brought by Typhoon Hato lashed on Aug 27, a total of 96 trainees graduated from Umela’s training program – they made up batches 20 and 21 and comprising 75 massage therapists and 21 macrame bag makers. The ceremony was held at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Admiralty Centre.

Baquirin feels a sense of fulfillment each time a batch graduates. But on Aug 27, there was hesitation and sadness in her voice as she announced that the graduation was the last one she was gracing, as she would be going home to Victoria, Mindoro Oriental, on Dec 14 after 21 years in Hong Kong.

Baquirin co-founded Umela-HK on June 22, 2008 with fellow veteran community leaders: Arnold Grospe, Joel Almeda, Rolando Cruz, Danny Velasquez, and two who are no longer in the territory, Cora Carsola and  Remedios Borlaza.

“Sila po ang mga kasama kong bumuo ng Umela at nagtulak at nagbigay ng lakas ng loob na kaya kong pamunuan ang Umela Livelihood Training Program,” Baquirin said.

The program began with meat processing, ribbon folding,beads crafting and soap carving), added basic dressmaking and macrame bag knitting. Then came massage therapy, which proved to be very popular because of the potential for employment or business back home that the training provides.

“Dec.19, 1996, noong bagong salta ako ditto sa Hong Kong. Ako ay 28 lang at that time,” Baquirin recalled. ”Sa darating na Dec.19 ay 21years na akong nagtatrabaho rito. God willing, sa Dec.14 uuwi na muna ako sa atin upang makapiling muli ang aking pamilya.”

She said her stay in Hong Kong had enabled her to fulfill all her dreams.

 “Noong unang dating ko pa lamang dito sa Hong Kong,paglapag ng eroplano nangarap na akong magkaroon ng sariling lote at bahay at lupang sakahan na mapapagkunan ng pagkain ng aking pamilya at mapagtapos ko sa pag-aaral ang aking mga anak at maipagamot na rin ang aming ina,” Baquirin said.

Prayers and hard work kept her focused on those dreams. Over the past years, she has sent her children to university with her eldest Juliefe, 29, finishing midwifery; Jellian Pearl, 23, hotel and restaurant management; and JorenGel, 22, BS Marine Engineering.

 She said only her son Jeraldy, 25, who did not earn a degree because he got married early.

 She also shared the blessings with a nephew who she helped finish a BS Marine Engineering course, in addition to supporting he parents and helping her siblings.

 Baquirin said she would be missing a lot, including the Filipino community here, when she leaves Hong Kong.

 “Ang mami-miss ko dito sa Hong Kong ay ang anak kong panganay na iiwanan ko dito at ang lifestyle during Sunday off, ang Umela family ko at mga kaibigan, kamag-anak at ang events natin sa Filcom,” she said with nostalgia.
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