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Death of kin amid pandemic makes OFW give up dream, others hold on

04 September 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Maris decided to go home to look after her kids after Covid-19 claimed her mother's life

When word reached Maris Stella S. Candole that her 60-year-old mother succumbed to coronavirus infection on Aug 20, the Cebuana mother of two fell into grief and confusion as she realized the tragedy would derail her plans.

Maris, an energetic hiker and good cook at 33, was upbeat about the future as she was about to begin her third contract as domestic helper in Hong Kong.

She said her employers had asked her to sign a new contract with a salary offer much higher than the minimum just to keep her. The offer would help her pursue her dreams for her two children.

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Initially she vacillated due to the allure of a promised job in Eastern Europe for which she had already paid $16,000 in illicit placement fee.

“My Sir promised me he’d refund the $16,000 I paid the agent and pay me $7,000 starting this September. It’s a very good offer that’s hard to refuse, as they’re good employers and they trust me,” she said in a conversation in mid-July.

A month later, she changed her Facebook profile with a lit candle and poured out her grief over the demise of her Nanay Maria Luisa, whose death from coronavirus was as shocking as it was sudden.

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For a few days, Maris was at a loss choosing between sticking with her job and going back to San Fernando, Cebu, to care for her son Xander, 4, and daughter Doday, 10, now that her mother was gone.

The decision was particularly difficult as she also had to worry about a Php2.3 million house for which she had already paid Php17,300 monthly amortization for the past two years.

But after weighing all her options, Maris decided her two kids needed her more. With regrets, her employers let her go.

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On her way to the airport for her flight home on Aug.30, Maris said her Ma’am hugged her tight for some time and told her she would take her back any time. Her two young wards were also sad.

“Mga amo ko, nag-aantay pa rin sa pagbabalik ko. Kahit after 2 years daw pag maisipan kong bumalik, kontakin ko raw sila at willing silang tanggapin ako ulit. Kasi daw yung trust nila sa akin, yun daw importante,” Maris said.  

(My employers are still waiting for my return. They say even after 2 years, if I decide to return, I’ll just contact them and they will accept me again. They say they trust me and that’s what important to them.)

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But she said coming back would be difficult because her children need her beside them now that their Lola is gone.

“Mahirapan ako kung iba ang mag-aalaga sa mga bata. Tanging sa Nanay lang ako nagtiwala,” Maris said. (It would be hard for me to let other people look after them. It’s only my Mom whom I could trust.)

Maris with her mother, whose sudden death made her decide to forego her HK dreams

She said she’d go back into small business to earn a living for her family.

But for several other Hong Kong-based domestic workers, a death in the family is sadly, not enough reason for them to risk going home amid the raging pandemic and the travel restrictions it entails.

One of them is Nerissa Bioco, who laments the loss of her eldest son Kenny, 19, to asthma on Aug 17. The last time she was with him was in June 2019. She said she was due to take her annual leave again this year but could not, so she mourns quietly.

Mikay Siao is still mourning her father’s death on June 19 due to Covid-19, so does Jing Jing Ortiz, whose mother succumbed to the virus on Apr 2. But they are also stuck in Hong Kong, knowing that they could lose their jobs if they insisted on going home.

Another worker, Louise Jean, said her son died Apr 20, but she could only grieve.

For Loreta Perez, the pain left by her mother’s demise on Jan 29 due to the virus was compounded by her brother’s death on Aug 12. But she could not go home, either. 

As the Covid-19 crisis spreads unchecked in the country, death circles the families of Filipino workers while they toil in various parts of the world to provide a better life to those they left behind.

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