( Note: OFW- Overseas Filipino Worker)
I was in dire straits in 2009. Some personal decisions and events led me and my family to financial difficulties. Teaching in two different schools, I was always exhausted. Yet, the money was never enough. Then, in early July, I got a text message from a friend, telling me that employers from Libya were coming over to Manila to recruit teachers. Was this the opportunity I was waiting for? I decided to apply.
Passing the interview was the easiest part. The next part of process almost drove me to physical and mental breakdown: raising the money.
When you start applying for an overseas job, money starts to pour out like water from a broken bottle. Firstly, I had to be repeatedly absent from work because of the long list of requirements I had to comply with. Absence from job means less salary. No work, no pay, right ? For every trip from Bataan to Manila, I had to have at least a thousand pesos for transportation and food alone. Add to that the fees for authentication of documents, and other things that punched too many holes in my wallet. And of course, at the same time, I had to worry about the everyday expenses of the family: food , utilities, tuition fees, school allowance and endless school projects.
The placement fee was staggering: Php 250,000. Yes, 250 K. The recruitment agency was as greedy as f*ck. The placement fee was supposed to be equivalent to a month’s salary. Our salary was less than that, but they overcharged. Take it or leave it. Where in the world would I get 250 thousand? I considered backing out, but I was also determined to change my life. With blind faith, I decided to “ take ” it. Soon, I was scrambling for money.
I had to do what I dreaded most: swallowing my pride and trying to borrow money from people, even from those I was not really close to. This was the most difficult part, but it was a lesson in humility and human nature. Some rich people I approached did not lend me anything. I fully understood their decision. I was asking for a risky favor so I was not surprised when they said no. But as for personal ill feelings, honestly —none. No grudge here. They had no obligation to help me. I had to look for other sources.
What surprised me —pleasantly, that is — was the generosity and trusting nature of people who didn’t have much in life. Some friends lent me five thousand, others three. A few hundreds here and there. Some of them lent me money in secret, without telling their spouses. Other friends—as broke as me —even borrowed money for me. My sister and two brothers also helped a lot.
I and the other applicants were in constant communication. We lifted each other’s spirits : “ Kaya natin ‘to ! ” ( We can do this!) We were exchanging tips as to how we were raising money. Others mortgaged their farms. Some sold their jewelry and vehicles. What other things we had to sell and to whom, only the devil knows. We were all desperate.
The money I had collected was far from enough to cover the placement fee. I had to hop from one lending company to another, trying to find one that would lend me the amount. This was totally exhausting and I was at my wit’s end. Remember, I was commuting round-trip almost daily between Bataan and Metro Manila. Every commute meant less money for me. Then, once in Metro Manila, I would knock on offices of lending companies, and beg for a loan. One company turned me down because of the bad record of OFW teachers who never paid back their loans. Others asked for a collateral. I had none. Another lending company rejected me because I am from Bataan. They said they only gave loans to residents of Metro Manila, Cavite and Bulacan.
I found myself at a dead-end, but it was too late to back out. By September, I had resigned from my jobs and the pile of debts was getting higher by the day. With the envelope of documents tucked under my sweaty underarm, I continued my frantic, grueling search around Metro Manila. This went on for three weeks. Finally, I found one lending company with attainable requirements. I was approved for a loan that covered more than half of the placement fee. However, because it was a non-collateral loan, the interest was very high. To complete the money, I also got loans from SSS and PAG-IBIG.
By the time I left in November that year, I had accumulated more than Php 700,000 in debt. That included debts I incurred even before I applied, new debts and all the interests, the allowance I had to bring abroad, and the allowance I had to leave my family. Before I left the country, I bought a small notebook where I wrote down the name of every person and every company to whom I owed money. Opposite their names, I wrote down the monthly payment as well as the date when I had to pay them. It was a very long list that ran through several pages.
Every time I was able to give a partial payment, I took out my notebook and covered the name, amount and the date with green Stabilo highlighter pen. At the beginning, it seemed endless. But after two years, all those pages had turned green. In two years’ time, I was able to pay all those loans— while at the same time providing my family with a comfortable life. I am proud of this fact. You know why? Because I know that there are many OFWs who never paid back the people who helped them. Many of them are still being hunted by lending companies. And the harsh truth is, despite the opportunities given to them, hundreds of thousands of OFWs never recover from debt and poverty.
I have to give credit to my husband to whom I remitted the money. It was he who deposited all the payments, or personally gave the money to the creditors. He did a good job handling the remittance.
Simple lifestyle. Strict financial discipline. Self-control. These are my weapons in getting out and staying out of debt. Every time I am tempted to buy something at the mall, I slap myself and ask : “ Do I really need this ? ”. In most cases, the answer is NO. Often, I walk rather than ride to save money. I acquired my very first credit card when I no longer needed a loan. I simply use it for safety and convenience. Up to now, I still buy my clothes at ukay-ukay ( second-hand clothes shop) And I am not ashamed of that.
After three years in Libya, I moved to Oman where I am still continuing my journey as an expat teacher. Things are much better now compared to where I was at the beginning.
To all the people who helped me in those trying months of 2009, you have my eternal gratitude. Thank you so much. Maraming salamat! ( MARILYSASOTAGAYETA)