Crossing the digital bridge

?More than half of my day is spend in front of a computer. In choosing where to have coffee or a fine meal, a Wi-Fi Free Zone sticker posted on the door instantly transforms a restaurant to a gourmet workplace. It is unnatural for me to have a status feed on Facebook lay dormant or unchanged for more than 48 hours, unless I am by some wicked twist of fate, marooned in a remote area where broadband are spelled apart. If you are like me, then you can understand how comfortable and convenient life gets in our vast digital world.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who think that WWW are three distinct tiles on Scrabble, worth 4 points each when used; who also think that a mouse should be trapped, not clicked; and who are unable to visualize notebooks as something other than the ones we used in grade school. Most of those digitally unaware have loved ones overseas, aboard cruise liners or in oil rigs, working in restaurants or enslaved by households of the rich and not-so-rich. Their lack of knowledge about computers and the Internet deprive them of the most advanced communication tools and the capacity to learn and earn while traveling through the World Wide Web.

Thankfully, Microsoft Philippines through its Unlimited Potentials Program has an ongoing project with the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration for a free computer literacy program for OFWs and their dependents called “Tulay” program. Last August 6, the Blas F. Ople Center in Pasay City held a simple graduation ceremony for its first batch of computer learners. They brought their own food, pot-luck style, and shared their thoughts and sentiments about finally crossing the digital divide. All it took was ten days, from 9 AM to 4 PM, of continuous learning – in a classroom built to accommodate 11 learners, with one dedicated, professional trainor.

I felt overwhelmed by the comments of our graduates. One of them, Erlinda, said that she had always wanted to learn how to use the computer. Her husband was a seafarer, and when their children were growing up, she decided to leave her old job and focus on raising their family. One day, she heard over DWIZ that the Blas F. Ople Center would be offering free computer classes to OFWs and their dependents. She told her husband who was visiting Manila at that time that she intended to enroll. The husband thought it was one of those wanted-to-but-never-did types of story. Back on deck, the husband called up the family and wondered where Erlinda was. Well, the kids said, their mom had indeed taken up the free computer course. Today, Erlinda is computer literate. She has crossed the bridge to a vast, open, and exciting digital universe.

I would encourage children, parents, and next-of-kin of OFWs to enroll in any of the Microsoft-OWWA Tulay Centers spread across the country. In nearly all OWWA Regional Offices, one can find a TULAY classroom equipped with at least 10 computers with Internet broadband connection ready for use. We also have Tulay facilities overseas, set up during the time of then Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas and OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque. I was labor undersecretary at that time. The Ople Center, thanks to a grant from Microsoft, will soon be adding computers to the Tulay Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia while opening a Tulay Center in the ARMM region in partnership with OWWA.

Our Center will continue to accept enrollees to our Tulay program, all for free. Students will be trained by Roderick Joaquin on extremely relevant and handy Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Word, Spreadsheet Fundamentals, PowerPoint presentations, database fundamentals, and Internet usage. In ten days, even if you have never cut and paste a document in your life, you will learn not just how to do it, but also how to save and retrieve that document from a computer hard drive. The caveat is that you do need to be related to an overseas Filipino worker or are an OFW just waiting to be deployed. Our first priority goes to seafarers, since there is not one dedicated Tulay program geared towards a Filipino mariner.

Can someone in midlife still learn how to use a computer? Yes! Our oldest Tulay graduate is Buhay Tan, a young girl in her 80’s, who may have been the role model for the popular Lola Techie ad. At this point, I’d like to give props to the first batch of BFO Center-Tulay graduates: Clearice Tabanao, Hipolito Ayran, Erlinda Urian, Efren Amancio, Romel Tabon, Julius Raip, Epifania de Jesus, and Rosalie Laviano. For those who wish to join these new graduates on the other side of the digital divide, just call the Ople Center at 833-5337 or send us an e-mail via (Send your comments to

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Nancy Pinacolada

    I love you Ms. Susan Ople..! GOD bless you always.. !