The Magnificence of Change

Jerwin Alcantara is a farmer from Jaen, Nueva Ecija. All his dreams in life were contained in a single document: his Philippine passport. Unused and hidden as one would a cherished belonging, Jerwin thought that his passport was the golden pass to a better life.

One day, two ladies went to his rustic barangay. They were recruiters in search of grape-pickers for Cyprus. Honey-tongued and urban-dressed, they were treated as celebrities, like game hosts about to proclaim the lucky winners. Except they were neither, and the job offers for Cyprus were non-existent. Jerwin was among those who fell for the scam. Worse, he used the family’s rice land as collateral for a loan to pay off the illegal recruiters. Unable to pay off his loan, the private lender had sold the family’s land leaving Jerwin and his brother to work as farm hands in a neighbor’s farm.

The Blas F. Ople Center, a non-profit organization named after my late father, has been helping Jerwin and his fellow victims after they filed the appropriate complaints with the National Bureau of Investigation. Sadly, the recruiters remain scot-free, and are said to be as honey-tongued and sassy as ever.

Jerwin and his brother, Jayveen, are among the 20 scholars of Skills Up!, a vocational training and scholarship program that we developed together with the Manny Villar Foundation and Asian School for Hospitality Arts for victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment. For three months, the two brothers are enrolled in a barista course where they would make gourmet coffee. From magsasaka to barista, Jerwin hopes to have sufficient skills and experience that would lead to having his passport marked for travel abroad as an overseas Filipino worker.

Thankfully, our partners for the Skills Up! project are genuine advocates for the welfare of our OFWs. Senator Manny Villar has lived up to his commitment to continue helping OFWs. He sent a team of professional counsellors and social workers to Hong Kong to provide free group therapy sessions to improve our workers’ coping mechanisms right after the disastrous Manila hostage taking-incident. Through his foundation, the good senator has agreed to sponsor the tuition fees and even board and lodging of our 20 scholars, most of whom, like the Alcantara brothers, have lost nearly everything as victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment.

Owned by Rico Trinidad and Badjie Guerrero-Trinidad, ASHA developed a special course tailor-made for our scholars that include motivational lectures to give them a nurturing and confidence-building environment. Scholars are made to choose between two courses: hotel housekeeping or baristas. ASHA commits to helping our trainees in job placement services after they graduate.

The Blas F. Ople Center also has the Microsoft Tulay program which provides free computer classes to overseas workers and their families. For ten days, our learners are taught how to use Word processing, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and Internet fundamentals. Under the Tulay program, we have seen our students blossom into computer-savvy individuals, regardless of age or educational attainment.

Case in point is the extremely shy but highly capable Teresa Labrador from Negros Oriental. She enrolled in the Tulay Program prodded by her progressive-minded employer, Irene Polancos, owner of G-Car Marketing Resources. Tere only reached up to Grade 6 and was employed as a kasambahay or household worker by the Polancos family. After completing the ten-day Microsoft Tulay course, Tere has found employment as an office worker in Selecta. She checks on the deliveries and provides assistance to customers and clients. Her occupational shift is but a start of a wider avenue of options.

Against this tapestry of real-life stories, I am amazed by the magnificence of change. I am enchanted with the twists and turns of a skill-driven life. I am in love with the concept that knowledge can and is transformational. My father was a dockhand at North Harbor. He became a Senate President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs. And he did it before he became known as an Ople. He was self-made, and throughout his life, he was skills-and knowledge-driven.

The magnificence of change is something that we must all strive to behold, because the ups and downs of life are replete with both questions and answers. We keep hearing about becoming agents of change. It isn’t truly difficult to be such an agent. All it needs is the desire to be a nurturing and caring person, or a nurturing and caring company.

When my family thought of forming the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, we didn’t have a clue about what we should be involved in and how. It’s like driving at night, your headlights can only light up part of the way. God lights up the rest.

If you believe that with all your heart, then you can see clearly and know intimately how change can be magnificent and resplendent with fulfilment and joy. We all have our road bumps. It is up to us to change lanes and move forward. (Send your comments to toots.ople@yahoo.com. Follow me on Twitter via www.twitter.com/susanople. Visit my blog: www.susanople.com)

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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