From Zhihan Lee, CEO and co-founder of BagoSphere - http://www.bagosphere.com/
BagoSphere is a social enterprise created to tackle rising youth unemployment in the world.
Sitting in her home in Pulupandan, Rona shares her story. It is her rest day from work at Teleperformance, a major call centre in Bacolod. She reminds me of a Filipino lady who worked as a domestic helper for my grandfather in the past. I often wonder where she went and what she did after she left Singapore for home. I never did get a chance to find out. But here I am – listening to the side of a story that hardly any one hears – the story of after Singapore, the story of afterworking as an overseas domestic worker. This is a window into the world of what happens after we bid our beloved “auntie” goodbye at the airport.
Rona’s summer job when she was 12 years old was working in the sugarcane fields of Himamaylan. Under the harsh Negrense sun, she would manually harvest sugarcanes from the fields and transfer them onto the plantation trucks, which would then head to the nearby sugar factory. The labour was excruciating for her young body, but Rona had to work to support her own education. Coming from a broken family, she stayed with her grandmother and had to provide for her own basic necessities and school supplies, even her own slippers. “Not shoes, but only slippers,” she remembers.
At the tender age of 21, Rona took the leap of courage to work as an Overseas Foreign Worker (OFW) in Singapore.She had tried different jobs in a bid to fund her college education – from working as a salesgirl in nearby Bacolod to working as a domestic worker in Manila – but she still found herself struggling financially. Rona had a good Singaporean employer who treated her with warmth and respect, and up to today, she is grateful for that. She tells me her best teachers in Singapore were her employer’s children – they were honest in their comments and always energetic. Rona practiced her English with them daily. She read their storybooks when they were done with them. Although Rona came to Singapore in order to earn money, she ended up leaving with a lot more – good memories, a strong grasp of English and a renewed love for learning.
Unfortunately, Rona’s spark for learning did not last long. Back in her hometown of Pulupandan, Rona got married and settled down. Her family was struggling financially and she had to provide for her children. She earned some extra money by doing laundry for others and selling home-cooked food. She even went abroad for another stint as an OFW, this time to Kuwait for 2 years. “Anything, anything, to earn some extra money.”
In those tough years, Rona admits she was resigned to her situation. She never thought she would learn a new skill again. However, in 2013, her mum hears about BagoSphere through an outreach effort to Negros Women For Tomorrow Foundation (NWTF) Project Dungganon members. She went for the selection tests and excelled in all of them. Rona also qualified for the NWTF Special Education loan through her mother, who is a Dungganon member. And so her journey in BagoSphere began.
Rona thoroughly enjoyed her training at BagoSphere. This was her chance to learn again, “to become somebody different”. In those 8 weeks, she felt a lot younger – being surrounded by her younger and lively batch mates. In turn, her batch mates called her Momsy, looking up to her for her confidence in English. Unlike the others, she didn’t have big dreams, she says. All she wanted to do was to provide for her children, to be able to buy the things they wanted.
Rona successfully graduated from BagoSphere Batch 5 and found employment at Teleperformance, a major call centre in Bacolod. She works in the night, and takes care of her children and household chores in the day, squeezing in precious hours of sleep whenever she is free. She is now able to buy the little snacks and toys that her children want. Work at the call centre is challenging, but Rona is grateful for this opportunity, to be “someone other than a maid”.
From the sugarcane fields, to the shores of Singapore, to the classrooms of BagoSphere and finally to her workplace at Teleperformance, Rona’s love for learning has brought her on a journey to many places. She has surely come a long way and we are glad to be a part of that journey.