Job opportunity in the Middle East: Making the desert green

By Maria Aleta Nieva-Nishimori,

Posted at Mar 26 2014 04:16 PM | Updated as of Mar 27 2014 06:58 PM

An aeriel shot of the Yanbu Flower Carpet which broke the Guinness World Records for the largest flower carpet Photo from John Torio's Facebook

MANILA - You've got to be flexible and determined to persevere if you want to survive life abroad as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), says John Torio, an OFW based in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia.

Torio knows all about perseverance when he faced one of the biggest challenges in his career as a landscape designer -- to become part of the team tasked to create a world record-breaking flower carpet in the middle of a desert.

"As a designer, you've got to be flexible and being an artist, constant `yung learning process namin. Every project is always a challenge," he said.
Torio currently works under the Landscaping & Irrigation Department of the Royal Commission of Yanbu. His employer is the Sadeem Agricultural Co. which hires Filipino workers through Pisces Employment Agency in Sucat, Paranaque.

"Marunong ka dapat mag-adjust sa ugali ng ibang lahi, respect their culture, their beliefs, their traditions, and `wag mong dalhin ang pangit mong ugali sa abroad," said Torio.
Torio is already one year into the job, after spending four years in his previous work as CAD operator and landscape designer in Jeddah.
"Before ako umalis sa dati kong company, I was invited by a former officemate ko na Arab. Sabi niya why not try applying sa Royal Commission of Yanbu since there is an opening. So from Jeddah, I flew to Yanbu. I was interviewed by the Arab project manager and the rest is history," he said.

After his stint in Jeddah, Torio returned to the Philippines and formalized his paperwork with the agency for the work in Yanbu.

"`Di na ako dumaan sa mga interviews sa Pinas dahil direct na akong ininterview ng project manager sa mismong Royal Commission," he said.

A closer shot of the Yanbu Flower Carpet, the largest in the world according to the Guinness World Records


Torio and other Filipinos were among the teams behind the success of Yanbu in breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest carpet of flowers.
"It's not easy to conceptualize an idea, a design, dahil nandoon lagi `yung pressure. As a designer, you have to outdo your last creation, evolve into a better designer," he shared.

The Yanbu flower carpet measured 10,712.75 square meters, breaking the record held by China last year at 7,995 square meters.
"`Yung flower carpet na dinesign ko took a lot of changes, revisions, until I satisfied the taste of my boss," he said.
But achieving that fete for Yanbu was not an easy task for any of them, especially preparing the planting bed in an area in the desert. He described their work as a product of their "blood, sweat and tears".
"Imagine, wala kaming surveyors to put coordinates on site. We have to do it manually. Kumbaga, literally draw the whole design on site using gypsum powders and strings to mark the areas. `Yun ang pinaka-challenge doon yung execution sa site—as if you're drawing in a gigantic canvass…a 10,700+++ square meter canvass," he said.
But the work was made a little easier to bear because he worked alongside other equally hardworking Filipinos such as Rolly Alcantara, Carlito Reyes, Albert Tan, Mario Apellido, Roy Manglicmut and Regin Alcantara.
"Good thing, puro Pinoy ang mga nag-lead nito kasi alam mo naman ang mga Pinoy, madiskarte. Flexible sa trabaho. `Yan ang advantage natin sa ibang lahi," he said.

A beaming John Torio shows proof of hard work. Beside him is Pravin Patel, the official representative of the Guinness World of Records from UK From John Torio's Facebook account

Torio hails from Manila. He finished a degree in Fine Arts, majoring in interior design at the Philippine Women's University (PWU).
Torio also worked in various export industry firms in the Philippines. His first overseas job was in Taiwan as textile factory worker and then as a solenoid valve fabricator. He also worked in a fashion house designing soft furnishings like throw pillows, lamp shades among others.
Unfortunately, he too was a victim of illegal recruiters.
"Yung first time ko mag-abroad I was so young, 22. Umiiyak pa ako noon dahil na-homesick ako. Ako `yung pinaka-bata sa batch namin," he said.
Their agency, he said, had promised to deploy them legally to Taiwan.
"Later on, sila na `yung nagsabi sa amin na para mapabilis iisyuhan kami ng tourist visa. We were told not to use our real names so they processed fake documents," he said.


When he gets the time, he tries to be of service to other Filipinos in distress in Saudi Arabia. In 2012, he, along with other Pinoy members of cause-oriented groups, raised funds to help an OFW who suffered serious burns to the body following a work-related accident.

Torio is married to Marilyn Gordo and they have two daughters Gwyneth Aiko, 12, and Aimee Vernice, 8. His family is based in the Philippines.

Last March 24, Torio once again witnessed another successful event that was a result of his sacrifices abroad-- his eldest daughter's elementary graduation.

He believes there's room for more Filipino fine arts graduates in the Middle East.

"Mataas ang demand ng designer sa anumang larangan, in all industries that need design and development, lalo na sa Middle East. Kumbaga, napakalawak pa ng disyerto to make it green, figuratively speaking, and people here have the money to burn for these tasks--beautifying the arid desert," he said.