MANILA -- Teresita Alcanzare, 61, has worked for two decades in Hong Kong as a domestic helper. And on the day of her retirement, her youngest child personally fetched her from the household she served for 18 years.
When Alcanzare met her son at the airport, fragments of her first flight to Hong Kong flashed in her mind. For her, leaving her young children was devastating.
"Ang hirap talaga. Ayaw ko na nga maalala dahil hanggang ngayon natatandaan ko pa lahat, parang dinudurog ang puso ko," Alcanzare recalled during an interview with ABS-CBN News. "Nakikita mo 'yong mga anak mong hinihila mga maleta mo at hinahatak damit mo para 'di ka umalis. Tapos nakikita mo mga anak mo umiiyak. Sobrang sakit sa puso."
Her youngest son, Hans, was only six years old when Alcanzare first left the Philippines. Now, he's a grown man with a stable job.
As a single mother to a brood of seven, Alcanzare said she had no other choice but to find a better-paying job abroad, even if it meant leaving her children under the care of her relatives.
Her only source of strength at that time was her dream to give the best education to her children, who would one day become successful in their chosen careers. "Nagdasal na lang ako. Sabi ko, 'Lord, ikaw na pong bahala sa mga anak ko,'" she recalled.
A RETIREMENT GIFT
Twenty years after that heart-breaking goodbye at the airport, Alcanzare is finally coming home to her family. But before she returns to the Philippines, Hans is bringing her on an Asian tour -- a life-long dream she never thought would come true.
"Ang tagal ko rin inantay 'to. Nangarap lang ako dati na makarating lang kahit isang bansa lang maliban sa Hong Kong," Alcanzare said. "Naluluha ako kasi dati pangarap ko lang din, ngayon magiging totoo na."
According to Hans, the Alcanzare siblings decided to pursue this retirement gift to fulfill their mom's dream.
Each of them chipped in to fund the trip. In the coming days, Hans and his mother will be visiting Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macao, and Taiwan.
Hans shared this story via a Facebook post, which has now received over 100,000 reactions and 22,000 shares.
Many netizens, who also have loved ones working abroad, were able to relate to the post. Some admit they also plan to do the same when the time comes for their parents to retire.
20 YEARS A NANNY
Going abroad remains one of the more attractive career options for Filipinos.
Every day, a mother boards a plane to work as a domestic helper in a foreign country -- usually Hong Kong or in the Middle East. But not everyone is lucky enough to find a family that will treat her well.
According to international rights group Mission for Migrant Workers, three out of five domestic workers in Hong Kong tolerate unsuitable living conditions that may threaten their health and safety.
Fortunately for Alcanzare, she found an employer that treats her like a member of their family.
Alcanzare arrived in Hong Kong in 1998. Her first employer terminated her contract after two weeks due to financial problems.
She felt miserable at that time. But with seven mouths to feed, returning to the Philippines was not an option.
The determined mom stayed in Hong Kong to look for another employer. She later found a family who eventually migrated to Canada. Her contract only lasted for 18 months.
But, thankfully, the family recommended her to a Mr. Lee, a Chinese employer whom she would work for during the next 18 years.
20 YEARS OF LONGING
Life was better in the Lee household. Alcanzare was well-loved by the family, and considered her as one of them.
But, of course, there were times when she would long to be home, to take care of her own children. At that time, the only way to communicate to her children was through snail mail.
"Ang sakit sa pakiramdam na inaalagaan mo 'yong anak ng iba, pero 'di mo maalagaan ang sarili mong mga anak. Tuwing inaalagaan ko mga anak ng amo ko, lagi tumutulo luha ko at iniisip ko kung okay ba mga anak ko -- kung kumain na ba sila or ano na ba ginagawa nila," she recalled.
According to Hans, it was also difficult for him and his siblings. There were times, he said, when he would feel envious of other children who were well attended to by their parents.
"Tuwing papasok ako sa school nakikita ko mga classmates ko na hinahatid ng mga nanay nila sa umaga tapos susunduin naman sa hapon," he said. "Di siya nakaka-attend sa special milestones naming magkakapatid. Tuwing birthday namin or graduation di sya nakaka-uwi."
Hans and his siblings eventually got used to this set up. They had to be tough so that their mother would not have left for nothing.
According to Alcanzare, the longing was double for her but she endured it all for the love of her children and with the hope that one day they would take care of her as well.
Yet, despite working so hard, sometimes her salary would not be enough to pay the bills back home, especially when her children entered college.
"Nanghihiram ako sa mga kaibigan ko kapag 'di pa due 'yong mga bayarin nila sa financing. Hinihiram ko muna, then ipadala sa mga anak ko. 'Pag wala na talaga akong choice, doon na ako talaga nagsasabi sa employer ko na si Mr. Lee," she said.
There were months, Alcanzare recalled, when she would not receive anything at all because she already advanced the money. But at least, it went to the best investment she could ever have.
Alcanzare, who is now a senior citizen, is finally going back to her home in Pangasinan. In 1998, she left her seven children; now, she is coming home to 11 grandchildren.
Before she left, the Lee family held a small party for her, a tribute to Alcanzare's almost two decades of working for them. During the tribute, she was handed a personalized scrapbook, where the Lee family compiled some of their most treasured moments with their nanny.
While she feels sad of having to leave the the family she served for two decades, Alcanzare said her excitement is immeasurable, especially now that she'd never have to leave the country again.
"Iba pa rin kasi ang manatili at tumatanda ka sa bayan mo dahil alam mo na may mag-aalaga sayo, kahit uugod ugod ka na. Mas masaya pa rin na malapit ka sa mga pamilya mo lalo pa at ako ay tumatanda na gusto kong makasama ang mga anak at apo ko," she said.
After her Asian trip, Alcanzare is coming home to the house where she used to cook her specialty, pochero.
Hans assured her mom that she would never have to worry about finances again. The Alcanzare siblings agreed to create a bank account for their mother, where they will send her monthly allowance.
"May bracket din depende sa kung sino mas mataas sweldo siya may malaking percentage," he quipped.
Although she was not able to build a mansion after 20 years of working abroad, Alcanzare finds fulfillment with what has become of her seven children. She is coming home to a house full of professionals -- a certified public accountant, a licensed teacher, a registered nurse, a pharmacist and midwife, a civil engineer and registered master plumber, and a future IT professional.
"Iniwan ko sila mga bata pa pero ngayon lahat may lisensya at titulo na may magagandang buhay at may magandang trabaho. Iyon ang pinakamasarap na pakiramdam na puwedeng maramdaman ng isang ina, 'yong makita silang successful," she said.