From mother to daughter, a Filipino family looks overseas for survival


Posted at Jan 22 2018 11:28 AM | Updated as of Jan 22 2018 05:54 PM

From mother to daughter, two generations of a Manila-based family sought work in Hong Kong for better wages to support siblings despite years of separation.

Every Sunday after working 12 hours a day, six days a week, thousands of domestic helpers flock to Hong Kong's city centre on their only day off in the week.

For 34-year-old Sheila Bonifacio it's no different, she heads to Central where she meets her friends to take her mind off the daily grind.

A university graduate with a degree in education, Bonifacio spent three years as a teacher in her home town of Manila. But her monthly salary of 15,000 pesos ($298.20) was not enough to support her and her family, so she decided to follow her mother's footsteps of becoming a domestic helper in the cosmopolitan city Hong Kong.

The plight of economic migrants will be among the many issues that will be discussed in next week's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"In our family it's so sad, you know, because it's like a repetition of what happened, from my mom to me to my brother to my sisters, we are an example of a family that's a victim of this forced migration," Bonifacio says.

Bonifacio, like her mother before her, gave up a life surrounded by friends and family, hopped on a plane and arrived in the former British colony in June 2007.

She says she felt scared and lonely, and it didn't help having strict employers who she says verbally abused her on a daily basis.

Her mother, 56-year-old Milagrosena Tebia, who now lives in Manila with three of her children, two grandchildren and her own mother, came back to the Philippines in 2007 after having worked as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for eight years.

At first Tebia objected to Bonifacio finding work in Hong Kong citing her bad experience with her first employer. But with bills piling up due to her now deceased husband's deteriorating health and the lack of well paid job opportunities, she finally agreed for her daughter to leave the family home.

"I'm very proud of my daughter, but, of course, I feel sad because we can't be with her. With the situation of our country, where even if you graduated from something you still can't get a job with a liveable pay, I am still proud of my daughter. There is forced immigration here. We are forced to leave our country to find better opportunities.," she says.

Due to the separation Bonifacio says she did not have a good relationship with her mother growing, but in the Philippines, she adds, it is common for people to seek work overseas to avoid poverty and hunger.

After working for six different employers, Bonifacio now earns around HK$5,000 ($639), twice her salary as a professional teacher, and is able to financially support her siblings through school - something her mother did for her.

While the Philippines economy is growing, the country is still riddled with poverty and inequality, forcing around 2.2 million Fillipinos to work overseas, according to a 2016 government survey.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte promised to bring back the country's migrant workers by generating domestic job opportunities.