Thursday, October 5, 2006

A mother’s tale of love, sacrifice and survival

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A mother’s tale of love, sacrifice and survival

5 October 2006, Quezon City. When she left Maguindanao six months ago, fleeing a series of unfortunate events, Salama Polayagan hoped to start over abroad. Like many Muslim women in her place, she chose a country at the Middle East that not only shared her religion but also filled promises of golden opportunities. “Para mabuhay at makapagtapos ng pag-aaral ang mga anak ko. Matulungan ko ang magulang ko. Para hindi na mahirap ang buhay namin,” she says.

Salama’s mother died after giving birth to her on a mountainous village of Matanog, Maguindanao. She stopped schooling after Grade 2. At the age of 17, she was married to a farmer. She had 10 children but one of them died due to high fever. In 1996, while giving birth in a regional hospital, her 1-year paralyzed husband succumbed to heart disease and ulcer. During an all-out-war against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) the year 2000, the military forces burned down her house. Her family moved to safety in Parang, Maguindanao where she began buying vegetables to resell back home. “Mahirap ang buhay sa probinsya. Isang beses lang kaming kumain, kanin at gulay, minsan kamoteng kahoy,” Salama recalls.

So with a salary of 45 Dinar per month, Salama left to work as a domestic helper in Kuwait last April 3, 2006. The first month, she worked with different employers. Soon she met “Badria”, an employer who taught her everything about housekeeping. All is well but after 1 month, Badria started maltreating Salama. “Araw-araw binubugbog ako kahit wala akong kasalanan. Sinusuntok, tinutusok ang mata at tenga. Sinusubsob at sinasampal. Nagtiis ako kasi baka magbago pa siya,” Salama says.

One early morning in July, while Badria was sleeping, Salama escaped through a window of the three-story house. She headed to the Philippine Embassy. Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) brought her to Mubarak Al Kabeer Hospital for a medical examination. “Kung hindi ako aalis sa amo ko, baka mabaliw ako. Sumasakit ang ulo ko. Nangitim ang braso ko. Nahihirapan din akong huminga, kumikirot ang opera ko,” says Salama.

After 2 months at the Embassy, Salama received her Travel Document valid in lieu of her passport. Penniless, she sought the help of her relatives in an urban poor community in Manila as she goes back to her home province.

According to Salama, the story of some 300 more women Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) still seeking refuge at the Embassy is one of hard luck, occasional violence and stubborn survival.

“Forced migration not only to cities but also to wealthy countries is not a massive flow moved by hope, but rather a desperate struggle to stay alive,” according to the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), a non-government organization working with urban poor issues. “This is a phenomenon which is provoking the rural communities through the massive flight of their most promising men and women, the profound destruction of their culture and the disintegration of their families. There is a need to attack the deep causes of these problems and restitute the hope of poor people.”

Today, still nursing her injuries, Salama would still want to stake her life and limb on an uncertain future in another country. “Mahirap ang buhay sa probinsya,” she says. -30-

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