During the initial lockdown in March, I heard about a growing number of COVID-19 cases, loss of jobs, our overseas Filipinos being repatriated, and people going hungry and angry. Finding myself falling into depression and helplessness, I had to pull myself together and ask myself what positive action I can do. How can I help?
As the chair of the board of Atikha, an NGO working in the field of gender, migration, reintegration and development, I know we can respond to the challenges of our repatriated OFWs. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who were repatriated as a consequence of the pandemic arrived by the thousands, and there are still thousands who are coming home in the next months because of the global economic crisis. It is estimated that repatriated OFWs will reach 400,000 by the end of 2020. Most of the OFWs were not prepared and do not have enough savings and psychosocial and technical preparation for reintegration.
OFWs have been helping our economy for more than 40 years with their remittances. Now that most OFWs and their families are affected, it is high time for all Filipinos to give back. Moved by the gravity of the situation, Atikha signed up with the ‘Be A Volunteer’ Platform of the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA). Atikha in partnership with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration – National Reintegration Center for OFWs (OWWA-NRCO) and other government agencies committed to spearhead a movement that will call for the support of all sectors of society to help address the situation of OFWs.
The BaliKaBayanihan Campaign relives the spirit of “Bayanihan” or volunteerism among Filipinos to contribute in whatever they could to provide a helping hand to our Overseas Filipinos by providing them the necessary support they need to reintegrate and find sustainable jobs or business. This is a multi-stakeholder partnership among government agencies, local government units, diaspora organizations, development agencies, civil society and private organizations to assist the OFWs through job placement, skills, livelihood and entrepreneurship training, psychosocial services, financial assistance, business opportunities and other services. Aside from OWWA-NRCO, the program is also supported by the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) as well as private organizations.
All of the reintegration services of national government, local government units, volunteers and partner organizations are posted through the BaliKaBayanihan website to serve as a one-stop reintegration service portal not only to repatriated OFWs but also to all OFWs needing reintegration services and their families. Those who are interested to participate as volunteer or partner organizations can register through this website. OFWs can also register online through this website and provide their information about their needs, resources, interest and required services. The portal serves as a marketplace for information and services.
In this time of pandemic, we encouraged all the partners of BaliKaBayanihan to provide information training and counseling services online to enable the OFWs to take advantage of their services. To cope with the challenge of social distancing, we in Atikha converted our information and training program online. We developed a weekly internet TV through our Pinoy Worldwide Initiative for Investment Savings and Entrepreneurship (Pinoy WISE) network of OFWs and families called Pinoy WISE iTV.
Pinoy WISE iTV is featured every Sunday morning at 9:00 AM Philippine time at the PinoyWISE Facebook Page.
It provides information on migration and managing finances and family, reintegration services, investment and business opportunities, government services, and stories of struggles and triumphs of the OFWs and families.
We focus on uplifting stories of success, giving back, various assistance and support services to give hope to our OFWs in this time of pandemic. Atikha also converted all its training program on financial literacy, nurturing family relations, reintegration seminar and other training programs to web-based training using google classroom.
All of these training will be posted in the BaliKaBayanihan to make it more accessible to OFWs worldwide. We had to be flexible and quickly learn new technologies that can be used to reach out and continue serving the OFWs and their families.
We are in a difficult situation but I was taught by my gurus that there is opportunity in every crisis. The pandemic provided the opportunity for migration stakeholders to reflect and through BaliKaBayan build a better integrated, multi-stakeholder, gender responsive, development oriented reintegration program. Through concerted efforts and support from everybody including the OFWs, we can provide sustainable jobs and business so that those who do not want to work abroad can build lives for themselves and their families in the Philippines.
BaliKaBayanihan is still a work in progress. The call for volunteers and partners have just been launched last August 4, 2020. There was an outpouring of support not only from the government but also from the NGOs, private organizations and volunteers responding to our call to give back. The pandemic brought a lot of challenges to our lives. But the spirit of Bayanihan, especially in times of crisis, lives on.