MANILA – Sister Rosa Angelica Libron considers herself as an overseas worker, having been assigned to South Korea for 18 years now.
“When we make our final vows, we get a mission appointment from Rome. I got an assignment to Korea. We are like OCWs,” said a cheerful Sister Angel.
But instead of “overseas contract workers”, the term used to refer to Filipinos working abroad , Sister Angel coined another meaning for it: ‘Overseas Christ’s Workers’.
“The first year I started to work fulltime in the Guri Catholic Migrants Center, there were like 88 households under my care,” Sister Angel said. That was in June, 2010.
Prior to that, Sister Angel was also assigned to the HIV/AIDS Ministry of the Seoul Catholic Archdiocese.
“Although I was serving the HIV positive Korean people during those years, there were also Filipino migrant workers that I encountered,” she said.
At the very start of her assignment in South Korea in 1996, Sister Angel volunteered to help distressed Filipino migrant workers and marriage migrants.
“I’m like a big ‘Ate’, walking with them, helping them integrate into the Korean society. We make them feel that they are not just at the receiving end, but that they have much to contribute not only to the Filipino- Korean community that they are part of, but to the big Korean society as well,” she said.
Sister Angel was instrumental in the establishment of the Filipino-Korean Community in Guri and Namyangju cities. Currently, it is the only cross-cultural community with 100 Filipino-Korean families. Just this year, she also played a role in the organization of another Filipino Catholic community, this time in Onam.
“There are marriage migrants and there are also migrant workers. When I say marriage migrant, these are Filipinas married to Koreans. There are also the migrant workers who are really there to work. We try to form them into a community. It is not only the Catholic community that we are forming, but also the community of these marriage migrants, that is, the Filipinas married to Koreans and their families, including their husbands,” she said.
During her interaction with marriage migrants, Sister Angel noted that their one main difficulty is that many of them met through the broker.
“In Korea, the broker system is legal. But in the Philippines, it’s not legal. These men pay much. So sometimes they get the feeling that I bought the wife so she is supposed to serve me. That’s one expectation from the husband’s side,” she said.
The Pinay on the other hand, also has a reason on why she agrees with the broker system.
“From the Filipina’s side naman, I got into this marriage with the hope that I will be able to support my family of origin in the Philippines. So there is a pressure to send money sa Pilipinas,” she noted.
And this mindset, she said, is still strong even today.
“There is a difference in culture because in Korea–the women–once they are married, they leave behind their family and they belong now to their husbands,” she said.
She also noted that many Filipinas feel hopeless, and that marrying practically a stranger, could be a better choice.
Sometimes, she points out to these young Filipinas: “You are going to marry someone whom you have not even met or you know, you are 20-years old and you are marrying a 50-year old. The very painful thing is when they say ‘Eh, Sister, kaysa naman mag-asawa sa tambay at drug addict. I would rather gamble na knowing there is the 50 percent possibility that my life will be better. But if I stay here in the Philippines there is not even that possibility of my life getting better’,” she said.
Not a savior
To help those who are already in Korea, Sister Angel does organizing and counseling work too. One of the better approaches, she said, is to involve the husbands. This is also helpful in making both the Pinay and Korean learn from their different cultures.
“They listen. Sometimes, the Filipina doesn’t want to go for counseling but the husbands want to. I try to reach out to the husbands also and say I am here for the family, not just for the Filipina,” she said.
Sister Angel works on a program and visitations. She knows that whatever it is they are doing works as families keep on coming back.
“Sometimes, they do refferals too. I ask them how did you find out about me? Where did you get my number? Sabi nila I saw in the blog,” Sister Angel said, referring to an internet cafe group of Korean husbands who share their experiences online.
“I haven’t seen it. They say it is an internet group. Maraming nag-contact sa akin. They were saying we got to know about your number from this,” she added.
But she emphasized that she’s not a savior.
“I receive a lot of calls but it’s not because I’m their savior, but like ‘Ok, I’m here,” she said.
As for her programs, Sister Angel said she takes the psychological, spiritual and cultural approach, to help out families even if they are not Catholic.
“One thing that’s been very helpful is you don’t do intervention because there is a problem,” she said.
She sees language and culture as the main reasons why migrant families encounter problems.
“When I started, I didn’t know Korean. So I studied the language for one year and a half, on a full-time basis,” she said.
She is thankful that Korean language programs are now readily available in South Korea.
“Before, wala so they could not really communicate. We’ve had a lot of problems noon,” she said.
Sister Angel, who belongs to the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, stressed that the only way to break the language barrier is to learn it.
“There are a lot of helps. Beginning like 2005 or 2006, ang dami nang multicultural support centers. They use these facilities,” she said.
She added, “If there are services like in depth counseling, take advantage. Don’t be scared of going into counseling”.
“Wag munang i-prioritize ang pagpapadala ng pera sa Pilipinas. Kunin na muna nila ang loob ng kanilang mother-in-law and the husband. Let them feel that they are not there to earn the money, but to build the family,” she said.
Last week, Sister Angel received the 2014 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas during a ceremony held in Malacanang.
President Aquino awarded Sister Angel the Banaag Award. The recognition is conferred on Filipino individuals or associations for their contributions which have significantly benefited a sector or advanced the cause of overseas Filipino communities.
The award may be an added bonus. But for Sister Angel, the mission continues, especially for those who just need someone to walk with them.
Sister Angel always remembers that saying that “It’s raining, I don’t have an umbrella, but let me walk with you in the rain and be my friend”.