Davao City

Public School Teacher, Davao City, 1988-2007

Assistant Teacher, Dubai, 2007-2010

Public School Teacher, Davao City, 2010 to present

Once A Teacher

By J. Dela Torre

magabuloThough born to the politically prominent Ocampo family of Malita, Davao del Sur (grandfather was mayor and two uncles were governors), Rose was quick to point out that life was not a bed of roses when she was growing up. They were ten in the family, and therefore Rose and her siblings were no strangers to a spartan and difficult life. Her parents never thought of asking favors from their richer relations, though, preferring to meet the challenges of raising a big family on their own. Through hard work and perseverance, she finished BS Commerce, and worked at a national government agency in Iligan for a few months. Coming home to Malita one day, she accepted the offer of marriage to Ricardo, who left for Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, to work for the Intercontinental Hotel chain as accountant, soon after Rose delivered their first baby, April Rose, in 1982.  Meanwhile, Rose became envious of her in-laws who were mostly educators and decided to take up her second major, Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, Major in Guidance and Counselling, with a view to becoming a teacher someday.

In 1989, keen to make up for the lost years when his eldest was growing up with an absent father, Ricardo decided to bring Rose and the kids, now numbering two, to Abu Dhabi. But the reunion was short-lived as he was being transferred to Abha, Saudi Arabia with the same company. Rose and the children were forced to come back to Davao, and she resumed her teaching career, which she had begun the previous year.

Ricardo then moved from Abha to Riyadh, from Riyadh to Africa, and then back to Riyadh. By the time he was back in Riyadh, he realized his children, now three, needed him, and decided it was time for them to join him permanently. Rose had some reservations because she loved her job as teacher. She compromised by going on leave from her teaching job for six months, join her family in Riyadh and come back to teach again. She did this from 1999-2006, when her husband’s contract with the Intercontinental Hotel ended. While in Riyadh, Rose took upon herself the advocacy of helping distressed workers at the POLO shelter.

The whole family came back to Davao but only for a brief period because Ricardo was soon offered another contract by the same company for Dubai. Rose, under pressure to be with her husband, applied for optional retirement, and followed him to Dubai with youngest child. Later, the eldest child, who had become a nurse, followed. They stayed in Dubai intact as a family, sans the middle child who was studying at the Ateneo and was left to stay with his aunt, in the next four years.

In 2010, Ricardo received his marching orders to Libya where the company was just setting up their operations in Tripoli, but Rose decided to stay in Dubai with her children. She had a decent job in one of the biggest schools in Dubai as assistant teacher, and wanted to resume her career in education. She had initially worked as caregiver in a hospital, but it was full time and her husband complained that for her to work full-time was not consistent with their objective of reuniting the family.  The job as assistant teacher was not full-time and allowed Rose to drive her husband and kids around. Her husband didn’t drive.

The family held a war council, and the decision was for Rose and the children to stay in Dubai until Ricardo had already settled in Libya, and then for the rest of the family to fly from Dubai straight to Libya. But a week after Ricardo flew back to Davao to wait for his visa for Libya, a civil war broke out in that country, which eventually toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Rose and the two kids were therefore between a rock and a hard place. Should they strike out on their own, with the cost of living in Dubai as it was, without financial support from her husband, who was stranded in the Philippines, or should they just follow him to the Philippines? The two children were against returning to the Philippines as they have already adopted to the way of life in the United Arab Emirates. April Rose, the eldest, was already building her career as a school nurse, and the youngest, Joseph, had just passed an examination for admission to high school. But it was ironically the middle child, Ricson Al Ain, so named because he was born in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, who persuaded Rose to come home, and come home they did in March 2010, without the nurse. The plan of April Rose and Rose before they joined Ricardo in Dubai was for April Rose to acquire sufficient experience in nursing and then apply for a job in Canada in the hope of eventually bringing the whole family with her.

Rose’s voice broke at this point, imagining how difficult it must have been for her eldest child to be out there in Dubai on her own.

Both Rose and Ricardo were now unemployed, and they had two children still in school, one in expensive Ateneo de Davao. She heard of DOLE programs to benefit former OFWs and she attended the seminars and training just to fight her creeping depression. She was convinced that with P10k, she could make it work, and succeed in the business she was planning to open. If there was one thing she had learned from her parents, particularly her mother, it was that with just a small amount of money as start-up capital, a business enterprise could be successful as long as you put all your efforts into it. Her mother used to purchase goods on account, or borrow money, but once she put her mind to paying the debt on a certain day, she would do everything to fulfill her promise, and that is how she had come to be trusted by people. This was how we all got through college, Rose disclosed, from her mother’s credit worthiness.

Then, one day, Rose’s former principal rang her, and offered for her to come back to teaching.  In the meantime, she had received the financial assistance from NRCO and had begun operating a small sari-sari store at their home. She later rented a place for her store, but since she had already resumed teaching, she found it difficult managing her time for both school and business. She actually considered shutting down the business and negotiate for repayment terms with OWWA. At this time, she was given an opportunity to operate the school canteen. She had used part of the P10k in purchasing the photocopy machine in the canteen which earns a tidy sum for Rose. She swears the business has enabled her to meet her every day expenses, including the tuition of her son at Ateneo. Even when the canteen has already become school-managed, turning Rose into a consignor, she still appreciates the help of NRCO in enabling her to survive and move on.

In the meantime, Ricardo had stumbled upon an opportunity to become a pastor. He had been waiting for the cessation of hostilities in the Libyan civil war so he could join his employer in Tripoli. But on September 12, 2012, the US Ambassador to Libya, John Christopher Stevens, died when the US Consulate in Benghazi was attacked reportedly by Islamic elements linked to Al-Qaeda. The death of Ambassador Stevens spooked the owners of Intercontinental Hotel and decided to close its business in Tripoli, which effectively closed the door for Ricardo to resume his overseas employment career.

Ricardo is now Project Director of Project Compassion, an inter-denominational charity organization whose advocacy includes sending poor and disadvantaged children to school. In a sense, therefore, both husband and wife are now engaged in the education of children in Davao City.

She advices OFWs in general, and her daughter, in particular:

“It’s not really necessary for Filipinos to go overseas to earn money. There is money in the Philippines, if you know what business to go into, and to focus on how to make the business succeed. You must dedicate your whole attention, all your talents and ability, all your energy, to how to make your business succeed.

It’s futile to work overseas if you don’t have a goal. You must invest whatever you save from your income, because otherwise, what is the point of making the sacrifice of working thousands of miles away from your family, when you have no plan of investing your savings? Most important, if you decide to invest, invest as soon as you are able, because the willingness to invest and engage in business diminishes with age. Do it when you are not older than 40.”

Her bittersweet experience abroad has made Rose appreciate the value of living within one’s means. “Live life one day at a time,” she counsels her children. “Appreciate what God has given you, and don’t aspire for things beyond your reach.”

As to caring for children: “There is no substitute to constant communication between and among family members. Nothing can replace the lost time which you could spend with your family, but when you are around, say for a vacation, spend quality time with your family. Be genuinely interested in what has been happening to them, what their aspirations are, who their friends are, how you can become a meaningful part of their lives. You have to do this before they become completely alienated from you.”

Though she hadn’t aspired to be a teacher at the start, Rose regards her re-activated teaching career as a mission. Her experience in Riyadh helping distressed Filipinos there has given her a new perspective about the need to review the policy of sending Filipino professionals, such as teachers, to work abroad in capacities which demean their professions and their self-esteem, such as being nannies or domestic helpers.

She’s also quite excited about the prospect of contributing to the implementation of the K-12 program of the government because her work experience in Dubai for two of the best schools there, which ran on K-12 and K-13 programs, has eminently positioned her to input meaningfully into the Philippine experience.