Palmer Avenido worked in a machine-assembly factory in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, for six years before returning to his home in the Philippines. Whilst in Taiwan he volunteered at the Hope Workers' Centre as a lay minister at Mass, altar server, and usher and in the Lectors and Commentators program. This is his story.
Bernard Gagnon, Paper factory in Puli, CC BY-SA 3.0
My experience as a migrant worker was built around my family - made challenging by my desire yet inability to be with them, but made worthwhile because of the pay cheques with which I could support them.
Working and living in Taiwan was an immense sacrifice. My wife and I decided together that I should go because our second child had just been born - a son, and we knew that we would struggle to raise a family with the income I earned in the Philippines. So, in November 2010, with a two year old daughter and a one year old son, I contacted a broker and took a job in a Taiwanese factory.
The work at Qian Hong Jong Ye See Factory, in Taoyuan County, was difficult enough without the added stress I experienced from missing my wife and children. At the factory I assembled the parts for machines that would be sold and distributed throughout the world. I worked hard, but the assembly process challenged me. Additionally, my absence took its toll on my young family.
My wife and I were relying on pay-as-you-go cell-phone plans to call each other, an arrangement that proved expensive and frustrating when one of us would miss the other’s phone call. I would get angry at her when she wouldn’t answer my phone calls and I know she would feel the same way when I missed hers. I finally bought her a smartphone so that we could communicate via Skype and Facebook, but the distance challenged our marriage. This period of my life tested me in many ways and sometimes I tried to forget about the stresses by drinking in the evenings.
The people I met at the Hope Workers' Centre, a centre founded by Columban priests in 1986 dedicated to supporting migrant workers in their community, helped me realize that drinking wouldn’t solve the stresses in my life. It would just distract me and take away from the earnings I could send home to my wife.
I had attended Mass at the Hope Workers' Centre every Sunday since arriving in Taiwan, but it was the Visayan language that ultimately drew me to serve the Church. I remembered how involved my mother had been in Church and her example had encouraged me as a boy to attend Mass regularly. One Sunday, I remember hearing Visayan as the language spoken by the Filipino volunteers who cleaned the building after Mass and it felt so good to recognize my native language. I began volunteering my time in basic roles of service, organizing chairs at the Centre, ushering people to their seats for evening Mass, volunteering wherever I was needed.
The community I joined helped to strengthen my faith in God, and the people at Hope Workers’ Centre made me realize the mantra for my time in Taiwan: “I’m here not for myself, but for my family.”
My community at the Hope Workers’ Centre helped me for the six years I worked in Taiwan, but I returned to the Philippines in 2016 with almost no savings. I had sent nearly my entire pay check each month home to my family. For six years, my wife raised our children.
The joyful reunion with my wife and kids for which I had longed when I was away was short lived, I work long hours now at a factory in Cavite, arriving early and leaving long after dark, so my children sometimes tease me, saying that they don’t get to spend any more time with me now than when I worked abroad. On my off days, I work at the sari-sari (convenience) store that my wife operates.
As difficult as it was to work in a foreign country and to live away from my family, I hope to do so again soon. When we compare the 9,000 pesos ($250AUD) that we earn for every two weeks with our jobs now with the cost of paying bills and raising a family, my wife and I agree that there isn’t enough left over to give our growing children the life that they deserve. We struggle sometimes to afford things like rubber shoes for my son who is now eight years old. I was challenged daily in Taiwan with homesickness and loneliness but my wife and I agree that becoming a foreign worker again may be the best option for our family.
For all that I have experienced and for that which lies ahead, I thank our almighty God who guides me. Thank you also to the Hope Workers’ Centre community - God bless us all!
Listen to "The cost of making ends meet"
- Read more from The Far East - November/December 2019