BY ANNE QUINTOS
Valentine's day for married OFWs is not just about romance. It's about making love work in the toughest of times when your other half is thousands of miles away.
But it doesn't mean a happy ending for couples separated by distance is impossible.
Meet my parents, Mon and Gitte. Like millions of overseas Filipinos struggling to make a relationship work, they were separated during their early years of marriage to save for the future. They don't have an extraordinary story to tell. But their decisions as a couple made them extraordinary.
When you were apart, how did you celebrate special events such as Valentine's Day?
Mon: Being away from my wife for six years didn't allow us to celebrate Valentine's day together. Sending cards and phone calls were our way of celebrating this day.
Gitte: We celebrated it by calling and assuring how much we love each other.
How did you work on your relationship while apart? What made you successful in keeping love alive?
Gitte: I made it a point to write him a letter everyday to let him know how much I loved him. I knew and understood how difficult it was for him to be away from me and the children. I gave him assurances that everything was under control and updated him on the status of our savings to assure him that his sacrifices are not put to waste.
Before going abroad, did you talk of plans on how to maintain a long distance relationship?
Mon: Yes, it was part of the plan to keep each other updated on what is happening during that time.
Gitte: Yes we did. We agreed that we would write each other minimum of two times a week and make overseas calls at least once a month. Back then, there was no Internet and overseas calls were very expensive. A letter to Saudi Arabia was Php7.00 each and overseas call call was Php250/3mins but we agreed to make it a part of our budget.
What made you decide to go back home? Was it worth it to leave your loved one for your career abroad?
Mon: Up to a certain point it was worth it to undergo the separation, but such situation should not be open-ended. There should be an agreement when to call it quits and come back home to be together and raise the children.
Gitte: When we had enough savings we decided that he should come back. Yes it was worth all the sacrifices of being away from home only if your goals and dreams were realized.
What's your advice to other couples celebrating this day apart?
Mon: Going away to work abroad entails a lot of sacrifice that affects the family relationship. It's very important that the negative effects of this decision be minimized. Working abroad and being separated from your spouse and children should not be a permanent set-up. As already said, it should stop at a certain point and should always be discussed by the couple as to when to finally come home. Establishing a career far from the family may not be a wise decision.
Gitte: Since I don't entirely believe that a couple should be apart from each other for a long period of time, my advice is for the couple to agree on the number of years that they should be away from each other. During those years that they are apart, what are their plans? How much savings would they be able to raise? Where would the savings go? What investments would they plan to achieve? Plans like these must be concrete and doable. Like a business, a new house, education of the children. Also, the relationship must be nourished at all times. They must be able to communicate daily and assure each other of their love.
Postscript: Years after my dad's work in the Middle East, my parents now enjoy the fruits of their labor. Recently, they joined a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (where the main photo was taken). As they get closer to retirement, their investments through the years let them get out of the country not for overseas work but for vacation. My mom told me their ride wasn't easy, but all their decisions led to the most rewarding thing for them: growing old happily together.
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