A Window to Connection
Our recent global events have given all of us a taste of the bitterness of isolation. Like magnets as we are forced apart from one another, we feel the strength of the desire for closeness intensify. Masks concealing our smiles as well as our despair, so many have experienced great loss and disillusionment at the futility of a world ravaged by new threats. As we see our local communities fractured, we may also consider the situation of those thousands of kilometres away from their homes. Overseas Filipino workers live a life shrouded in isolation. Striving towards a brighter future for their families, these migrant workers sacrifice their own desire for togetherness, for the chance to enrich the lives of their loved ones and community with freedoms they may otherwise not be able to access. These individuals travel into the unknown and in turn, those left behind unknowing of their struggles, imagine how their lives have been altered. So, let us imagine it.
Having never left your home country before, your walk down the dim tunnel towards the airplane fills you with an anticipation that weighs heavily on your shoulders. The pulsating murmur of jet engines envelopes your senses as the vibration travels up from the soles of your feet. Your knowledge of the destination is limited, informed by promises of opportunity, recounts of prosperity and productivity. You have wondered how many others are drawn to the same oasis and how might fare in comparison. Where skyscrapers tower over expansive desert planes, what makes this new place so different from home? Taking your seat, your eyes are drawn to the view beyond the elliptical bounds of the window. As familiar city scapes shrink, melting into puddles of lights and shadows of green wilderness meet deep oceans at island coastlines, it becomes tangible. You are alone.
You have one box of face masks and have some imperishables for the next few meals; feeling prepared. As the city-wide curfew rolls into effect your maid’s quarters style living space is both a haven and an isolation cell. In the absence of natural light, the flickering of the fluorescent bulbs does not help the anxiety that lingers as the news headlines and workplace restriction measures wander through your mind. Less shifts, less income. More cases, more deaths. The bare faces of your neighbours crowding into elevators beside you leaves you frustrated. Helpless. This was not the start to your career that you had set out for. Your concern shifts as you think of your parents, immediately turning to your phone perched beside you. The illuminated screen like a window opening to the world of your family. Beyond the health reports, remittance receipts and statistic updates, what you are yearning for is connection. For them to feel your presence even in immeasurable distance. An instant communication of a constant concern. Despite everything, you are glad they cannot witness you struggling.
Lockdowns have solidified the gravity of the role that technology plays in our contemporary lives. Whilst in previous years we may have discussed the divisive capacity of technology in inhibiting capacity for social skill building, our unprecedented new circumstances have flipped this script. Now, I am sure we can all appreciate the connective capacity of technology. As we leant on video calls to supplement our need for interacting with loved ones near and far and online messaging became the source of our daily conversation we saw how we are able to bridge gaps that seem ever expanding. Social media has also played a major role during this period. As information sources diversify and many major new channels are saturated with the influx of changing events, many of us rely on independent news outlets, activists and non-government organisations to keep us informed as to the state of our world. Whether this be locally, regionally or internationally, social media platforms carry the potential to elevate the voices of those who are overlooked or misunderstood.
For overseas Filipino workers, this is undeniable. Avenues for escape, return or reunion were one by one removed from the realm of possibility as planes, ships and trains could no longer cross once permeable borders. When choice is denied, the feeling of separation is intensified. As loved ones become unreachable, fear and loneliness loom overhead like a cloud darkening your life. For people who are largely already operating in a mode of survival, the stress increases tenfold. Entrapped in sometimes dangerous or exploitative working situations it is again through technology that we may extend a helping hand. Through this window of opportunity, we may improve the quality of life of millions. By increasing visibility, accessibility and support for those who are alone we may foster a togetherness strong enough to withstand the test of even a global pandemic. By awareness raising, we advocate for the wellbeing not only of the overseas workers themselves but also for the loved ones they support. This awareness raising may lead to economic and political policy change which has positive impacts on a whole nation.
Alongside technological development is it imperative that we choose to develop a global community which employs all of our capacities for the sake of bettering the circumstances for all. As we strive to become more deeply informed individuals and develop our ability to offer empathy, understanding and care, we too, are striving to create a world open to the possibility for change. By listening to the experiences of overseas Filipino workers we each take the first step to realising a world defined by community and equality.
Written by Isabella Wood from Macquarie University