Haira Aba, 29 years old, is the breadwinner of her family in Datu Paglas in Maguindanao. She applied for a job as a domestic helper in Qatar and travelled to Manila. But the COVID-19 pandemic came, overseas travel came to a halt, and as a result, she has been stuck in Manila for the past four months.
54-year old Dennis Sebastian is a mechanical operator and harvester in Tuguegarao – a job he has been doing for six years now. He usually travels back to his hometown in Compra, Liloy in Zamboanga Del Norte three times a year. This year, he was scheduled to return home last April 6. But due to the pandemic, his flight was rescheduled to June 5 – and then was again cancelled.
Aba and Sebastian are two of the 350 returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and locally stranded individuals (LSI's) at the Villamor Elementary School in Villamor Airbase, Pasay City. They received meals and other assistance from the PLDT-Smart Foundation (PSF) through employee-led fundraising initiatives such as the Fairness, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (F.I.T.A.) Video Challenge and Kapit Kapatid Program.
The PSF also partnered with the Department of Interior and Local Government and Department of Social Welfare and Development in the National Capital Region.
“Our hearts are with our brothers and sisters who are struggling to be reunited with their families. We understand how important being with family is in order to cope better during this difficult time. We hope that our simple gesture brought them some joy, especially during these trying times,” said PLDT-Smart Foundation President Esther Santos.
'The Internet saved me'
According to Aba, her situation is difficult since she is far away from her family. She said that what brought comfort during this difficult time was the help they have received from various organizations and individuals.
“Kailangan kong magtiis. Nakikipagkuwentuhan na lang ako sa mga kasama ko dito para hindi ma-bored. Malaking tulong din ang cellphone at Internet dahil na rin may YouTube,” Aba said.
(I need to endure this. I just talk to some of the people that are also stranded here so that I won’t get bored. Having my cellphone with me and having Internet also helps a lot because there’s Youtube.)
Finding all means to survive
Unable to fly home, Sebastian stayed for several weeks at a footbridge near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. Last June 11, he was transferred to the Villamor Elementary School. In order to buy food, Sebastian said he had sold some of his personal belongings. This included his cellphone, which he sold for P300, a luggage for P500 and his shoes for P200.
According to Sebastian he lived like a nomad for weeks. “Palipat-lipat ako ng puwesto kapag sobrang init at umuulan. Sana hindi na maulit ito kasi apat na buwan na akong hindi nakakauwi. Wala na akong communication [sa aking pamilya]. Pero bago ko ibinenta ang cellphone ko, natawagan ko na sila at sinabi kong h’wag mag-alala,” Sebastian said.
(I keep changing positions and places where to stay, especially when it is extremely hot or when it rains. I hope this never happens again because it’s been four months that I haven’t been home. I don’t have any communication with my family. But before I sold my cellphone, I was able to call them and tell them not to worry.)
On June 25, Sebastian is scheduled to finally come home.