Saturday, November 15, 2008

March 10, 2008

Abused OFW reunites with daughter after 20 yrs
03/10/2008 04:48 PM

MANILA, Philippines - After more than 20 years of separation, 65-year-old Leonora Somera is finally reunited with her only daughter three days after her arrival from Saudi Arabia where she worked as shepherdess.Somera, who was stranded in Jeddah since 2005, excitedly took an Emirates flight home last Thursday and was sent to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s welfare center in Pasay City upon her arrival last Friday.

“I’m extremely overjoyed to be back in the country I left long ago," Somera said in a phone interview.She expressed gratitude to all those who helped her return to the Philippines, including those who offered prayers and voiced their sympathies for her plight.

Her daughter, Ma. Victoria Villanueva, was supposed to travel to Manila from San Jose City in Nueva Ecija to pick her up at the OWWA center on Monday. Villanueva, in a separate phone interview, said she was surprised when her mother called her last Thursday and informed that she was about to board the plane bound for Manila.

"I am very happy when I heard of that news from her. Now that she is here I will do my best to make her happy before I leave for work abroad," said Villanueva who has a pending application to work as a seafarer.

Welfare officer Romeo Pablo said in Jeddah that Somera was supposed to take her flight home on March 4, but arrived late at the airport. Her flight was reset to March 6.

Somera went to Riyadh in 1987 to work as a domestic helper for a Saudi family. She left her six-year-old daughter under the care of her sister in Nueva Ecija. But her dream of giving a bright future for her daughter turned into a nightmare a year later after her original sponsor died and her employer's son, Misfer Al-Ghamdi, and his family took her with them to Al-Baha, about 275 kilometers south of Jeddah.

She took care of her new employer’s goats, apart from doing household chores such as washing clothes, and taking care of the man’s sick uncle.Her employer later transferred to Makkah for the education of their children and left her in a large house to look after their goats.

Her employer seldom gave her a little amount of money, barely enough to buy food for the animals. Although her monthly salary was only SR 500, she claimed that her employer failed to pay her regularly.Without money, Somera had to beg and scavenge for food for her daily sustenance.

In a previous interview, she said her employer did not even show any sign of sympathy when she told her once that she needed money for her daughter’s examinations in school. She said her repeated requests for her employer to send her home were ignored.

In November 2005, she met a Filipino woman who helped her contact the consulate in Jeddah to rescue her.Somera’s ordeal did not stop when she moved to the OWWA shelter for distressed Filipino women at the consulate.

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office helped her file before the Saudi Labor Office claims for SR67,000 in unpaid wages and end-of-service benefits, but her employer continued to stall. Last year, a group of Filipinos in Jubail organized a fund raising campaign for Somera.

A bank account was opened at the Philippine National Bank and donations poured from a lot of Filipinos all over the kingdom. Last December, the son of her employer, Mohammad Misfer Al-Ghamdi, now 18 years old, made a surprise visit and gave her a pittance of SR2,000 plus a plea for forgiveness by his father, who was supposedly ill.

The young Al-Ghamdi also signed a document releasing Somera so that she could get her exit papers. But for some reasons, Somera was not allowed to leave the kingdom through the normal way.Somera decided to join the other stranded Filipinos seeking deportation. Last month she was brought to the deportation center in Jeddah along with 41 other distressed Filipino workers staying in the shelter maintained by OWWA.

Somera said she was luckier this time because she was allowed to board a flight home along with other 21 Filipinos stranded in Jeddah.There are still 42 female and more than a hundred stranded Filipino male workers in Jeddah. - Ronaldo Concha, GMANews.TV

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