ISSUE NO. 2
APRIL - JUNE 2005
Featured Stories The Yaya Sisterhood By the World's Bedside A Yearning for Rice The One who Stayed Trained to Care Out of the (Balikbayan) Box Special Delivery Digital Filipinos Men as Mothers Educating Melanie Physicians of the People The Philippines is in the Heart My Arabian Nights Necessary Journeys iFacts
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The Yaya Sisterhood
By the World's Bedside
A Yearning for Rice
The One who Stayed
Trained to Care
Out of the (Balikbayan) Box
Men as Mothers
Physicians of the People
The Philippines is in the Heart
My Arabian Nights
Order your copy now!
| OFW SPECIAL
But now the line is all but gone in front of the Manara post office. Homesick Filipino workers also no longer have to wait for at least two weeks before receiving a reply from relatives and friends or spend a fortune calling long distance. Cellular phones have changed all that, and to a lesser extent, the Internet.
Technology has made the world a smaller place for family members that are far apart from one another. Today there is an evolving phenomenon of "virtual families," in which parents and children who are thousands of miles and several time zones apart are just a mouse click or a few keypad presses away can still keep track of each other in real time.
"It's different now," says Hernan Melencio, an editor at the Saudi Gazette in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He says he chats with his children in Manila through a Web camera and keeps himself updated about their studies.
"Before, we have to wait in suspense to know if the children have fever or are going to school," says Melencio, who at 43 has already logged 10 years in Saudi Arabia. "Today my wife will just send me a text message and we go online for a chat. I even see what they are eating at home although I come home for vacation only once a year."
But Melencio says Web chatting, especially using the Web camera, is still limited in Saudi Arabia. "It's still expensive," he says. "Text messaging is still more popular because it's affordable."
THE OFWS also do not have that much access to the Internet in Saudi Arabia. But there is hardly any OFW without a cellphone, and even the prepaid cellphone cards have become part of the OFW survival kit. No wonder that last year, a group of OFWs denounced the government's plan to impose taxes on mobile text messaging, saying text message taxation would have "grievous financial effects" on overseas workers who rely on text messaging to communicate with their families.
Jay Valencia, spokesman of OFWs Laban sa TextTax, says Filipinos overseas use text or the short messaging system (SMS) to handle family matters, such as financial management and disciplining of their children. He says an P8-10-international text message is cheaper and more efficient than sending recorded voice tapes, which usually take about a month to get to family members in the Philippines.
"There are many problems inherent to families who have members working abroad," Valencia observes. "Many OFW-parents are now using texting to be always on top of events happening at home so that their children do not feel abandoned or left alone."
THE FAMILY of Santos 'Popoy' Lamban, a human-rights worker in Manila, is certainly happy there are now gadgets that help members keep in touch with one another. Lamban is visibly pleased when he says cellular phones capable of multimedia messaging and the Internet are enabling his "global" family to "connect" with each other.
Lamban's wife is a government welfare officer posted in Japan while their daughter, Ida, is enrolled at the Los Baños campus of the University of the Philippines. "Being together is still preferable, but we cannot prevent the advance of civilization," says Lamban. "People have become more mobile and families have to adapt to the changing world."
He momentarily loses his train of thought upon hearing that an Intensity 7 earthquake has hit southern Japan. In a flash he is texting his wife in that country, checking up on her. Daughter Ida, meanwhile, has just finished taking pictures on her mobile phone for her mother to show proof that her father was interviewed for an article.
"These gadgets help us continue to become family although we are worlds apart," Lamban says as he continues pressing on his phone's tiny keypad. "There is no way we can remain alien to technology if we want families and communities to remain intact."
Carmela Magcalas can only agree. A freshman medical student in Manila, her father is currently working in Saudi Arabia, while her mother is in another Middle Eastern country.
"My dad even plays chess online with my boyfriend," says Magcalas. Her boyfriend lives in the United States, where she attended college. She adds that the family chats online every week. "When I see my dad online I text my mom so that we can have a chat," she says.
Magcalas grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where her father had brought her and her mother when she was still a child. She later went to the United States to study while her mother went home to the Philippines and then to another country to work.
"I used to write a letter to them daily and mail it every two weeks," says Magcalas. "We talked on the phone once a week." That was in the first half of the 1990S when cellular phones and the Internet were still newfangled thingamajigs reserved only for those with money to spend.
In the United States, Magcalas learned how to use the Internet. She told her parents about it and they started exchanging emails. The "snail mail" has since stopped — except on special occasions when Magcalas sends cards to her family and friends. "The snail mail became special," she says. "Sending one means a lot these days because nobody seems to do it anymore."
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