The Kwentuhero from the Middle East

James de la Cruz, also known as kwentuhero, is the owner of OFW sa Disyerto, a blogspot for OFWs. He is an OFW in the Middle East. He started working abroad when he was 24 and he went through the hardships that many Filipinos living in other countries experience. Despite the hardships, there were also many fun and memorable experiences abroad. He initially created his blog as a personal online journal, but later on realized that it can be helpful for fellow OFWs or those wishing to become one. His blog contains information and tips for OFWs based from his own personal experience.


OFWguru reached out to James to get to know more about him, his experiences as an OFW and workabroad.


Life Before Working Abroad

OFWguru: What was your life like in the Philippines growing up?

James: I was born with a simple living in North Cotabato. I grew up in a farm where life goes on even without money. I knew my parents have no capability to send me to college but I pursued a scholarship that brought me to an unknown college course (technician course as per scholarship grants). The unknown course was my ticket to land a job immediately after graduation. I left my family in Mindanao and sailed independently to Cavite where I was hired as a process operator in a petrochemical plant.


OFWguru: What was your exposure to OFWs and the concept of working abroad at this time? Was it family and friends that are also OFWs?

James: I worked in a petrochemical plant in Cavite for two years then I transferred to Bataan when I heard that there was a vacant position. I then realized that a person who works in petrochemical industry is the most attractive person abroad especially in the Middle East. I met a lot of friends in this field of work and most of them resigned to workabroad. In the family, I am the only OFW.


OFWguru: How did you get the idea to become an OFW?

James: Living in the Philippines is so costly especially if you are working not only for yourself. I didn’t consider myself as a family “bread winner” but I did the same responsibility. I had siblings to send to college and a monthly support to my parents. My job (though salary is better than the first company) is only enough to support my expenses. But for my personal savings, nothing was left! Becoming an OFW, hopefully, will solve my financial problem.


Getting There

OFWguru: How did you end up in Saudi Arabia? What steps did you take to make it happen?

James: I’m not desperate to go abroad but I already applied for my passport and started preparing my documents two years before I decided to workabroad. Likewise, I sent my resume to agencies through email. Until one time, one agency called me because their employer visited Bataan to look for workers bound for Saudi. I didn’t even remember that I submitted my resume in this agency. I was hired on that day.


OFWguru: What were the bureaucratic, physical and emotional preparations you made?

James: I prepared passport, compiled my clearances and certificates two years ago. For me, I was already prepared emotionally because I already lived independently and away from my family.


OFWguru: Did you encounter any resistance - either from family/friends or former colleagues?

James: None. Everyone supported me.


OFWguru: What bureaucracies did you encounter that frustrated you? What part of the process went well? At any point in the process, did you feel like giving up? If so, what was it and how did you overcome it?

James: Everything was done well. I’m a direct hire and my employer reimbursed most of the expenses.


In Saudi Arabia

OFWguru: What do you do now? What are your overall responsibilities? Describe your day-to-day function.

James: I’m a process operator in a petrochemical plant. My daily activity involves the plant processing and monitoring of the operation.


OFWguru: What do you do in your spare time? When do you take holidays?

James: Most of my days off were just inside my room, contacting my families and blogging. Once a year, I have 21 working days vacation with free flight tickets at the expense of my company.


OFWguru: Do you find it easy to work/socialize in Saudi Arabia? Is there an open-mindedness about women and Filipinos there? Were there disturbing situations?

James: Culture and tradition is totally different in Saudi especially for women. Women and men are just like different entity here in Saudi Arabia. However, Filipino workers (as what I observed) are well respected in all kinds of works.


Family

OFWguru: Describe your life after work.

James: I just stayed in my room writing blogs and contacting my family.


OFWguru: Do you have a family or a partner? Are they with you or back home in the Philippines?

James: I have a wife and one child. I brought my family here in Saudi Arabia. Most of the companies in Saudi today allow their employees to bring their family at company expense.


OFWguru: How do you communicate with them? How is your relationship with them?

James: Often. My relationship with them is good.


OFWguru: How do the families back in the Philippines cope? How is your family coping with you being all the way there?

James: Social media is a big help in communicating with my family.


Filipinos in Saudi Arabia

OFWguru: Is there a large Filipino community there? Do you get in touch with them?

James: Here in Saudi, I heard about groups but I’m not getting in touch with them. There are many different groups (by belief, by tribe, by fraternity, by profession, and etc…)


OFWguru: What do you miss most from the Philippines?

James: I miss local foods the most.


Personal Change

OFWguru: How has being an OFW made life easier? Harder?

James: There is a steady source of income which is enough for family expenses. The toughest thing in being an OFW is when you receive a bad news from the family and have no chance of going home.


OFWguru: Do you have any fond memories? Any regrets?

James: An unforgettable experience of being an OFW was during my first arrival here in Saudi. The company driver who will supposedly pick me up left because I arrived late. I experienced sleeping in the road at a very hot and humid night. There was an error on the contact number that was given by my agency. I waited until noon but nobody came. A lot of Filipinos, who noticed me, helped me and offered food and money.


OFWguru: What lessons have you learned through this experience?

James: Having more patience and self determination is what I have learned. For the first time OFW, never travel to a foreign land without any money on hand.


OFWguru: Finally, given the chance, would you encourage others to become OFWs too? Why or why not?

James: Yes, but they should have excellent working experience, be emotionally prepared, and have original supporting documents to workabroad.

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