By Jennifer Rivera-Sespene
GRACIA was 42 years old when she was promised a job in Europe as a household worker with a salary of US$400, equivalent to PhP 18,000, which was twice the amount of anyone with a similar job in the Philippines. She left her hometown in Bulacan on March 29, 2018.
To her surprise, she ended up in Kurdistan, Iraq. It was the beginning of what seemed like a life in hell.
There she met her employer, but he offered no explanation why she had been misled about her destination. And in a short time, she would know what kind of employer he was. He locked her inside a room and started abusing her. He would stop her from calling anybody to seek help, especially her family.
She asked that she be returned to her recruitment agency, but the agency refused to help, apparently not surprised of her experience. When Gracia refused to work, the agency demanded that she pay the agency with some US$5,000.
One day, Gracia managed to escape and approached the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad. On June 12, 2018, the embassy sent her back to the Philippines.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, or the Ople Center, known for its strong advocacy on migrant workers’ welfare and rights, took her case and at the outset tried to help her through counselling.
Through its partnership with the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery titled “Anti-Slavery Project for Overseas Filipino Domestic Workers”, the Ople Center provided her with the necessary legal guidance against her employer and recruiter.
On September 18, 2019, a court ordered the arrest of the recruiter for human trafficking.
In time for the pandemic
The Ople Center and GFEMS also helped Gracia begin a new life through a livelihood program and skills training on the production of household on September 5, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic through the Reintegration Assistance for Trafficked OFWs.
She was provided with a start-up kit to help her establish her soapmaking and household care business.
She now sells detergent, dishwashing liquid and has partnered with a distributor of other home care products
“Maraming salamat po at patuloy niyo po akong sinusubaybayan”, she told the Ople Center staff.
The Ople Center helped gave her new livelihood. To this day, the Center continues to monitor her development.
Despite the pandemic, Gracia bravely pursued her case, with the Center’s help. In April 2021, Gracia’s case against her recruiter has been filed in court. END