PHOTOGRAPHER, VISUAL STORYTELLER from the Philippines

Filipino Diaspora

Families in the Philippines receive billions from the ‘new heroes’—nannies in Hong Kong, sailors in the Arctic, and domestic workers in the Middle East.

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 Returning overseas workers are often treated to a heroÕs welcome. Each December, ManilaÕs airport is
crowded with families greeting mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, on the generally rare occasions
loved ones come home to celebrate Christmas.
 

 

 
 The glittering skyscrapers of ManilaÕs central district overlook the Christmassy rooftop of working-class tenements. Home for the holiday from her job as a nanny in Hong Kong, Bernardita Lopez (at the railing) takes in the scene. Lack of opportunity and low wages drive millions of Filipinos abroad. For many the ultimate goal is a better life at home.
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 Cadets at a merchant marine academy near Manila train for one of the most prestigious jobs for workers in the diaspora. Those who succeed are ensured a path to a middle-class life for their families. A quarter of the worldÕs seafarers come from the Philippines. 
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 Althea Tolidanes, eight, watches videos amid gifts of sheets, pillows, and curtains from her father, Arjay, who
works at a burger joint in Saudi Arabia. Such gifts are sent to make up for long absences. But Althea says she
doesnÕt want to go to school, so that her father can come home and not have to earn money for school fees.
 
 
 
 
 
 Tens of billions of dollars a year in remittances from overseas Filipino workers, or OFWs, have propped up the countryÕs economy. Recently, thanks in part to booming industries such as call centers, the economy has been growing at a fast pace. 
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 The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in Baclaran, Manila, ministers to overseas Filipino
workers with a dedicated migrants Mass. Churchgoers bring passports, suitcases, and rosaries to be blessed
by the priest, and they pray for safe passage.
 
 
 
 
 BL, who is a domestic worker, unpacks her 'Balikbayan Box' with her family. The Balikbayan box is a staple for overseas Filipino workers. They ship items from abroad to bring home gifts to loved ones, called 'pasalubong,' which translates to 'for welcoming.' BL is a registered nurse, but decided to become a nanny just to be able to leave the country quickly. In her family, members are raised to have the mindset of leaving the country. Her deceased mother was an unregistered baby sitter and caregiver in Canada, where her sister, formerly a caregiver, still resides. Her brother Allen is a seafarer currently looking for work, and her brother Jepoy studies nursing.
 
 
 
 Filipino seafarers take a break after carrying supplies into their cargo ship.
 
 
 Sheila, a domestic worker from Hong Kong, arrives in her home in Cavite, South of Manila, where her relatives greet her.
 
 
 
 Most Filipino workersÕ journeys begin at ManilaÕs airport, with tearful goodbyes, uncertainty, and hope.
 
 Airplanes are seen landing in Manila, where hundreds of thousands of people from the Filipino diaspora return home.
 
 
 Arjay Tolidanes with his family. He is home for the first time in 2 years, and his daughter Althea cannot let go of her father.
 
 
 
 The remains of Jessica Catiis are taken to the cemetery in a horse-drawn carriage. Her mother, Evelyn, and
the rest of her family sent her off with yellow flowers and white balloons.
 
 
 Some of the Filipinos who go abroad with dreams come home in caskets. The mother (center) of Jessica Catiis weeps at her funeral. Catiis was a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia who allegedly died by suicide. Her body was sent back seven months later
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 Photo by @hannahreyesmorales. Ian Pineda, a merchant sailor, lies on a spool of rope on the deck of a cargo ship. Filipino seafarers are explorers in their own right: they've explored the world's seas. Seasoned seafarers have endless stories spanning oceans and ports across dozens of countries. But they all tell a common tale: of missing home, the Philippines. It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 of the world's mariners are Filipino.