A Personal Tribute “Remembering Ka Bert”
There are an estimated half a million OFWs in Saudi Arabia, a few extraordinary souls quietly offer to lend a hand to others without any kind of recognition. As what the holy scripture says: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)
I – Distress Call
Many years ago (can’t remember exactly what year), I was responding to a distressed call from a fellow Filipino worker in a “nail factory” a few blocks from my place of work (former employer) in the 3rd Industrial Area-Riyadh. I was in the office at that time when I received the call. As an active community leader in the area during those year promised the other end of the line that I will visit them after work.
Aside from three months salary delay, I sensed the seriousness of the call and the thoughts that this visit was going to be different and my plan was to bring with me friends who can help me document the case. They were “Ka Bert” an OFW advocate, who was then actively involved in helping fellow distressed Filipino workers; and “Ka Bien”, an ArabNews correspondent at that time. Both friends are members of Pusong Mamon Task Force or PMTF. The PMTF group consists of volunteer crisis intervention coordinators, Filcom leaders and concerned individuals offering direct assistance and services of various OFW cases like labor, welfare and police cases.
We scheduled our visit Friday, two days after the distressed call. Despite of seeing seasonal complaints of OFWs in the Industrial area of Riyadh, our heart sank when we saw the real situation.
When we arrived at the entrance of the adjacent gate located beside the factory itself, we noticed right away the guardrails loosen uselessly on the side. It came right in my head that the Saudi Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (baladiya) strictly prohibits workers’ accommodation near the place of work factories or industrial plants in particular.
As we carefully walked in a muddy walkway going to our kababayans’ accommodation, we observed what likely a dirty kitchen along the side of the alleyway for them to cook. At that very moment I, Ka Bert and Ka Bien glanced at each other’s simultaneously and I whispered to my own ear “God, I was right, this was indeed very different.”
When we reached to their rooms, more surprised awaiting us, the rooms were dimly lit by a single drooping bulb; the surroundings were uncomfortable to them and congested enough for a twelve Filipino living in a 48 square meter living quarter. On the left side of their door a small round table with two dilapidated chairs. The leader of the distressed OFWs offered us to sit while others prepared coffee for us. As Ka Bien interviewed the spokesman of the group I can’t help myself to think how can they sleep during cold nights in their bed placed in the soil floor where it stands.
“Pasensya na po kayo Sir sa aming lugar” one of the distressed OFW said. “Pasensya na rin po kayo sa amoy” he added while his eyes led us towards the long piles of steel wires used for making nails where a mountain like metal dusts shining on the ground emanating unpleasant smell.
Teary eyed, they’re asking us to help them on their grievances such as; delayed salary, no proper living conditions, hazardous working conditions and many more.
II – Mission Possible and III – The Last Handshake >>>>> to read more