The amazing Filipinos in Italy

Published by rudy Date posted on April 12, 2011

These last two week, I have been in Italy to preside over graduation ceremonies of the Ateneo School of Government in Milan and Rome. In the last three years, the ASoG (of which I am Dean) has been implementing, with partners, a Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship Training Program for migrant Filipinos in Italy. We have implemented the program in Rome, Naples, and Milan, with around 200 already graduating. In April, we are opening programs in Florence and Turin as well. In addition to the six-month basic LSE course, our students also have an option to do an advanced practicum course for a year, for which they could earn a diploma. Two batches of students in Rome have already completed this advanced course while the first graduates in Naples and Milan will start their practicum soon.

Among the many things I work on—ending corruption in the Philippines, working on environmental issues in the country, global involvement in climate change, engagement in the peace process in Mindanao, promoting social entrepreneurship and innovation in Asia, etc.—I consider this work with migrants among the most important and rewarding. Because in the lives of our overseas Filipino worker-students in Italy and in the commitment of the Filipinos I work with in Italy to implement this program, I see the best in us as a people and see that solutions are possible for even the most challenging of problems.

I do not of course seek to sugar-coat the Filipino diaspora in Italy and pretend that stories of migrants are fairy tales that always have happy endings. Many of the stories of our students, who are mostly domestics, of how they got here and what they and their families have to endure—the enormous amounts they have to pay to recruiters, their exploitation by Italians and worse, fellow Filipinos, the separation from loved ones, etc.—are sad, even tragic. As a human rights lawyer, I am outraged at the injustice that many migrants have had to go through. I certainly do not excuse the national government for its failure to adopt and pursue a coherent strategy for our migrant workers, exposing millions of our fellow Filipinos to exploitation and danger.

While not ignoring the ugly side of the Filipino diaspora, as we work with our students here in Italy, and as we see them grow and learn, take responsibility for their lives, and to dream again—we see an inspiring picture emerging. The OFW story then becomes one of courage, of triumph against all odds, and yes of hope. The amazing Filipinos in Italy (which includes those who implement the program with us) teach us a way forward for the country. For that reason, I would like to share the LSE story.

Dr. Cristina Liamzon, who is the training director of the Italy program, describes the LSE program as basically about empowering migrants in three areas: leadership, financial literacy and social entrepreneurship. For her, the program is about forming, developing and strengthening the leader within each student. Financial literacy is important because it helps the students identify priorities and manage costs and expenses. Finally, the program brings out the entrepreneur in each student —especially the social entrepreneur, who is able to identify and work on scalable and sustainable solutions to social problems. The program ends with our students, in groups, developing and implementing a social or business enterprise plan. Even with graduation, we continue to mentor and support our students. At its core, the LSE program is about migrants taking charge of their lives—for the students to be given the skills, and more importantly an approach to life, so she or he is positioned for social mobility and integrate better to Italian society and/or reintegrate well into the Philippines. In essence, it is about the future. All the time, we see this transformation happening to our students. They gain confidence. They find self-esteem. They are ready again to have high hopes and take risks.

LSE is a collaboration between the Ateneo School of Government and the Overseas Filipinos’ Society for the Promotion of Economic Security, an association of Filipino expatriates in Italy dedicated to the welfare of OFWs. The OFSPES name plays on the Latin word ‘spes’ which means hope. I have to credit Dr. Liamzon and her husband Edgar Valenzuela, who are the founders and pillars of this program, and their OFSPES colleagues like Ms. Maris Gavino who support its implementation.

The cooperation of the government agencies has also been critical for the success of the LSE program. It has been supported by Ambassador Romeo Manalo (and his predecessor Philippe Lhuillier), Milan Consul-General Lourdes Tabamo, Labor Attache Chona Mantilla (her predecessor Manuel Roldan), Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration representative Ruth RoselynVivar (her predecessor Ann Gregorio), and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office and OWWA officials in Milan.

Finally, we will not be able to do the program without our faculty—from both Italy and the Philippines. In Italy, because they are critical to expanding the LSE program, standing out particularly are our lead faculty in Milan, Daniela Laurel Fois, a recent graduate from Ateneo de Manila, and our lead faculty in Florence, Alex Ganzon, a young graduate from De La Salle University.

This collaboration among an academic institution like Ateneo, the government agencies, and OFSPES is a good example of how we can all pull together as a one country team to work with each other so that our fellow Filipinos may benefit. Among us, there is no crab mentality. We do what we have to do to achieve the outcomes we believe in.

Above all though, the heroes of the LSE program are our students. Their ages range from 18 to 70 and they come from all walks of life and from everywhere in the Philippines (although being Italy, there is a disproportionate number of Batangueños in the group). Amidst this diversity, they have one common characteristic—a determination to overcome overwhelming odds and rise above adversity. In these past two weeks, I had the honor of walking the streets of Milan and Rome with many of my students. As they showed me the piazzas (squares), duomos (cathedrals) and fontani (fountains) of these great cities, they also shared with me their stories—many heartbreaking, some funny, all inspiring. And as I listened, I could not help but feel proud of these fellow Filipinos—mga kababayan ko. To be their teacher is truly an honor; in this moment, one every teacher longs for, it is the students teaching me a lesson about life and solidarity, about the honor of being human.

Fr. Daniel Huang SJ, former Jesuit Provincial of the Philippines and currently an assistant to Jesuit Superior General Reverend Father Adolfo Nicolás, who celebrated our graduation mass in Rome told our graduates that they will succeed in their business or social enterprises so long as they have faith and they have love. How true. These amazing Filipinos in Italy will survive; in fact they will thrive, because they do believe and yes they love their families, their country and their God. So how can they be defeated? –Dean Tony Lavina, Manila Standard Today

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