By: By Casiano Mayor Jr.
First Posted in Philippine Daily Inquirer
JEDDAH—Paula Beatriz dela Rosa left Jeddah for Manila in the middle of April with mixed feelings of excitement and concern.
Unlike past summers when the family stayed briefly in Manila for an annual vacation, this time 16-year-old Paula will be staying behind in the city she barely knows for a much longer time to pursue her studies.
Paula, who graduated from one of five Filipino schools here in Jeddah, is among thousands of Filipino children in Saudi Arabia who have to go back to the Philippines to go to college. Most of them, who were either born or had grown up in this Middle Eastern kingdom, will be away from their families for the first time.
“I have this mixed feeling of fear and excitement. I am excited to think that I will start living on my own, but I also worry if I can cope with my life being away from my family,” Paula said in an interview before she and her family left for Manila on April 14.
Paula, who was only five years old when she came to Saudi Arabia with her mother in 1966, added: “We usually had short vacations during summer breaks from school and I have never had a chance to go out in Metro Manila without my parents. I am not familiar with the place and, actually, my greatest fear is riding alone in a jeep or a bus. I don’t even know how to cross a busy street!”
Czarlynn Mula, 15, has similar concerns. “Being away from my family for the first time, of course I am worried. That means I will be on my own. I will do household chores and all the things that an independent girl has to do. I will also have to learn how to commute, which I think will be very difficult for me. I think this is the effect of staying for eight years in a conservative and restrictive country.”
To ease their worries, some parents have decided to put their children in dormitories near their schools. Paula, who wants to pursue a degree in accountancy, was planning to enroll at the San Beda College in Manila while Czarlynn was eyeing a degree in architecture at the De La Salle University in Dasmarinas, Cavite.
Czarlynn’s mother, Lynette, says the family bought a house in Novaliches, Quezon City, but “it’s too far from Czarlynn’s school.” So she and her husband Ariel, have decided to put their daughter in the school’s dormitory. “She doesn’t know how to commute on her own,” said Lynette.
Lower living standards
“Here, the children are used to having cars, but in the Philippines they have to take the jeep or the bus,” she sighed to emphasize her concerns.
While many overseas Filipino workers who brought their families to Saudi Arabia found this strait-laced Muslim country conducive to raising children, sending their kids to college is now a problem. This oil-rich Middle East kingdom has many universities, but these are exclusively for Saudi students.
“It’s quite a sacrifice, a price we have to pay for working far away from our country,” says Albert Arriesgado, a mechanical engineer who has three children studying in Manila. “Like most parents, we worry about our children being away from us. It’s quite a problem for parents here when their children have to go to college.”
His daughter Nicole is pursuing a degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, his son Alain is taking up mechanical engineering at the University of the East and Alain’s twin, Allan, enrolled in accounting technology at the same university.
The three children are currently in Jeddah for a vacation. They come back to Jeddah every year to renew their visas and residence permits, known as iqama. “The situation has been reversed. Before, we had to go back to the Philippines for a vacation. Now, we have to wait for them here,” their mother, Noriet, said.
Albert said the children, with whom they have strong bonds, were not able to adjust to life in Manila at once so he and Noriet had to stay in the city for a few more months. Back in Jeddah, they called their children “every other day and chatted with them (online) every day.
“It’s easy to raise the children here because they do not go out alone but when it became time for them to go to college, it was a nightmare,” says Albert.
“Our consolation is that they have grown up to be upright children and we hope everything will be fine and that they do not get the wrong influences while they are away from us.”
For Filipino workers who have raised their families in Saudi Arabia, sending their children to college is a nightmare they have to put up with—after all it was the reason they left the country in the first place.