May 31st, 2012
01:02 PM GMT
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Abu Dhabi (CNN) - There are more than 2.2 million Filipino workers in the Middle East. Not only are they a vital part of the region’s workforce, the money they send home makes a valuable contribution to the Philippine economy.

Some of the poorest Filipinos in Manilla work and live in a giant charcoal factory in the Tondo slum, constantly breathing toxic fumes. It’s an all-too-common existence in a country where about 30% of the population live below the poverty line, according to the government.

For many Filipinos the only way to escape this kind of hardship is to find work abroad. Millions have migrated to the economic powerhouses of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

George Soriaga works as a procurement officer at a media company in Abu Dhabi. He moved to the Middle East 20 years ago. "When I was in college, most of the people were working part time, studying while working to support themselves,” he told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen. “It's not a plan, me and my friends just went to one of the agencies and tried to apply to work abroad. Then successfully we got listed in the job and that was the start of my career abroad."

There are between 400,000 and 600,000 Filipino workers in the United Arab Emirates and every year they send home billions of dollars.

The government in Manila estimates that Filipinos around the world sent home more than $20 billion last year. Now the Philippine embassy in Abu Dhabi has started a program to educate migrant workers how to wisely use the cash they make abroad.

"There is a lot of money, that if we can help guide our overseas Filipinos where to invest I think it will be a great public/private sector cooperation,” said Grace Princesa, ambassador to the UAE. “So the public is government, the private is them, we work together to invest."

Courses involve financial literacy training, where participants learn how to invest money effectively, but also how to stop relatives back home from spending all the cash on consumer goods.

Maria Rosario de la Cruz is a nurse who has worked abroad for 27 years. She says being separated from her family is hard enough, but bad finances can make that hardship even worse.

"It can cause family problems,” said de la Cruz. “Communication gaps between husband, wife and children. It can destroy a family just because of a financial problem.

“But you see, if a family is financially stable I don't think there will be a problem within the family."

With this training, the Philippine government hopes its migrant workers, who sacrificed so much helping to build places like Dubai, can also develop their own country's economy after they return.

Garcia is a prime example of how it can work. Garcia went to Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s as an accountant. He returned to the Philippines more than a decade later and used his savings to expand his family's business - the Mekeni Foods Company - which now has more than 1,000 employees.

"For us to start doing our business, we had to go out of the country, where we can save more to someday start our own business," said Garcia.

Garcia used his time working in Saudi Arabia to build his future. The Philippine government hopes others will follow suit, so that some time in the future, places like the Tondo slum will be nothing more than a dark sport in this country's history.

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. krisatienza

    Financial gains doesn't spell peace in the family as what de la Cruz said unless that's how we see our families – they all look like money-hungry beings.

    May 31, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  2. davao

    That's stupid news are bias. why these news reporter have selected only the poorest areas in manila. He/she should give the full views of the entire manila. the world knows that Filipino people are poor and making a story that we are coming to middle east just to survive in our financial problem is not fair. why these american, british and other nationality are also coming to ME and working here. are they not poor also? if they are rich in their country why they are coming to ME with the bad climate against their country??????

    May 31, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  3. luzzy

    DAVAO, maybe the hundreds of foreigners u see in the philippines are there because ur country cannot grow and dont have strenght to stand up and combat all the corrupt politicians there, therefor, the foreigners are enjoying ur weather, food and other commodities that in they own country coudn`t !

    May 31, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  4. Ge

    when are you Pinoys will open your eyes. You sacrifice your families, going abroad, off course for money, but family not been together take its toll too, while those a few rich families in Manila ( they owns the whole country)are enjoying and taken all your future and your money. 20 billions with your sacrifice and still the government is proud of that! shame of them. Open your eyes, stop the stupidity of xenophobia, foreigners do not cause you poverty , are your own people, those super extra rich ones, including the one you chose as president and his family, just give you migajas to the poor while they always have a fest of luxury and you still applause them and cheer them, admire them on every single stupidity they do, because they are " our people" give me a break!. Many foreigner have done for you in a short time more than your own people,have done in a whole life, wake up, after been the best country in Asia you are left behind, because of your narrow mind. the rich families want to keep you like that ignorant and " patetically nationalist" so you keep poor and pay you little bit with no rights to protect yourself from them. wake up! Abroad you are seen with pity you think you are doing great, well... sorry you are not doing well, you are seen as unable people to fight for the rights of good salaries, stability of your jobs, good education, good transportation system, good quality of life, and also the catholic church guilt, they just want people in their places but who will take care of the poor. How is posible that the divorce is not permited, that is so thirdworld stupid thing, because religion? give me break then when a woman is mistreat by her husband what she has to do, keep the marriage because a single president and his patetic church says so, you are destroying lifes with that stupidity. Wake up !

    June 1, 2012 at 4:59 am |
  5. Ge

    Luzzy wake up your food is not good for foreigners, also good weather are in many places in the world, you are not the only tropical country in the world, believe me, even cheaper, xenophobic freak!

    June 1, 2012 at 5:00 am |
  6. Chris

    Recycled stories... Why can't CNN make a new one? running out of ideas?

    June 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  7. Brian

    This is much like the situation for millions of Latin Americans in the US...
    Billions of dollars being sent back home...

    June 1, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  8. Ronnie, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga

    Even if they saved a lot of money, ordinary Filipino OCW's going on "final exit" from the M.E. are really not that eager to invest their hard earned cash in local businesses. In the case of Garcia, they already had an existing business which they expanded using his M.E. earnings. So I guess his case is not the right example. Besides, he is a professional- an accountant while most OCW's are laborers and/or rank and file employees. The usual story is that while the ordinary OCW is saving his dollars, his family is racking up debts so when he gets home his savings will be used to pay his debts. If he is regular in sending home money, the debts may be minimal but how much can the ordinary Filipino OCW save from his salary ? So when the OCW is on vacation, his 2-years savings is spent in one blow. Teaching the ordinary OCW's to save and invest and getting positive results will be a challenge for the Aquino government since what ordinary OCW's earn abroad is just enough to tide over the family from one payday to the other.

    June 2, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  9. aijae

    you see,philippines is actually a good place to invest right now as long as you find the right business...and you have enough capital.....i am one of we call ofw....and yes...i am planning to go back in our country for retirement...i could not see myself here in USA at age 70.....the idea of me going to nursing home scares i started saving money way back 1998.....and plan to start a ricemill business in the PHIL...before end of this year i`m going home for good.......

    June 2, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  10. Carl

    If there is no opportunity for Filipinos to find work in their own country, then how can I – as foreigner – find place to invest in there!!

    I been to manila few times. There is little or no chance of doing business there. As much I would have loved to.

    June 2, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  11. Jay

    Filipinos go abroad because their governments are useless and don't create job opportunities. The Philippines is controlled by five families who hate foreign investment. They have fancy malls but the streets don't even have drainage and yet their politicians are richer than Hollywood movie stars.

    June 2, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  12. pinoyboni

    CNN reporters i think has tunnel vision look at the reports that they wrote of the philippines it was often about poor filipinos of course it is a problem but our country growth for the first quarter this year is 6.4%. in other words the philippines is moving forward.

    June 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  13. Edong

    Im an OFW here in UAE although its true we are going out of the country to find our future CNN should also cite the gains of our country economy. Here in this report philippines is portrayed like a hopeless country i could say that the writer did not really gave philippines a balance, and fair review. I for one want to buy a condominium near university in manila and found out most of the units were already sold out and most of the buyers are overseas contract workers, now isn't it a news worthy for my countrymen to hear from western press, cmon give us a break weve been poor since birth and the world knows it.

    June 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  14. ron

    The Philippine government want nothing more than taking money from their own people anyway and every way to promote their lifestyle and friends in the political system. Get rid of their government and all their cronies that line their pockets in all forms of government and the police mafia and the country would stand of chance of getting ahead and taking care of their people. The problem with many Filipino, Filipina people that I have encountered is that they are great people but they have a tendency to take advantage of their own people and others to get what they want. Just my opinion I could be wrong but this is a personal observation from living in the country.

    June 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  15. dark matter

    money is not a point to explore the christianity... hungry is the key ,,,this tricks are non in university

    June 2, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  16. ken penethby

    The Govt of Philippines should do more to guarantee some job security – many busnesses employ people for 6 months then fire them, because after 6 months they have to pay benefits. Maybe that's way businesses rarely make it big, because they invest 6 months training someone to do a job, then fire them. – to avoid paying sick leave etc. Pathetic really.

    June 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm |

    Filipino corruption culture are the highest among ASEAN nations and even money laundering are rampant where the Chief Justice himself are guilty of corruption and money laundering. The economy are stagnant for the last 30 years since Marcos era because they vote all corrupt officials in the office.

    June 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm |

    Philippines has highest rate of electricity charges among ASEAN nation, 30% tax for ordinary employee, Corporate tax are even higher without any subsidies from corrupt Government during downturn, red tape are rampant just to get apply a drivers license you need to pay grease money of 1K just to get your license on time. The worst part is Manila International Airport or known as Ninoy Aquino Airport where the most greedy Immigration Officers are waiting for every Filipino OCW. Those corrupt Airport Officers are the WORST PICTURE of Philippine itself, I've been there thousand times and all GREEDY corrupt Police airport or immigration officer including airport taxi will squeeze your hard earn dollar out. No wonder, foreign investment in Philippines are moving out just like INTEL the biggest computer CPU maker.

    June 2, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  19. Zuhayr Khan

    Philippines have a bright future ahead of them. Best wishes from India.

    June 2, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  20. suck

    one of the main reason is Catholic church, they always against n family planing that s why plenty of rats in the street cn't eat n go 2 school... f every family have 2 rats, they can raised the child g0 to college. more than that nothing and government count in Liabilities not Asset of the country. they always happen in the slum area n barrio-tic mind, people of philippines do't blame to government coz almost half of pinoy they don't pay tax, n tax is the life of goverment

    June 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  21. urban quade

    the problem with filipinos is a culture thing, a mindset. their goal in life is to earn a college degree and get a good paying job and not to start and own a business, worse they expect the goverment to hand out jobs or oppurtunities for them. the goverment's main focus should be to encourage entrepeurship among the locals and devise means to enable the locals to procure a start up capital for a small business. if u have been to the philippines you will discover that being employed in this country will never get u rich enough to have a very comfortable life, and the rich in this country are those that own businesses and these businessmen almosy always did'nt start big, they started from scratch.

    June 2, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  22. urban quade

    for filipino OFWs, i just hope you start to rethink your goals and priorities with the money you send back to your relatives and the things that u spend with your hard earned money. instead of wasting your money on sending your relatives through college, invest it in a business venture. You can make profits and at the same time provide livelihood for your relatives and other people that can be employed in your business. Stop the practice of wasting your hard earned money by buying residential lots, building expensive houses, household appliances, jewelry and cars. rather invest it in a good business venture and get really rich.

    June 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  23. Joe

    Manila is spelled with one L.

    June 3, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  24. Henry

    Phillipines is dominated by the Chinese upper class.
    Make them pay more taxes. Full stop. Problem solved.

    June 3, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  25. Joven

    Good comments but the bottom line still on those OFW's decision what they want to do in their life. It's their choice to be poor and not to be rich instead. Have faith in God and do interesting things and you will have interesting results. If you keep blaming the government, corrupt officials, environment bla bla bla nothing will happen. Dream big and work on your plan. God bless Philippines.

    June 3, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  26. sugs

    I love Phillipines . I am planning to start business there by end of this year. I have been there many times and I just love the people. Much better than the so called developed world.

    June 3, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  27. chickoy

    it's not the country, its not the government... its the people itself. start within. don't ask too much from the government, do something for yourself then you can do something for the government (maybe!). lift that feet,,, take baby steps, move forward and stop wining and do your part,, PROUD PINOY HERE!

    June 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  28. aurelius

    All too often the money sent by migrants from overseas to their families back home only contributes to making the latter more irresponsible and lazy. And when the migrants return home, they find their family to be as poor as when they left. And instead of being welcome back, they are expected to return overseas and keep the cash cow pumping more money.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  29. glodor

    The philippines is a hopeless case. It will remain deep in poverty and corruption..... FOREVER.

    June 4, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  30. LEMZ

    CNN must be very biased. If you could just show the world the full beauty of the Philippines, this video must not be.

    June 4, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  31. same thing

    Its funny how all third world nations behave in the same manner. I am sure all the money coming in from abroad is spent on consumer products and little on investments. This then ruins the chances of the nation from coming up. I am sure that the rich do not want to poor to come up.

    All developing nations are on the path towards over population as well, and that need to be gotten rid of as well. Let the well educated ones come in and work out the whole system and fix it up. I want that to happen in my country as well, but so far it only seems to be a theory.

    June 5, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  32. Philip Francia

    Know Christ and you will be led unknowingly how to spend wisely those hard earned money. Just pray for our country, with Christ all things are possible.

    June 6, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  33. Bright Future Philippines

    Filipinos have a saying: Kung maiksi pa ang kumot matotong bumaloktot...means while the blanket still short, try to fit in it...We don't want to spend borrowed money like other nations do...they finish their money before they are born...I say to my fellow country men...Save for the Future!

    June 6, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  34. Bright Future Philippines

    By the way after spending 10 years as OFW as Mechanical Engineer, I have now enough money for any business in the Philippines to help my country men... I hope some of rich OFWs around the world would think like this!

    June 6, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  35. jimboy

    we'll to tell everyone so far i can see now pnoy is really doing something for our great country

    June 8, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  36. christian

    i loved a girl in manila,very much, but i didnt make it in the end, i am a chinese and in china now, i have been in MNL for 14days, and unexpectely,began to love the place,the people, the girl there, hope i can meet her again,hope she can marry me...

    June 11, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  37. luis

    its not true that the philippines isa hopeless case i believe that many of us is helping our country to restore our reputation as one of the rich country in asia

    June 28, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  38. Sao Paulo Brito

    I love to read all of your comments; I just do hope that Pres. Aquino can read all of your thoughts.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  39. royvrgara

    CNN is biased....CNN is wellpaid by chinese government not to elaborate more issue like abortions, fetus eating,killings and dirty political system...

    June 30, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  40. royvrgara

    philippines is a very nice would be an old issue about poverty of this land because almost all countries now suffering a deppesion even america, europe and other countries.. even china millions of chinese peasants are poor yet thier governrment are rich....always hiding the truth the world...CNN please be fair in making an issue for the good of your intention sharing information to the whole world...

    June 30, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  41. thansen

    Most of the problems in Philippines are caused by two things, corrupt politicians and the Catholic Church. What most Filipinos don't want to admit is that the Church and corrupt politicians go hand-in-hand, and are essentially the same thing. From the top to the bottom in Filipino politics everything starts or must receive blessing from Catholic leadership. The politicians and the church indoctrinate Filipinos at a young age to believe that the foreign and secular world is the greatest threat to their culture and country. Just ask yourself why the Church is so quick to condemn the use of contraceptives or the legalization of divorce, but will never speak about the more important issues such as slave wages, rising inflation costs (which is a huge problem contributed in part by OFW remittances), or an overpopulated Metro Manila. As someone mentioned above, Filipinos must realize that foreign investment is the path to a greater society for them and their children, because its obvious that their politicians and the Church don't want their own people to rise up out of poverty. They gain too much taking advantage of their own people.

    As an American living in Manila, I am so surprised of how Filipinos so often accept their lot in life, and assume nothing can be done to change it. They get that mentality from the Catholic Church, as their leaders constantly preach for them to "embrace their poverty" and do nothing but "pray to God," in hope that they will receive salvation. Filipinos really need a cultural revolution, in which they break free from the bonds of a religiously controlled and influenced government. There is no successful country in this world who's government is so heavily influenced by a religion, that can succeed.

    July 6, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  42. Banana Juice

    To all my Filipino countrymen, first qnd foremost we have to admit that our government is corrupt to the gills. Furthermore, we as Filipino have that "crab mentality" we cannot accept that another filipino is doing better than one of us. I heard a foreigner making a comment that the best thing that could happen to the Philippines is to drown all of the old politicians and start over again. My response to that comment was this: the family members of these old politicians have also learned to be corrupt, hence a never ending cycle of corruption. The solution that comes to mind is for the United States to stop all aids to this beautiful country and take out the corrupt politicians. Amen.

    July 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
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