Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on May 20, 2021
When Luciana Obejas arrived in Jordan to begin her two-year contract as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in 2004, she was unsure about what awaited her. “Working overseas is like a gamble. You don’t know what you will find in the country; you don’t know if you will have a good employer or if the work is actually what was advertised by the agency,” she began. “My only weapon was prayer. I always prayed the Rosary so that I can be guided by God. I believed it was His will for me to be here,” she continued. Her gamble paid off. She found success as a labor relations leader in the Middle East.
Fast forward 16 years later, Luciana can now look back with satisfaction at the impact of her advocacy on improving the lives and working conditions of thousands of OFWs in the capital city of Amman and the rest of Jordan. As a Political Science graduate of Divine Word University of Tacloban and Bachelor of Laws at the Dr. Vicente Orestes Romualdez Educational Foundation (DVOREF) College of Law, she educated fellow OFWs on their rights both as individuals and as workers of the Kafalah system or through sponsorship.
She witnessed many of them abused, silenced, or imprisoned. She saw them running away, as their employers are filing suit against them for theft. OFWs are getting deported. To protect them, she advised them not to run away but to report immediately to the Philippine Embassy in Amman or the Polo/Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). Through her campaign, she helped unite Filipinos, improved workplace rights, and organized a community to celebrate Filipino traditions and festivals.
A chance meeting with an OWWA employee after Mass led her to organize the church-based Female Association Community Excellence (FACE) in 2006. She organized workshops and helped Filipinos to connect with the Philippine Embassy and invited them to become members of Social Security System (SSS), Pag-IBIG, and get a Philippine ID. Filipino workers then only had one hour free time to be able to go to church.
In 2008, she became a founding member and was elected secretary of the Federation of Filipino Organization (FIL-ORG), an umbrella of 18 different organizations. She served in this capacity until 2012 when the group splintered into two organizations. She separated in 2013 and organized the Federation of Filipino Associations (FEFAA) and became its president.
Her goal to uplift the OFW conditions by educating them and improving their work opportunities led to FEFAA establishing the caregiver training program under her leadership. Luciana personally negotiated with the Specialty Hospital Training Center in Amman to offer the program at a low cost to Filipino domestic workers. The Caregiver program was an instant success. As the volunteer program coordinator, she oversees the six-month training and the 40 hours on the job training. Students attend every Friday afternoon during their day off. She recently graduated her sixth batch of caregivers that included Indonesians, Kenyans, and Jordanians. FEFAA also organizes sports events every Friday such as volleyball, basketball, and bowling that anywhere between 100-300 Filipinos would usually participate in.
During the lockdown period at the onset of the global pandemic, many migrant workers lost their sources of income and had little to no access to essentials such as food and medicine. As soon as the government eased their lockdown restrictions, they distributed approximately 650 relief goods to the affected workers. They also helped OFWs infected with COVID-19 by distributing food and medicine and reminding them to isolate themselves for the protection and welfare of the other OFWs they shared their apartments with. She was a front liner of the Philippine Embassy in distributing 3,000 relief goods and a signatory to attest 2,500 qualified OFWs out of 5,000 applicants for the DOLE-AKAP Financial Assistance Program.
Luciana honed her leadership skills at a young age. She was the barangay secretary of Sto. Nino in Tanauan, Leyte; president of Sto. Nino Women’s Club, and public relations officer of Tanauan Women’s Club. She juggled her civic responsibilities with work duties at Pepsi-Cola Bottlers in Tanauan and ballroom dance instructor—her work on the side—at the Don Tipo Function Hall of JE Mondejar Computer College in Tacloban City.
Several organizations and non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Middle East took notice of Luciana’s strength as a community leader. She was elected regional treasurer of MEANFID Middle East and African Network of Filipino Diaspora on February 2016 in Dubai; a delegate to the 13th AWID International Forum in Bahia, Brazil on September 2016; a delegate to the International Training Center under the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Turins, Italy in 2017; a panelist during the International Labor Day, representing migrant workers, hosted by ILO Beirut in June 2019, and currently the president of MEANFID Jordan chapter. Luciana provided testimony in support of the Philippine Senate bill on the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino authored by Senator Bong Go.
Luciana is also very artistic. She choreographed the FEFAA presentation in 2016 and Pintados Festival in 2018 during the Paskong Pinoy sa Jordan aired on The Filipino Channel. She designed the gown made of plastic bottles that won the grand prize of the Obra Basura competition.
She was recently nominated by the Philippine Embassy in Amman for the prestigious Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas held in Malacanang in recognition for her work with Filipino migrant workers. She plans to continue her community leadership and hopes that her actions have a lasting, positive impact on the society at large. According to her, “helping others increases my overall life satisfaction and helps me feel good about myself knowing I helped others.”