Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are hailed as the "new heroes of the Philippine economy" with their significant contribution, in the form of regular remittances to the country, of an average of US$15 billion per year. According to data from the National Statistics Office, today there are approximately eight million OFWs around the world, comprising almost 10 percent of the Philippine population, and an estimated 4,500 Filipinos leave daily to work abroad.
But returning OFWs have to confront two paradoxes. The first is that although foreign employment provides steady income for families, it does not provide them with a career. Many leave the Philippines before their formal education is finished. Even those that don't find that the skills they have learned whilst away have no market back in the Philippines, and most struggle to find good work. The second paradox is that although OFW careers support the family financially, the emotional effects of long-term separation often prove difficult to manage.
"The OFWs and their stories are unique to the Philippines and there is a real need to help them get better training and education and enable them to find better opportunities in life," says Mae Rivera-Moreno, Microsoft Philippines PR and Community Affairs Manager.
Thus, Microsoft Philippines came up with a program called Tulay: An Unlimited Potential Program for Overseas Filipino Workers.
Translated as "bridge" in the Filipino language, this Unlimited Potential grant reaches out to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families through the DOLE and OWWA, the Filipino Workers Resource Center in Malaysia, and the Filipino Overseas Workers in Singapore. Tulay aims to provide OFWs with basic computing skills to help maximize their potential while working abroad. The skills they learn will further help them gain a competitive edge should they decide to return home or pursue another career.
Microsoft has made a comprehensive commitment to helping individuals, communities, and nations gain access to the technology tools, skills and innovation they need to realize their full potential. Microsoft Unlimited Potential is a global community-based citizenship initiative and part of Microsoft's flagship Digital Inclusion Initiatives. With its main objective of improving lifelong learning for underserved communities, the program aids global workforce development by providing cash and software grants that will facilitate technology skills training through community technology and learning centers (CTLCs).
CTLCs have been set up in various locations in the Philippines and abroad to ensure that the program is able to effectively provide computer skills training to OFWs. One of such is the CTLC in Cebu City.
Implemented in June 22, 2005, the Tulay program in Cebu City has now served 664 OFW beneficiaries, including their immediate dependents such as spouses, and children of married OFWs, as well as the parents and unwed siblings of unwed OFWs.
According to Cymbeline M. Rago, one of the trainers in the Cebu CTLC, the center has received positive feedback from the graduates of the Tulay program. Rago relates, "One of the OFWs, a high school graduate who worked as a domestic helper in Kuwait, was able to take the 3-day Computer Fundamentals Course while she was on vacation in Cebu. Because of the computer knowledge she gained from the training, this OFW got promoted as a secretary in a Kuwait-based British Pool Company."
"We are very happy with the feedback that we get from OWWA and the OFWs themselves. It's heartwarming to know that they are benefiting from this program and that because of this, they are able to widen their horizons and broaden their capabilities," says Moreno.
Aside from the CTLC in Cebu City, CTLCs have also been set up in Manila, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Recently, Microsoft Philippines awarded an additional Php 3 million in cash and Php 2.7 million worth of software and training to the OWWA for the implementation of Tulay in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; San Fernando, La Union; Cagayan de Oro (CdO); and the OWWA Satellite Office at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) headquarters in Mandaluyong City.
According to Moreno, Microsoft's mission has always been to enable more Filipinos to maximize their potential through technology and help transform the Philippines into a globally competitive economy. "This is why we continue to come up with different programs for various underserved communities, as well as OFWs, because we want to make sure that Filipinos are able to appreciate the advantages and benefits of technology," says Moreno.