Life's still good: Overseas Pinoys share Christmas amid pandemic

By Christine Cudis

December 19, 2020, 2:06 pm

<p><strong>CHRISTMAS OVERSEAS</strong>. Overseas Filipinos (from left: Reyven Osorio, Rhea Bragas, Marion Florentino, Jianzel Villacorte) share their stories to ignite inspiration and hope for better days despite the pandemic. They pointed out that their biggest blessings are borne out of their hardest challenges. <em>(Contributed photos)</em></p>

CHRISTMAS OVERSEAS. Overseas Filipinos (from left: Reyven Osorio, Rhea Bragas, Marion Florentino, Jianzel Villacorte) share their stories to ignite inspiration and hope for better days despite the pandemic. They pointed out that their biggest blessings are borne out of their hardest challenges. (Contributed photos)

MANILA – While the Philippines is still battling with the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-2019) pandemic, Filipinos are slowly but surely bouncing back and showing glimmers of hope to celebrate the Yuletide season.

Filipinos working overseas are no exception in spreading the Christmas spirit amid the health crisis and willingly shared to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) how some of life's biggest blessings are borne out of their hardest challenges.

Reyven Osorio, 54, works as an engineer for various oil companies for 27 years in different parts of the world.

Due to the pandemic, Osorio is now temporarily out-of-work but the Japanese government is providing for his monthly stipend covering at least 60 percent of his income.

He is spending his free time to good use by going around different tourist spots in Japan such as Hokkaido, Harada, Tokyo, and Asakusa, with his daughter Vena Roshiena.

“A lot of good times have been created during this pandemic, there are ups and downs but the blessings that came along with it are definitely bigger. I am able to spend a lot of my time with my daughter. We would go to places and she would keep records of it through her vlog which our family in the Philippines can see. It’s a way to ease their worries by letting them know we are doing alright here,” he said.

Osorio has been working abroad as an engineer since he was 26.

He first worked in Saudi Arabia where his journey as an OFW began when his older brother died and he stepped-up to be the kuya for his four other siblings. Soon, he also had a family of his own which prompted him to continue working abroad.

Osorio said there are a lot of happenings in the world that may distract a person and the key to remain grounded is to keep the focus on family.

“It’s difficult in the start but it will grow on you eventually and in a lot of ways the sacrifices of being an overseas worker are worth it. To those who are still in their early years of work and are having a hard time, it will get better. For now, let’s enjoy what we have and do what we have to do, celebrate the little things and the big ones with pure joy like Christmas,” he said.

Reyven Osorio (right) and his family will often go on trips to celebrate milestones of their life and to compensate for the times they were apart. (Photo from Reyven Osorio) 


Jianzel Villacorte, 25, who has been in New Jersey, USA for five years recently got her nursing degree.

Villacorte followed her mother to the United States in 2015. Despite being armed with her AB Mass Communication degree from Ateneo de Davao, she studied and earned her nursing degree from New York University in May this year.

But jobs were hard to come by following the restrictions due to the Covid-19.

“I was in the process of doubting myself during job hunting. Luckily I found one, and it was not easy either. As a pediatric nurse, I had to be there not only for my patients but also for their parents. I had to provide emotional support. The term 'patient care' was given a new meaning at this time. I coped by thinking that it is a big opportunity to be able to give service to these people during this challenging time. It’s very rewarding,” she said.

A simple dinner shared with family after attending the Holy Mass would be a delightful Christmas for Villacorte. There may not be any parties for this year but she shared she is still happy that she is spending the holidays together with loved ones.


Jianzel Villacorte's (left) mother Rufina (center) laid down the path for her to move to the United States, together with her sister Jett, for greener pastures and to be together. (Photo from Jianzel  Villacorte) 

Marion Florentino, 27, is a seven-year licensed seafarer.

The life of a seafarer is already filled with uncertainties but much more during the pandemic.

Florentino shared his flight from Davao to Manila had to be re-booked three times by his crewing officer when he was called to receive a new contract in July this year from the company he has been working for since he got his license.

“I had to find a safe place to stay while waiting for the confirmation from the agency and it was a tedious process looking for a unit that is safe and clean, there were many restrictions and protocol. Luckily after I got my swab results which turned out negative, the company has provided us with decent accommodation. Still, anxiety was sky-high then thinking we do not have an income yet and there were bills to pay. I’m just blessed that my company allocated some financial aid for us while we were waiting for dispatch,” he said.

When he was younger, he said, he did not plan on becoming a seafarer but he was offered a scholarship grant by a shipping line based abroad so he took the chance considering how much he can save from the deal.

Florentino likened spending his days at sea to being in quarantine. “It’s hard. It has its ups and downs but seeing my parents happy, that they are proud of what I have achieved takes all the sacrifices away, it’s the best incentive. Really, it is just about looking forward to a better future for them and for the family than I will be building,” he added.

For this year, he will share Christmas with his shipmates as he started his new contract in September.

“We just video call with family. Hopefully, the Internet connection will cooperate,” he added.


When time permits, Marion Florentino and his parents (Ariel and Gina) will catch up with each other via video call.  It is a cure to loneliness, he added. (Photo from Marion Florentino)

Rhea Bragas, 31, moved to Australia in 2018 to study culinary.

Relocating to a different country was a decision Bragas pondered on for over a year. After quitting her job as a journalist for almost nine years, she went on to chase another dream in Australia.

“I want to make more so that I can give more. I knew that there is something big for me, supernatural opportunities that are waiting for me in Australia. I won’t settle for a life that is less than the one I am capable of living,” she said.

Everything for her was a learning opportunity when she finally arrived in Sydney.

She shared that she developed a better grip on managing her time and finances because she can only rely on herself.

“When I was still studying Culinary and Hospitality Management, I had two jobs: an apprentice chef and the TFC (The Filipino Channel) News Correspondent for Australia. After two years, I completed my studies and I graduated last July. It was not easy and comfortable, but it was all worth it,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, the tourism industry halted its operations leaving her jobless.

However, she was hired for temporary work in Sydney Transport until things get back to normal again.

“We are so blessed to have a job during the pandemic. Giving up and going home was never an option. Everything is still working out for us. Now, I ended up having three jobs and I am so grateful for it,” she said.

For Christmas however, “work is life” is her mantra.

“If you are working in the hospitality industry, it is expected that you always spend your Christmas and New Year working, giving the customers the best dining experience. But I won’t mind at all because I can still enjoy watching the fireworks in the most beautiful harbor in the world. It’s just a matter of perspective. We just need to carry on with life,” she added. (PNA)

Rhea Bragas (front row, 2nd from right) moved to Australia to learn culinary. She worked two jobs while studying. (Photo from Rhea Bragas)