Palmer Avenido worked at a machine-assembly factory in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, from 2010 until 2016. During that time, he volunteered at Mass as a lay minister, altar server, and usher, and in our Lectors and Commentators program. Palmer has written about his experience as a migrant worker in Taiwan as part of the documentary series, “The Migrant Worker’s Face.”

By Palmer Avenido
Edited by Hannes Zetzsche

My experience as a migrant worker was built around my family: made challenging by my desire yet inability to be with them, but made worthwhile because of the paychecks with which I could support them.

Working and living in Taiwan was an immense sacrifice. My wife and I decided together that I should go because our second child had just been born, a son, and we knew that we would struggle to raise a family with the income I earned in the Philippines. So in November 2010, with a two-year old daughter and a one-year old son, I hired a broker and took a job in a Taiwanese factory.

The work at Qian Hong Jong Ye See Factory, in Taoyuan County, was difficult enough without the added stress I experienced from missing my wife and children. At the factory, I assembled the parts for machines that would be sold and distributed throughout the world. I worked hard, but the assembly process challenged me. Additionally, my absence took its toll on my young family.

My wife and I were relying on pay-as-you-go cell-phone plans to call each other, an arrangement that proved expensive and frustrating when one of us would miss the other’s phone call. I would get angry at her when she wouldn’t answer my phone calls, and I know she would feel the same way when I missed hers. I finally bought her a smartphone, so that we could communicate via Skype and Facebook, but the distance challenged our marriage. This period of my life tested me in many ways, and I tried to forget about the stresses by drinking in the evenings sometimes.

The people I met at the Hope Workers’ Center helped me realize that drinking wouldn’t solve the stresses in my life; it would just distract me and take away from the earnings I could send home to my wife.

I had attended mass at the Hope Workers’ Center every Sunday since arriving in Taiwan, but it was the Visayan language that ultimately drew me to serve the church. When I had been a boy, I remembered how involved my mother had been in church and her example had encouraged me to attend mass regularly. One Sunday, I remember hearing Visayan as the language spoken by the Filipino volunteers who cleaned the building after mass, and it felt so good to recognize my native language. I began volunteering my time in basic roles of service—organizing chairs at the center, ushering people to their seats during evening mass, volunteering wherever I was needed. The community I formed helped to strengthen my faith in God, and the people at Hope Workers’ Center made me realize the mantra for my time in Taiwan: “I’m here not for myself, but for my family.”

My community at the Hope Workers’ Center helped me for the six years I worked in Taiwan, but I returned to the Philippines in 2016 with almost no savings. I had sent nearly my entire paycheck each month home to my family for six years, which my wife had needed to raise our children. The joyful reunion with my wife and kids for which I had longed when I was away was short lived; I work long hours now at a factory in Cavite, arriving early and leaving long after dark, so my children sometimes tease me that they don’t get to spend any more time with me now than when I worked abroad. On my off days, I work at the sari-sari store that my wife operates.

As difficult as it was to work in a foreign country and to live away from my family, I hope to do so again soon. When we compare the ₱9,000 that we earn for every two weeks of our jobs now with the cost of paying bills and raising a family, my wife and I agree that there isn’t enough left over to give our growing children the life that they deserve. We struggle sometimes to afford things like rubber shoes for my son, who is now 8 years old. I was challenged daily in Taiwan with homesickness and loneliness, but my wife and I agree that becoming a foreign worker again may be the best option for our family.

For all that I have experienced and for that which lies ahead, I thank our almighty God who guides me. Thank you also to the Hope Workers’ Center community—God bless us all!

This reflection by Palmer Avenido has been published by the Hope Workers’ Center as an entry to “The Migrant Worker’s Face” documenting project. The Hope Workers’ Center continues to seek stories like Palmer’s so that we can add detail to migrants’ intricate face. There are two ways that you can help us. If you are a migrant worker and would be willing to share your story, we want to hear from you directly! You can read instructions about how to participate here. If you are not a migrant worker, then we ask you to continue supporting our project: read our stories weekly and invite others to do the same.

The Hope Workers’ Center is dedicated to supporting migrant workers in our community. Through this project, we hope to appreciate the beauty of each person’s life while fostering recognition among a wider audience of the struggles that migrants regularly encounter in their work. Thank you for your support!