by Cynthia Flores/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – Sixty-six year-old Leonora Somera, a former bus driver helper in Manila, had been stranded in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. She left the Philippines in her 40s, expecting a better future filled with good fortune for her and her young daughter. She came back more than 2 decades later, with only broken dreams.
Somera is back in the Philippines at last, the Arab News reported recently. She left Jeddah on board an Emirates Airlines flight on March 6 and arrived in Manila the next day, the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah said.
Wanting to provide a good education and future for her daughter, Somera went to Saudi to work for a family in late 1987, leaving her then six-year-old daughter, Marivic under the care of her sister.
Her dream turned into a nightmare a year later when her original employer died and the employer’s son, Misfer Al-Ghamdi and his family brought Somera with them to Al-Baha about 275 kilometers South of Jeddah. She was made to tend to her new employer’s goats apart from doing household chores such as washing clothes, and taking care of the man’s sick uncle.
Somera was stranded in the mountains of Al-Baha, herding goats to the hillsides. She was not paid proper wages and repeated requests for her employer to send her home were ignored.
In November 2005, she met a Filipino woman who helped her contact the consulate in Jeddah to rescue her. She was able to escape and move to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) shelter for distressed Filipino women at the consulate. The Philippine Overseas Labor Office helped her file before the Saudi Labor Office claims for Saudi Arabian Riyal (SAR) 67,000 ( more than P735,000) in unpaid wages and end-ofservice benefits, but her employer continued to stall.
Last December, Al-Ghamdi made a surprise visit and gave her a pittance of SAR 2,000 ( around P21,000) plus a plea for forgiveness by his father, who was supposedly ill. The young Al-Ghamdi also signed a document releasing Somera so that she could get her exit papers. But for reasons the consulate has refused to make public, Somera was not allowed to leave the Kingdom through the normal way.
Last month, she was fetched by immigration officials along with 42 other distressed Filipino workers at the consulate and taken to the deportation center of Jeddah. Somera said she was luckier this time because she was allowed to board for a flight home, while the fate of the 42 remained unclear.
“I’m extremely elated to be back in the country I left long ago. Please say thank you so much to everyone who helped me in one way or another, including those who offered prayers and expressed their sympathies over my plight,” Somera said.
Upon her return to the country, Somera was made to stay at a center maintained by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Pasay City for debriefing. After debriefing, she was sent home in San Jose City, about 140 kilometers north of Manila to be reunited with her daughter Marivic who is now a hotel worker.