Prologue

  It was in early February 1999 when I first learned about Suite101.com’s need for Contributing Editors (CE). I read it in a writers’ forum in iVillage online community which I just newly joined. The source of the information was from another Filipina, Ruby Bayan, who already was maintaining Inspiration/Motivation topic on Suite101.com.

  Nearly a year has passed since my failed newspapering ventures in Kuwait. I was dying to write again and the call was just what I needed. I visited the site and made a feel first of its many features. I readily saw the clickable icon which leads to the contributing editor application.

   “No, not yet. I will browse through the site first and get an idea of what topic to start writing about,” I told myself then.

   It was March 8, 1999 when I initially submitted my application as a CE. I followed it up with an email to Jason Pamer, Editor in Chief of Suite101.com:

Hello from Kuwait! I’ve just entered a new topic and I have this doubt if you would accept it or not. I’m just being honest with you and with myself: writing about and for the  Filipinos is the one closest to my heart. I’ve been hanging around your site for a while now trying to figure out, from your list, which is the best for me (as we are allowed only to maintain one topic) and only today I’ve finally thought about it. And besides, it’s what my previous 17 years of writing experience is mostly about.

  “If you think that my topic is not suitable for you (it will be to some over 4 million Filipinos in the world though!), please tell me ASAP so I don’t need to continue with the Contributing Editor application.”

   Mr. Pamer responded: “Thank you for submitting an application form to Suite101.com! Once we have a chance to review it, I’ll get back to you with more information.”

   The application process was in a step-by-step manner. You fill one form and submit then wait for a prompt to continue to the next step. If you submitted something not conforming to Suite101.com’s guidelines, you can’t go to the next step. That was what happened to my application after I submitted ‘Links’ as required. I then again sent a note to Mr. Pamer, to wit:

Dear Mr. Pamer,

“I’ve just submitted an Editor’s application after completing the step-by-step procedure. However it was not accepted because of the links I’ve submitted. There were only five listed, instead of the required 15. I’m sorry for not notifying you about it before submitting the application. It was of course clearly mentioned in the Links guide but in my haste to finish the task, I missed doing it as instructed.

As the topic I chose is not really “big” I had no other choice but to submit only five links. Most of those I researched are nonetheless mentioned under the “Tanikalang Ginto” website. As my topic grows (hopefully) and as I gain a steady following, then some sites would be considered (from a list I have compiled) for sure. But for now, I’ll settle with only five sites – LESS but DIRECTLY and APPROPRIATELY focused on my chosen topic.

I do hope to be considered. Thanking you in advance and with all my respect, I am

Freda Editha O. Contreras

   Mr. Pamer’s reply was brief and straight to the point: “Thank you for filling out a Suite101.com Application form. Please continue working on it until you’ve submitted 15 sites. You can then submit it again for review by our staff.”

   I spent the following week browsing the Internet for Filipino-related sites. I actually didn’t go far as I simply went through Kenneth Ilio’s “Tanikalang Ginto” site. It had a ‘Diaspora’ section and that’s where I opened one by one the links featured. I read thoroughly and even took notes because I wanted to learn about the ‘Links’ which I would add to my already previously submitted five links. I needed 10 additional links.

   When done, I happily submitted the 10 links. I was then taken to a new page instructing me to write an article. It did not take me long to compose the article and on the same night I did the links, I submitted my story and got relieved that it was the last of the requirements.

   Early May, I got restless because I still didn’t hear about my CE application. I regularly visited the site with a hope to see my topic. I thought then that maybe the management will just go ahead and upload my site without informing me firsthand of its approval. I got frustrated each time. Around that time, I received an invitation from Suite101.com to participate in an online discussion. The email I received with the invitation gave me the courage to write Mr. Pamer and inquired about my application. This was the letter I wrote then, dated May 5, 1999:

Dear Mr. Pamer,

Greetings from Kuwait!

Please excuse my inquiry but I am just wondering – did you receive the CE application I sent over a month ago? Has it been reviewed yet? Is there any problem and could you give me a chance to remedy it if there’s any?

My Suite101 member’s name is gem57 and the profile I’ve written for my CE application has already been viewed by one of your CEs.

I hope you remember – I wrote to you before asking your opinion as to the appeal of my chosen topic which is “The Overseas Filipino Workers” as I had doubts then if you’ll accept it. You promptly responded to me and kindly told me that I should go on working with the topic and once finished, you’ll review it. Well, I finished and submitted my application over a month ago.

I am sorry to disturb you but this waiting period is really hard for me. Was frustrated earlier after opening an email from you. Thought it was already an answer to my CE application. It was not. It was an invitation to participate in an Online Focus Group discussion!

Here’s hoping that an answer – good or bad – is now upcoming.

 “Thanks and regards,

Freda Editha O. Contreras.

   I never got a response from that email. I took it then that my application was disapproved. I lost interest and forgot all about it. Ruby, who has then became a friend, kept on urging me to wait and not to give up. She said that Suite101 is doing some major changes on the site and that could be the reason why my application was on hold. Left with no other recourse, I waited patiently. I tried hard to wait patiently, that is.

  On August 16, 1999 I finally heard from Suite101 regarding my CE application. Managing Editor Jessica Hutson wrote to me the following:

I have spent time researching your topic since your application. As far as the topic goes, I would like to know what you see as the future of this topic and how often would you intend to write. Please send at least 5 future ideas.”

  So the delay, after all was caused by Suite101.com’s apprehension as to the sustainability of my chosen topic. I felt that the management didn’t like my topic. Unable to accept defeat, I tried to convince them otherwise by responding with the following letter:

I thank you so much for this most awaited reply. Finally, after waiting for over three months, I got an answer!

My first ever communication, addressed to Mr. Jason Pamer, was written after I decided on the topic I was going to cover as Suite101 contributing editor applicant. I mentioned to Mr. Pamer then that “writing about and for the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) is the most closest to my heart.” I likewise expressed my doubt in the suitability of my chosen topic and Mr. Pamer was kind enough to encourage me to continue writing on the topic and once submitted, it will be reviewed, he said.

My vision and mission for my chosen topic is global in a way. As mentioned in my article submitted, there are nearly five million OFWs all over the world. The figure actually reflects only the documented workers. If we add the undocumented ones, the figure could go up to as high as six to seven million. A topic on and for OFWs at Suite101 will be timely appropriate as reading something about them or just knowing that they are a topic for a discussion in a prestigious site on the web, would add spice to their rather monotonous life.

I am an OFW myself and I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life working abroad. I know all the OFWs’ problems and needs and I believe that most, if not all can be remedied or answered. My topic on Suite101 will be the OFWs’ voice and window to the world. I do believe that given enough time and exposure, OFWs in all corners of the world, would soon know of the topic and start reacting and interacting.

Most of the OFWs have access to the Internet. They will have more time and chance to explore the world wide web than any of their counterparts in the Philippines. Just take my case as an example. As a school nurse working in the Philippines, I won’t have the chance at all to know about the Internet – much more the use of a PC.

My point here is that with the modern technology easily accessible to OFWs around the world, I might be able to work out our life-long dream of making our life, and our family’s back home, easier and better.

My plan for my site, if ever accepted, is to inform all the Philippine embassies and consulates abroad about its existence. Likewise, all the major Philippine government offices will be notified. Through them, OFWs will be informed of the site. In Kuwait, having the best relation with both the Embassy officials and the Filipino Community, I plan to print out my article and distribute it to the Filipinos.

Subjects are plentiful, which I plan, initially, to write and submit twice a month. I may start with the subject of “What you should know about . . .” – which could be as many a topic as I would want to write about. There are a lot of laws and governances pertaining to the OFWs which are not very clear to the public, like the 1995 Magna Carta for OFWs. This subject alone is vast. I can also start discussion on what the government agencies are doing for the OFWs. These agencies are plentiful and I won’t be able to cover one with just a one-time article writing.

You may think that the topic on OFWs is limited but believe me, in my years of writing about OFWs in Kuwait, I still did not cover all subjects. And there will always be something new which will come out. I have been a writer in the past 17 years and one of my most valuable assets is RESOURCEFULNESS!”

   I received a reply from Ms. Hutson two days after, to wit:

Thanks for your clarification. I do love your enthusiasm, dedication and knowledge. I am sending my approval on your application to Jason Pamer.”

   I immediately responded and wrote: “I thank you so much for your confidence in me. Your approval of my CE application, although still not final, means so much to me. I hope and pray that Mr. Pamer will also approve my application.

   A few hours after I received word from Ms. Hutson, she again sent me another email. She noted: “Hopefully you have heard from Jason. My guess is that there will be no problem with your application. I have only had Jason turn down one approval in the past. Please always feel free to send in questions and comments.”

   It was followed up by another email received shortly after the previous one. I felt Ms. Hutson’s excitement when she wrote: “You are now official – you can expect the editor agreement from Jason this afternoon. Welcome!

   Sure enough, after less than an hour, an email was received from Mr. Pamer. Here’s part of what he wrote:

I reviewed your application this week – very impressive. It is obvious that you are very knowledgeable about, and have great passion for, Overseas Filipino Workers. I would be very pleased to have you on the Suite101.com Contributing Editors team.”

   On the same day, I saw my topic Overseas Filipino Workers online for the first time. My first ever article, “The Overseas Filipino Workers”, written in advance as part of the step-by-step application process I went through in the past, was already posted on the site. At long last!

   It was awe-inspiring and I couldn’t believe I finally made it!

   In gratitude, I wrote to Mr. Pamer:  “Thank you so much for the chance of giving a special place for us overseas Filipino workers in your most prestigious Suite101 site! The long wait has proven its worth when I finally saw my topic first-listed under the New Topics. The happiness I felt was that much that I immediately added a Welcome message to my page!”

   There were 735 topics on Suite101.com when my topic on Overseas Filipino Workers was added. My topic went under the Society and Culture main group and Culture/People sub-group. The Culture/People sub-group was managed by Jessica Hutson. There were 36 topics under her when I initially joined.

   From August 18, 1999 until December 31, 2002 I have written 38 articles in all. One story, “Celebrating our being Filipino”, written by a guest writer, Rhoel Raymundo Mendoza, an ex-OFW from Saudi Arabia, was featured on April 18, 2002.

   Twice during the three-year-period of writing for Suite101.com, I went irregular with my writing schedule. The longest of which was six months. Because of the length of my inability to submit articles, I was stripped off of my privilege as an editor. I couldn’t access the submission page thus when I was ready to write anew, I couldn’t submit my story. By then the managing editor was changed. Ms. Hutson left Suite101.com and was replaced by Carl Johnson. I sent him an email informing him that I would want to write again. His response was brief but was hurting for me. I responded back and told him the following:

Thanks for your reply. I know that there’s no excuse for my neglect of the OFW topic and I should really have informed the management of my inability to maintain it. For this, I am sorry.

Have you ever been out of your country, Carl? I mean away from all your loved ones and all those dear to you? Working and worrying yourself to death in a foreign country just so you can provide the best for your loved ones? I believe each person responds differently to a given stress. I congratulate you for being an expert in time management but I guess you don’t have 20 mouths to feed, a mother who is not only diabetic but also suffers from a terminal breast cancer, an old nanny who is paralyzed and suffering from TB of the bone, a sister who is schizophrenic and been in and out of a private asylum, a body which isn’t only being wasted away by cancer, diabetes and a deteriorating hearing loss but also boned-brittle because of a rare hereditary condition as osteogenesis imperfecta. And to top it all, a work environment wherein you are continuously in danger of being terminated because of discrimination! I know that answering emails doesn’t take long – that’s why I’ve managed to answer all those emails sent privately by visitors of the OFW-S101 site. And not just a simple answer as most of the times I have to answer some questions they asked regarding their research, thesis, studies, surveys, whatever – all in connection with the OFWs.

“Ah, I am now talking too much. Sorry, I got carried away.

I would like, please, to submit articles monthly, if it’s possible? Please let me know when I can start submitting.

“Yours,
“Freda, one of those real people who helps real people.

   Over a year prior, I missed submitting stories for two months and I promptly informed the management about it. When I got ready to submit stories again, I sent notice to Mr. Pamer dated March 1, 2000, to wit:  

Although I mentioned the last time that I felt inadequate to go on with the task of maintaining my OFW topic, I did not cease visiting my site on a daily basis.

My crisis is over and I feel now free and ready to face whatever life has to offer. This is then to inform you of my intention to start writing again. I really can’t leave the OFW-Suite101 site because it already acquired a good and regular following. People are regularly writing to me and some are asking help, aside from inquiries in relation to a particular topic I have covered. One Philippine government official even wrote to me recently asking to write about his agency’s latest program for OFWs (it will be the subject of my next article). And I am now in communication with one doctorate student, helping her in her dissertation re OFWs. One student was also assisted a month ago, also in relation to a research paper he was doing. Both students contacted me thru the OFW-S101 site and both are studying in the US.

“I would like to continue with the same article submission frequency/schedule as I had the last time which is: twice a month/Tuesday release. Hope this won’t be a problem.

Mr. Pamer responded promptly and told me that he was glad I was not abandoning completely my OFW topic.

   Although I stopped, in the end, submitting stories after my last article was published on December 30, 2002, the OFW topic continued to be viewed online until January 2006 when Suite101.com management made an overhaul of the site.   

The Welcome Page

WHEREVER you are and whatever work you are engaged in, you overseas Filipinos are welcome to this your page on Suite101.com! This page is a tribute to your hard labor and sacrifices just so you could provide the best for your family and loved ones back home in the Philippines. This page is also your source of information and link to all agencies – both government and private – or any other entities focusing in you and your affairs at home and in your place of work abroad. I welcome you all with warmth and sincerity!

I welcome visitors and guests as well. Let me introduce you to this group of working people who are now considered the main saviors of their country in its struggle to maintain economic stability. In here you will learn that while most countries boast of oil and other products as its main source of income, the Philippines boasts of its manpower or the so-called “human” exports. But I would say human EXPERTS!

WELCOME, welcome everyone! I hope you will all enjoy your stay – brief though it may be.

WHAT OTHERS SAY . . .

The money that entertainers and other working migrants send home is extraordinary. Young teachers in the Philippines make an average of US$150 a month compared with entertainers’ US$500. The transfer of funds from migrants to their home countries, if lumped together, is one of the largest single movements of money in the world.

In the Philippines it is estimated eight billion dollars a year, almost three times the amount the Philippines receives in foreign aid. None of the workers had signed papers saying that they were going to return a single penny. Yet they did send home a vast amount of money, whole national defense budgets’ worth of money, because of LOVE.”

– Michael Parfit, “Human Migration,” National Geographic Magazine, October 1998.

When my husband was stationed at Anderson Air Force Base on the island of Guam, we had for three years what was then called a Filipino “house boy”. He came early every week-day morning and prepared three meals a day for us, and was a terrific house keeper! He even did our grocery, shopping and laundry! When we entertained, he was there with his white jacket on preparing food and serving guests. Certain officers’ wives constantly tried to take him from us but he remained faithful to us. (Actually, I think he was fascinated by my Southern accent!) He taught me how to make malasadas and pork adobo the correct way! The bulk of his wages, he sent back to the Philippines to his family. He was a good person! There were many Filipino nationals in the Mariannas Islands who worked for the government and military families. They were well-liked and well-mannered. I will never forget Jesus (Hey-jus).

–  Virginia Marin, Contributing Editor, Suite101.com

The Profile

On the main page of my topic, my name was clickable. Once clicked, it would take you to another page which showed my Profile. This Profile was written in early April 1999 at the time I was filling up my application as a contributing editor.

Freda Editha O. Contreras

Topic: Overseas Filipino Workers

Email: fredacontreras@hotmail.com

Home page: http://members.theglobe.com/freda9

City/State:  Safat, Kuwait

A nurse by profession, I joined the rank of overseas Filipino workers when recruited in 1987 to work in Kuwait. Prior to leaving the Philippines, I was doing good in the field of Journalism – became a news reporter, an associate editor and executive editor of a provincial newspaper in a span of five and a half years – but was lured to work abroad because of family need. Having had the writing experience, I took the courage of submitting stories to the only two English dailies in Kuwait. I was then offered a part time job by Kuwait Times. Seeing a chance for the nearly 65,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait to shine, I suggested a special section, and just over a month of joining KT, the first 2-page “PINOY News” came out. For nearly two years, I became the writer, editor, photographer, typesetter and lay-out artist of the paper. Sad to say, an unresolved conflict with a lady KT official ended that special section for Filipinos.

In less than a year an offer came to establish an independent newspaper for Filipinos. In spite of a previous bad experience, I grabbed the opportunity, and the first issue of the 16-page ‘Pinoy Expat News’ (PEN) came off the press three weeks after. With only one field reporter and two contributors, I managed to run the paper (aside from a fulltime nursing job and a regular writing contribution to a weekly magazine. Unfortunately, after a long and tedious battle of acquiring a license from the Ministry of Information, the Kuwaiti sponsor did not make it. PEN lasted for only 10 weekly issues.

Not fully recovered yet from that failed attempt of giving something special to the Filipinos in Kuwait, I accepted another offer and “PINOY News” saw print again, first as a special 4-page supplement of the weekly “Eye Catchers” ad paper and later as a separate 16-page full color newspaper. Alas, because of the much publicized Iraq-UN tension in the early months of 1998, the paper lasted only three issues!

I still dream of putting up an independent paper for Filipinos in Kuwait and the Gulf. When this could be realized, only God knows! I may not have the financial resources now, but I do have a very strong faith and I am one person who doesn’t easily give up so I know, and I believe in my heart, that one day my dream will be fulfilled!

I am an avid reader and I would say I learned how to write because of reading. I love to do things on my own and if I really want to learn and do something I usually succeed. Playing musical instruments (piano/organ, guitar and accordion), mastering the typewriter and later the PC, designing newspapers and magazines and of course editing and writing, are just a few of the things I learned on my own because I wanted to. Living in a high storey building with small verandas, I plant vegetables, aside from flowers and shrubs, and now am merely picking tomatoes, lettuce and beans whenever I need them for cooking. Whenever I tell this to friends and colleagues, and see their unbelieving eyes afterwards, I always smile. They may not believe it, but it’s true!

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