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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Finding romance isn't easy wherever you are, but it you're a Filipino guest worker caring for an elderly Israeli, it's really tough. With only one day a week free, there's almost no time.
For Rowena and Junmar Paulino it was an even bigger challenge. Junmar lives and cares for a senior citizen in Beersheba, while Rowena's elderly gent lives in Tel Aviv.
But what's really inspiring is how the two have managed to not only meet and marry, but also to start two different businesses in the Philippines while working long days here.
For Paulino, leaving his home to work abroad for several years seemed inevitable. "I have a degree in computer science. I applied for many positions, but nothing came through," the 30-year-old caregiver says. "I decided that working abroad for a few years was probably my best option."
He started at age 21 in Taiwan. "I had a good job as a machine operator in a factory that made computer disks," Paulino says. "When my three-year contract ended, I decided not to return - there were too many chemicals. Skilled labor from the Philippines also goes to Canada, Korea, Japan and Israel, so I started looking around. When a woman I'd worked with in Taiwan showed me pictures of Israel, I applied here. It took eight months to get my application approved, but I arrived on May 29, 2005, with a contract for four years and three months, although if my employer still wants me, I can remain as long as he lives."
An employment agency made all the arrangements. "Seventeen of us flew together, three from my agency. We landed in Ben-Gurion and then spent three days in Ashkelon. After that they brought me to Beersheba." Paulino says he didn't know what to expect. "On the plane over, I kept hoping my new employer would at least have children who spoke English, since I didn't have any Hebrew. I was really happy when I learned he was from Toledo, Ohio. That made it much easier."
Since June 1, 2005, Paulino has worked with Jacob "Jack" Spanglet and his wife Ruth Brooks, living with them in their retirement apartment. He cares for Spanglet, cooks all the meals, shops, runs errands and does whatever else his employer needs.
The one thing you wouldn't think Paulino would have time for is finding a wife.
That began to change as he became a part of a social group of Filipino workers in Tel Aviv. "I knew who Rowena was, because our families didn't live that far apart back home. It was Rowena's sister who'd encouraged me to come to Israel - then she started encouraging me to get to know Rowena. We saw each other on weekends, but didn't get serious until a Christmas tour we took to Bethlehem. That was it."
TIME IS always at a premium. For his day off, Paulino takes a 3 p.m. shared taxi to Tel Aviv on Saturday afternoon, and has the evening free as well as Sunday up to 4 p.m., when he catches another for the return trip. Still, after several months, the two knew they wanted to marry.
"We went to the Philippine Embassy, filed applications and proof that we were single. They did background checks, and we were married at the embassy on July 26, 2007. We both took vacation on Wednesday night, were married Thursday and returned to our employers on Monday morning. We had a little time together."
Living apart is difficult, Paulino says, but not impossible. "We know there's a time limit on what we're doing - it's not forever. That makes it easier. It's lonely sometimes, we'd rather be together. But it's important for our future."
The plans for a larger religious wedding began last September. "Rowena had surgery in September, and my father hadn't been well, so we decided to go home, see my father and have a big family wedding. We had the ceremony - about 1,000 guests - in Rowena's parents' garden. That's a small wedding by Filipino standards, but one of Rowena's cousins was also getting married so part of her family weren't there."
Financially, the Paulinos are ingenious. "We realized we needed additional income to meet our goal, so we bought a van, a taxi. We got a loan - it cost about 1.1 million Philippine pesos, almost NIS 100,000 - but still, we earn additional income every week. Sometimes Rowena's father drives it, other times we have a driver who earns his income from the work, so it works out well."
Their biggest purchase so far has been land. "There's a place next to a major freeway that gets lots of tourist traffic," Paulino says. "We bought a piece of land there where we hope to open a business selling snacks, food and soft drinks. We hope to open it as soon as we get back."
ROWENA PAULINO, 29, also has a college degree. "All we want, really, is a simple life, nothing extravagant. Even though it's difficult to live apart, the longer we can stay in Israel and work, the better off we'll be. We've enjoyed Israel. Being able to travel around to see all the holy places here is something most people in the Philippines can only dream of. Still, we're looking forward to going home, building a house, starting the business and a family. We've put that off, too, but now when children come, that will be fine."
Doing what the Paulinos have done takes discipline and the willingness to defer most pleasures until later. "We're just living the way my mother taught us," Junmar, the eldest of four siblings, says. "When my mother would get after us to do our schoolwork, she'd always say, 'I'm doing this because I want you to be a good person in the future. It's not for me, it's for you.' Now I realize that the sacrifices and hard work we're putting in today mean a better life in the future."
In their youth, Paulino's parents also went abroad to work, just like Junmar and Rowena. Do they expect their children to work abroad too? "I hope not," Paulino says. "One of the reasons we're doing this is to be able to give our children a really good education. We hope they'll be able to stay in the Philippines, not have to leave."
Has he ever thought of staying abroad, not returning to the Philippines? "My sister-in-law in Canada keeps encouraging us to go live there, but that's not for me. The Philippines are beautiful. I want to go home. I can't see myself growing old in any other country.
"All in all, working in Israel has been very good. I've learned how to deal with other people, other cultures, other languages. When I was home for the wedding and wasn't hearing any Hebrew, I missed it! Still, it would be better to be able to find a good job at home. Maybe by the time our children are ready, things will have changed in the Philippines and life there will be good for everyone."