Why 10 million Filipinos endure hardship abroad as overseas workers

Families in the Philippines receive billions from the ‘new heroes’—nannies in Hong Kong, sailors in the Arctic, and domestic workers in the Middle East.

Cadets at a merchant marine academy near Manila train for one of the most prestigious jobs for workers in the diaspora. Those who succeed are ensured a path to a middle-class life for their families. A quarter of the world’s seafarers come from the Philippines.

Recuerdo Morco was 22 when he first saw snow. Wrapped in four layers of coveralls and parkas, he looked up into the swirling sky as huge flakes settled onto the deck of his cargo ship.

He carved his girlfriend’s name into the snow and circled it with a heart. Recuerdo had grown up in the Philippines on a tropical island rimmed with white sand and coconut palms. Standing on the cargo ship slicing through the icy waters near the Arctic Circle, snowflakes tickling his face, was a dream come true. “I’m really here,” he thought.

They pulled into the port of Kemi, Finland, in the wake of an icebreaker, jagged blocks of white peeling off the sides of their ship. Recuerdo stepped ashore and went on what he calls the “seaman’s mission”: find the nearest shop and buy a SIM card so you can call your mother.

Read This Next

Black homeownership thrives in this NYC neighborhood
COVID-19 is now the deadliest pandemic in U.S. history
Influx of Haitian migrants overwhelms Texas border authorities

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet