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From seaweed vendor to global usability expert

“I was determined to break the cycle of poverty.”
– Ms. Myrna Padilla, Founder MYND Consulting

As this is an odd hour to blog for me, I leave you with bits of a very beautiful experience when I conducted the first of many workshops for Microsoft Tulay, a technology empowering series of seminars run by the Blas Ople Foundation and OWWA for OFW’s and their families. Last week, I conducted a “training the trainers” series for 17 instructors from different regions of the Philippines.

Although I’d rather write about my experience at another time, I leave you with an inspirational message from Ms. Myrna Padilla who was brought up pounding rice and diving for seaweed. Today she owns a global outsourcing software company called Mynd Consulting based in Davao that specializes in web development, usability, Web 2.0 solutions and many more. Her latest product is a Facebook application called OFW Watch, a news aggregator fine tuned for OFW’s.

Her inspirational opening remarks after the break.

Opening Speech

Greetings,

First, I would like to say a thank you to Ma’am “Toots” Susan Ople and the team of The Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute for inviting me to speak to you here today.

I would also like to thank all of the people whose hard work and combined efforts have made this event possible.

I would like to recognize the dignitaries, Guest,

And a special thanks to the trainers who have been tasked with the responsibility of empowering the OFW with technology. On behalf of OFWs all over the world… I thank you.

Finally, on a personal note… thank you to my Friend and fellow Rotarian, Cynthia Nazaire who is here with me today.

Thank you all.

I am a little bit nervous actually. Because, I feel like I am too small to stand before such an audience. I know you are educated, you all have position… you are professionals… and I am the daughter of a humble fisherman.

But I have no choice. I was invited to share my story with you by Ma’am Susan, To share my experiences with you as an OFW whose life was transformed by technology. Ma’am Susan Ople hope that, you all come away from my talk… inspired and motivated.

Standing before you is a woman whose first job… at the age of 9… was to pound rice. At ten I was diving alone in the sea for seaweed… which I would sell in the market.

My father was a simple fisherman from Bohol and my mother was from Mindanao. I am the eldest of six children. And we grew up in small undeveloped fishing village near Taglibaran.

Some of my earliest memories are of hunger and of the tears in my mother’s eyes when we would go to bed without eating.

At a very young age we were taught to work… to innovate… and to value family and finally… to just survive.

Many times in latter life… when I faced hardship or difficulty… I would look back on my time as a child. I can still see that dark skinned child overcoming her fear… diving alone in the sea… and that image would give me the courage to face the challenge of the moment.

I do not know if anyone in the audience today has known true hunger, but if you have… then you have insight into what drives many OFWs overseas

I was determined to break the cycle of poverty. To make sure my children had a better life than I did.

So… over 20 years ago I left the Philippines for Singapore. Later Taiwan and finally Hong Kong. And during that time, I like many other OFWs sent the money back home to help support my family. I successfully sent my two girls to school. My eldest daughter received her degree as an electronic communication engineer and my youngest daughter is now studying Mass Communications in Sweden.

It was in Hong Kong that I became active in advocating for the rights of the OFW.

I should take a moment and thank someone who is not here today. Someone who changed my life by encouraging me, and challenging me to become active in supporting the rights of the OFW. His is now the Director of Labor inRegion X1, Director Jolly Dela Torre. At the time he was the Labor Attache HK.

With Attorney Dela Torre’s help and encouragement, I founded and was chairman of the Mindanao Hong Kong Worker’s Federation for 8 years. MinFed is a Federated organization which has 12 affiliated associations from different regions in Mindanao.

There are others who offered me support and encouragement that I should recognize and they are… Ma’am Pet Bergado who was the OWWA officer in HK, and Consul Doy Locenario and the Former HK Consul General Victoria Bataclan ( who is now became an ambassador).

The reason I mentioned the Mindanao Federation, is because it was my activities within this group that lead me to embrace technology.

Before I get into technology I want to share something with you.

Working with MinFed, I learned that people are capable of more than you think is possible. If you empower them with knowledge, instill in them good character they can perform miracles.

Other people tagged OFWs as nannies or domestic helpers, while I saw them as Mentors, Managers, Financial Planners and treasure keepers for the household.

I knew them to be musicians, writers, and artist who proudly promote and preserve our Pilipino culture, particularly the Mindanao culture to the foreign land.

It was in December 2000 we started applying technology to the management and operation of MinFed with a computer and internet donated by my employers Mr and Mrs Fung. God bless them for trusting in me.

At that time, all I knew about technology was that, it was created by MicroSoft, and some guy named Bill Gates invented the mouse. Today, I know my facts were wrong, but at the time that was all I knew.

I told myself, that if Bill Gates was smart enough to invent the mouse, then I was at least smart enough to learn how to use it. The real challenge was to overcome my fear.

So… as I have done many times, I imagined myself diving alone in the sea… If I could do that I could learn to use a mouse .

Well… I did overcome my fear of technology and I successfully learned to use the mouse. Next came email and then… cut, copy and paste. By the way, I still remember how thrilling it was the first time I learned to cut copy and paste?

Anyway that was long ago. I went on to learn Microsoft Excel for planning and budgets. And Microsoft Word for writing proposals.

About four years ago, we got interested in blogging technology which was very new at the time and later became one of the core technologies behind what we call now Web 2.0 and User Generated Content. Since the technology was new, I would find lots of bugs and of course those who know me, know I complained. And I complained and I complained until I decided to take action. I offered to help and I was very persistent about it. I wanted to be part of the solution. So I offered to test for bugs and that persistence lead directly to a QA contract.

Suddenly three years ago, without knowing what outsourcing was, I had a part time contract to outsource. Now that is the power of technology when mixed with passion, persistence and hard work.

It was at this time that I was diagnosed with a thyroid problem and decided to return home to the Philippines to have throat surgery. But I came home with a new knowledge and a new passion. I was empowered with technology…it was with this new knowledge that my company, Mynd Consulting was conceived.

I began to fully understand that the technology behind the Internet meant people could perform services without the need to leave home. For those of you who have never had to leave your children behind… you have no idea how powerful a concept that is. In addition, I realized my country could stop the brain drain. We could stop exporting our best and brightest to other countries.

Since Mynd Consulting’s conception… we have grown beyond that small part time testing contract. Over the last few years we have added programmers, web developers, graphic designers and administrative staff. We continue to build out our infrastructure at the Landco Corporate Center in Davao and our facilities are running day and night. In preparation for the future, we started an intern program.

We now provide:

Web and Application Development
Graphics Design
Production Services for Social Networks
FaceBook and Google Applications

About five months ago I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream. We sent two young Mindanaoans Software Engineers Overseas for training in Software Development. Our agreement with the Swedish company was for them to return to Davao after training where they can also train others. That team of two has now grown and continues to grow. Because of technology I have been empowered to do my small part in stopping the brain drain of our best and brightest.

But of course the reality is, we cannot stop migration. But we can still use technology to protect and empower our OFWs.

Technology offers our OFWs hope. Some would say we need to stop calling them OFW and instead call then expatriates… well… as an OFW I do not think I can afford to be an expatriate.

I want you and all Filipino Citizens to recognize the OFW’s as our country’s Economic Warriors. To realize… we would never send our soldiers into battle without protection or communications. And that one day… I would hope… we would never send our fellow citizens overseas into sometimes hostile environments without equal protection.

That is why I believe the Microsoft Tulay will play a very important role in the lives of the OFW’s. I believe the objective of using technology to improve the lives of the OFW is only a first step… but it is a glimpse into the future.

I believe our government will recognize the benefit of developing a strategy for empowering the OFW with technology. They will realize that an operation generating 15 to 17 billion dollars a year in remittances could increase dramatically if the operation were empowered with technology and supported by programs like MicroSoft Tulay.

In the future, OFWs will come into their employers home empowered by the internet and capable of delivering all of the services available through the internet… even if it is just thru the use of the cell phone.

And when we increase the value of our OFWs to the world via technology we are in turn empowered to seek better working conditions for our people.

So those of you in this room who are responsible for training the OFW in technology… do not think of it as something you are giving for a day… the knowledge you pass on… will be with them for a lifetime. It is a gift that is more valuable than land. It can not be mortgaged or sold. It is theirs forever.

And most of all remember this is only a first small step into the future.

And in the years to come, those people … those OFWs that you empower with knowledge… will pass that knowledge on to others and to their families and friends. And the impact you will have in changing their lives is too great to be measured.

You will be remembered.

I would like to remember someone who has made all this possible. Blas F. Ople. All over the world, he is known as the Father of the OFW. As such, we OFWs are his children. And his passion was the passion shared by OFWs like myself and tens of thousands of others. Sacrifice what it takes… to make a better life for our children.

And one last, thank you to the daughter of our late Senator Blas F. Ople. Your continuation of your father’s legacy makes you the Ate of the OFW’s. You are the strong sister for us … who is willing to fight on our behalf… just what you just did the case in Malaysia.

Thank you Mam Toots … the Ate of the OFW .

In closing, when people ask me who I am… I often simply say… with pride… I am an OFW. I just do not mention that my bosses are in Sweden and America and… that I am stationed in Davao.

I can say that because people like you… empowered the daughter of a fisherman with technology.

Thank you.

By Jayvee Fernandez

Jayvee Fernandez is a tech enthusiast, EAN certified SCUBA Diver and underwater photographer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. His photos and videos have appeared in various international and local publications including Random House Germany, Discovery Channel Canada, and CNN.

2 replies on “From seaweed vendor to global usability expert”

I always admired Ma’am Myrna for her legacy and thankful for being so nice and benevolent.

God bless you always Ma’am Myrna.

Orville.

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