It started as a marketing strategy. Marine lawyer Iris V. Baguilat, president of Navis Maritime Services, was looking for ways to keep her seafarers. Competition is intense in the $2-billion global seafaring industry, where the Philippines is the top supplier of human resource.
Baguilat thought that if the crew had a closer relationship with her company, they would not change agents. She decided to encourage them to stay by helping their families.
“The wives of seafarers are challenged,” she says. “They take on the role of both mother and father so we have to help them. Some are newly married. They need support.”
She turned to friends from PCDW Foundation, which conducts seminars that promote personal, professional and cultural development. The key values of the foundation dovetailed with hers: Support for the family as the basic unit of society and marriage as a lifetime partnership between husband and wife.
With her friends, Baguilat prepared a series of talks adapted to the particular needs of seafarers’ families.
At the session on how to maintain a long-distance relationship, everyone agrees communication is key.
“Be honest,” Gia Leon, one of the speakers, tells the wives. “Make your husband feel each conversation with him is important, involve him in bringing up the children even though he’s far away and let him help you resolve important issues like when the children don’t do well in school.”
It is important to communicate regularly, says Leon. Keep communication lines open. Be creative when the usual means of communication are not available. When he leaves for a long trip, prepare a letter or a CD to keep him company when telephone lines are down.
A seafarer notes that it also helps to inform the wife when there will be no signal and how long the interruption lasts so the wife does not worry.
Leon advises the wives to make their presence felt. “Get to know his friends, his colleagues. When your husband’s home, try to spend time alone with him.
“Get a life. Do something that interests you. Don’t just spend 10 weeks waiting for him. Your husband will be more attracted to you if he sees you grow in other aspects,” she says.
The wives are also given advice on how to save and live within their means. Seafarers are well-paid—from $900 to $11,000 a month—and what they earn is tax-free. But there are times when the husband does not get any posting, so it is important to save for the months when there is no income.
“Prudence is important,” says Leon, as she notes a tendency to spoil the children to make up for the lack of having a complete family.
Learning from each other
Jocelyn Abad, 44, whose husband works in an oil tanker, is a cashier at a supermarket. Nine months of the year her husband is away, leaving her to take care of their two children, aged 15 and 9.
After attending four sessions since the series started last year, she says the seminar has helped her handle money.
“We spend only for what we need. My children and I go out only once a month to save money,” she says.
Noemi Murillo, 39, has a husband who works as LPG tanker captain. They have three children, aged 9, 7 and 1. She says the seminar helped her handle money prudently so that “during the six to seven months when he doesn’t have work, we have money to spend.”
The women do not only get advice and support during the talks. The quarterly sessions also give them the chance to meet other seafarers’ wives and make friends. They counsel one another and share experiences on how to cope as single parents when their husbands are away.
Baguilat says her dream is to offer seminars not just in Metro Manila but also in the Visayas and Mindanao, where most seafarers’ families live. She also wants to organize regular seminars for the husbands.
“We focus not only on their physical needs but we also take care of the soul by instilling love for God, for example,” says Leon of the regular sessions.
Key topics include how to keep a long-distance relationship alive and how to raise children as a single parent.
Baguilat says St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, is a key influence in her decision to undertake this initiative. St. Josemaria’s core message is that everyone can and should be holy in and through his daily work by imitating Jesus’ life and by serving others.
Baguilat wants her crew to be different even in small things, such as how they dress when they report for work. When they show up at the office, they are in crisp, white uniforms, not in T-shirts and denims like other seafarers.