An American teacher's love letter to Pinoys

A sentimental open letter from an American teacher to the Filipino people has been making the social media rounds, with many sharing his testimonial about the kindness and capability of Filipinos — particularly the overseas Filipino worker. The letter's author, David H. Harwell, is an American language teacher who has visited 21 countries over the years—he jokingly refers to himself after as an "OAW," an overseas American worker—but finds the Philippines his favorite destination to date. In an interview with GMA's "News to Go" anchor Howie Severino on Tuesday, Harwell said that when people ask him why this is so, he always replies, "Because of the people." "And I thought recently that I was going to have to return to the United States for a while and I did not like that idea because I have wanted to be in the Philippines for a long time," he said. In the opening paragraph of his letter, which was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Harwell said he wrote it to express his gratitude for the good treatment that he has received from Filipinos and to pass a lesson between the differences of American and Filipino cultures. He said that unlike Filipinos, Americans don't tend to be tied tightly to their families, either geographically or emotionally. Harwell, who is from Alabama, said that the things he loved growing up in the south have started fading, but Philippine culture reminds him of those things he misses. "It is probably the culture closest to the culture of the American south where I am from,” he said. Making everything happen Harwell praised Filipinos whom he worked with in most of the countries that he visited, describing them as people who "make everything happen." He added that they are internationally known to be hardworking, very capable people who do not complain. "When I am working in a new company abroad, I seek out the Filipino staff when I need help getting something done, and done right," he wrote. Indulging in a bit of hyperbole, Harwell also wrote: "If all the Filipinos were to go home from the Middle East, the world would stop." OFWs in the Middle East occupy key positions in most industries such as oil and health. Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Filipinos in the Middle East at 1,550,572, followed by the United Arab Emirates with 679,819 Filipinos, according to data from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. On overseas Filipino workers After years of working with OFWs, Harwell knows and has seen it all, from their being mistreated to being underpaid, and how hard their lives actually are—contrary to their ready smiles and what they show in the pictures they send to loved ones back home. "They would smile, they would take care, but they were not often treated well. They weren't paid as high as other people who left their countries and I always thought that was a great injustice," he said. Harwell said that they endure all of this because their families back in the Philippines are depending on them and the money they will send. "The OFWs are very strong people, perhaps the strongest I have ever seen," he wrote. But behind these smiles and pretty pictures, Harwell knows through the Filipinos he has met that these OFWs are suffering and miss their families very, very much. The 'American trap' Harwell said that not everything in America is about living the American dream. He said that people picture illusions of grandeur and associate America with all the niceties in the world. However, the truth is most people in the United States fall into the American trap, where many fall into debt to acquire more and more things. “Very rarely is a house, car, nice piece of clothing, electronic appliance, and often even food, paid for. We get them with credit, and this debt will take all of our lifetime to pay,” Harwell wrote. But this trap is not only limited to Americans for Filipinos who married Americans and even OFWs who decide to stay for good also fall victim to this vicious cycle. "Some of you who go there make it back home, but you give up most of your lives before you do. Some of you who go there learn the very bad American habits of wanting too many things in your hands, and the result is that you live only to work, instead of working only to live," Harwell wrote. Learning from Filipinos Harwell noted that there is a big difference in what both nations consider to be their problems and that Americans should learn something from Filipinos with regard to their outlook in life. “What I see is that even when your hands are empty, your hearts remain full,” he wrote. Harwell said that he has witnessed firsthand how Filipinos would always take care of their loved ones and co-workers, putting others first before themselves. And during the times that he has been lonely, tired and hungry, there was always a Filipino who cheered him up with a smile and good company. "I know that behind those smiles of yours, here and abroad, are many worries and problems,” Harwell wrote. In ending, he finally said that there would always be one American who knows the real story behind the sweet smiles of Filipinos – that at least one American understands and appreciates true Filipino culture. "Know that at least one of us admires you, respects you, and thanks you for your sacrifices. Salamat po. Ingat lagi. Mahal ko kayong lahat," Harwell wrote. "Manny Pacquiao is pound for pound the best boxer in history. Filipinos are pound for pound the best-hearted people I've met," he said. A published author, Harwell is a former professor who now travels overseas designing language training programs. — Andrei Medina/BM/HS, GMA News (The first version of this story inadvertently failed to mention that Dr. Harwell's letter was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Our

apologies

to the Inquirer for this omission.) Photo by Joe Galvez