In the Philippines, husbands left behind by wives who work overseas are learning to cope as single fathers, thanks to a parenting course designed just for them.
At a town hall meeting room in Mabalacat, Pampanga, just north of Manila, about a half-dozen fathers receive tips on personal finance and budgeting.
Alvin Balenton, 37, is a willing participant and always first to raise his hand. He is part of a pilot program that supports fathers who raise their children by themselves while their wives work abroad.
"I really like that there are a lot of folks to give advice and it's interesting. Everyone here's like family. There's a lot to do," Balenton said.
"My wife is in another country and sometimes I start to think about her. So this removes some of that stress, you know?" he said.
Balenton said he appreciates the emotional support he gets while taking the course called AMMA, which means “a father who rears his children well.”
He juggles raising five children ages 6 to 17 with a part-time job while his wife works as a domestic helper in Macau.
Close to 10 million Filipinos live overseas and about half are contract workers, seeking better-paying employment outside the country. More Filipino women than men work abroad and a majority of them work as household help.
Emigdio Tanjuatco heads the Clark International Airport, which funds the AMMA program. Tanjuatco said the airport is a major send-off point for Filipino contract workers who go overseas.
“The reality that most of the overseas contract workers are female leaves a void in the family as an institution. Therefore there’s a need to give a premium now on the fathers," he said.
Program created for fathers
Tessibeth Cordova, a psychologist with Clark Airport, is one of the creators of the AMMA program.
Cordova said a typical father in the program wakes up at 5 a.m., makes breakfast for the kids, takes them to school and returns home to plan out the lunch menu, then does household chores. The fathers' schedules continue through the late evening.
“They’re not treating that as work, when as a matter of fact, it’s really a lot that they’re doing. But [it's] not being valued as work and that perception affects how they look at themselves and how they relate with their children," she said.
Rodrigo Wage’s wife started working in Canada as a caregiver six years ago after his work making handmade signs became obsolete with the advent of computer graphics. Wage also is in the AMMA program.
“We used to have a lettering shop at home and I would sweep as soon as I woke up and it was okay, I could totally handle it," he said.
"Of course those are your kids [you have to take care of them]. But of course there was an adjustment. Now, your work is to do the laundry," he said.
Wage, a father of three girls, said he had to adjust to a life of no longer being the breadwinner.
Some deal with depression
He said he knows of other fathers left behind who are dealing with depression. But he says the best way to cope is to have a diversion, like playing music once his chores are all done.
“Even if I’m mad at the kids - any parent would get mad, I forget about it. I go to my room and play the guitar and I forget about it. I’m really fond of playing," Wage said.
Cordova said the program evaluates the fathers’ emotional states and also does an initial assessment of the children at the start of the course. Apart from psychological support, fathers learn parenting tips, including disciplining their children and teaching them manners.
The creators of AMMA are looking to turn the program over to the fathers to administer, once they determine the men are sufficiently independent.