A Long-Distance Phone Call on Mother’s Day

By Hannes Zetzsche, Columban Volunteer

On this Mother’s Day, I will be sure to call my mom. Even across the world from her, I will remember the second Sunday of May, a day on which I always tell my mother how grateful I am to be her son. I might send flowers with a cheesy note affirming that she is a fantastic leader of my family and an inspiring Christian example, and I’ll mean every word.

But on this Mother’s Day, May 14, I will challenge myself anew to acknowledge and express gratitude to the many other supporters of their families whom I encounter, even those who don’t lead their families in exactly the same way as my mother leads mine.

Mariel has seen her 16-year-old son only a handful of times in the last nine years. A Filipina, she gave birth to Ronaldo when she was 20. The young family lived together near Manila, in the Philippines, until Mariel’s boyfriend began physically abusing her and she left them.

Several years later, Mariel married and gave birth to a second child, a daughter. Again, the parents’ relationship grew hostile, and she separated from her husband. With both of her children living with their fathers’ families in the Philippines, Mariel took a job in 2008 as a domestic worker, caring for an elderly, disabled man in Taiwan.

How could she leave her kids in the Philippines? As Mariel swipes through cellphone photos of her two children, I know the answer even as I feel great pity for her son and daughter. Because of the economic incentives, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam come to Taiwan every year.

Mariel tells me that her starting monthly salary as a domestic worker in Taiwan is double the rate she could expect to earn in a Filipino factory. From a familial cycle of poverty, she jumped at the opportunity for such a sizable pay raise for her and her children.

In Mariel’s mind, she hasn’t left her children in the Philippines; she has left the Philippines for their benefit, so she can send her paychecks home to them. Mariel tells me she calls her son and daughter every night, and she replicates their concerned voices on the phone: “Mami, are you all right? I love you!”

I have worked with Mariel at the Hope Workers’ Center, in Zhongli, Taiwan, where I am a Columban Volunteer. She was sheltered by the center after escaping from a sexual assault by her employer, the son of the elderly man she had cared for. In addition to working with the residents of the shelter, about 55 people right now, I also assist with legal casework for migrant workers in Taiwan. These workers are mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons—many in positions similar to Mariel’s—who have left home to support their families from afar.

So when I call my mom on May 14, I will tell her how grateful I am for her; I will appreciate the conditions in my family’s life that have allowed her to be a present and supportive mother. On that day, I will also consider Mariel for the difficult choice she has made for her children, and for the bittersweet pride she feels when she hears her children’s voices over the long distance from home.

Weekly Reflections on Justice is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.