MANILA, October 21, 2005
 (STAR) By Alma Buelva - Two Sundays ago, when most of the 140,000 Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong went out to enjoy their dayoff, 74 of them trooped to a small restaurant where they were handed not menus but their diplomas.

They were the first batch in Hong Kong to graduate from the Unlimited Potential Program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Microsoft Philippines under a project called Tulay, which taught them basic computer skills to add value to their overseas employment prospects.

Their ages range from 23 to 51 and their academic background varies from secondary and vocational school graduates to college diploma holders in the fields of pharmacy, midwifery, psychology, business administration, and even radio operations.

Now, each holds a certificate of training from Microsoft which they hope can open doors for better job opportunities. But the more immediate benefit Tulay brings to its OFW (overseas Filipino worker) recipients is the opportunity for them to access new IT tools to communicate better and more affordably with their relatives and friends in the Philippines.

As the Filipina maids happily chatted and took each otherís graduation photos, a few sat with NetWorks to share what the IT training means to them: (Note: Quotes have been translated into English for clarity and brevity).

Elsa Monceda, 41: "Iím from Dumaguete City in Negros and I have two kids back home. Iíve been in Hong Kong for 15 years. The second family I served gave me an old PC that I sent to my children. Now I can send them e-mail. Next, I want to learn website design."

Zorayda Tolentino, 31: "Iím from Nueva Ecija. I took a one-year computer secretarial course before but the Microsoft training taught me a lot of new things. I want to buy a PC so I can continue to study computer applications even on my own. But first I have to save up for a PC because my priority is to send money to my family in the Philippines. I only earn a monthly minimum wage of HK$3,270 so it will take a long time before I can buy a computer." Rhoda Toledo, 41: "I have been working here in Hong Kong for almost nine years with two families. I have three kids but we donít own a computer. I also want to study website design."

Merlita Lansangan, 50: "At the beginning of the class, I was embarrassed of my age, but then I realized that age is not an issue if you want to learn."

Remedios Borlaza, 51: "In IT age doesnít matter. Technology is for the young and old. When I left the Philippines 21 years ago, I only knew how to use a typewriter. Now I know how to use e-mail and to chat online. Thanks for the great opportunity. In two years Iíll come back to the Philippines and I promised my family and neighbors that Iíll share with them what Iíve learned."

Adelaida Mogol: "Iíve been working as a domestic helper for 15 years now. Iím thankful for the help from Microsoft and OWWAÖ Itís not too late for us to learn and discover useful things." OWWA Training Centers Through the Tulay grant, the OWWA established IT training centers in its headquarters in Manila (31 PC units) and in its offices in Cebu (20 PCs), Taichung, Taiwan and Hong Kong (10 PCs each). Microsoft entrusted funds to OWWA for the acquisition of the hardware and operating cost for the first year, and free licensed software for all PC units. In addition, the Tulay program has empowered OFW centers in Singapore and Malaysia.

The OWWA provided counterpart funds for hardware upgrade, maintenance and complementary operating cost for the same year. OWWA will run the program in the succeeding years.

The immediate beneficiaries of the program are the OFWs and their families. Workers who are undergoing contract processing before departure for contractual employment are given free lectures and hands-on training on computer fundamentals, package software for Word, Excel and Internet/e-mail. Ladderized training is offered for beginners and those with prior computer training.

Tulay is part of Microsoft Unlimited Potential, a global initiative focused on providing technology skills for underserved individuals. Recipients are public centers where people can gain IT skills and training to help themselves and their communities.

Microsoft began its philantrophic activities in 1983.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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