For Father’s Day, our Digital Communications Officer, Aiyanna, shares her heartfelt reflection on her family’s journey to creating home in the UK. In a touching conversation with her father, she delves into the profound sacrifices migrant parents endure to pave the way for a better tomorrow for their children.
I left the Philippines and moved to the UK when I was five years old. This shaped my life, bringing friends who became family, a good education, and now being part of meaningful work to create a more hopeful conversation around migration. This life is why my parents left their home and family behind twenty years ago. They worked tirelessly and made many sacrifices, including being separated from their only child for some time, in the hopes of giving me a brighter future.
At IMIX, I have had the privilege of hearing from remarkable people and amplifying their stories of finding home in the UK. After finding a letter that I wrote to my parents as a child during our separation, I began reflecting on our own journey of creating a home here.
Life in the Philippines
Due to economic instability and lack of opportunities in the country, millions of Filipinos make the agonising decision to leave their families behind to work abroad, all in pursuit of giving their loved ones a better future.
In 2002, my mum made the brave decision to move to the UK and work in the NHS. She left behind her three-year-old daughter and husband to begin building a new life for them in a new country, completely alone. Two years later my dad joined her, leaving me with my grandparents, aunts and uncles for almost a year.
Despite her qualifications and skills, my mum worked as a bank teller instead of a nurse because of the country’s low wages for nurses. My dad, who earned a degree in English Literature, worked at a small government office in his village. Their earnings were not enough to provide the future they envisioned for me – a future where I would have a good education, access to opportunities they never had, and be able to pursue my dreams freely. They were determined to find work abroad to earn more and break the cycle of poverty.
As my dad joined my mum in the UK to find work, I lived with my mum’s mother, sister and brother. The saying ‘It takes a village’, comes to mind when I think back on my childhood during my parents’ absence. Even when my dad was still with me in the Philippines, he faced challenges in raising me alone and his sisters lived with us to support him.
When it was just me, I was embraced by the love of my extended family, filling the void left by my parents. At such a young age, enduring separation from your parents is incredibly hard, yet I rarely felt alone, surrounded by so many people who stepped up to care for me. I have very fond memories of this time with my family. I remember holding onto my grandad on his motorcycle, watching my grandma cook in the kitchen and taking care of an injured bird with my aunt, uncle and grandma.
However, my parents had a very different experience during this period and faced many challenges. My mum had to leave behind everything and everyone that she knew, venturing to a new country and navigating unfamiliar systems all alone. She has often shared with me the hardships she faced as she forged a new life for herself and our family, but I had never heard my father’s perspective during this time.
With Father’s Day approaching, I took the opportunity to have an eye-opening conversation with my dad about their unwavering determination to give me a better chance in life.
He told me:
‘Your mum and I knew that if we stayed in the Philippines and worked there, our salaries would not be enough to give you the best life, so we really planned to find work abroad. At that time, we even avoided having another child because we knew if we had any more children we would starve.
‘We both applied for different work in different places. At the same time your mum applied to work for the NHS in the UK, she also applied to work on a cruise ship, and I applied to work in Dubai. Luckily, the UK really needed nurses so her application to work there was accepted, and there was a better chance of her bringing her family later. There was less chance of this if I had worked in Dubai, and I would have had to be separated from you for most of your life. We were lucky.
‘When I followed your mum to the UK, we were living in a small one-bedroom flat, and our main priority was to get a bigger space so that you could join us. We had to work hard and save money for a house and to prove to the government that we were financially capable of taking care of you.
‘I really concentrated on working and saving money so we could bring you to the UK. Luckily, I got a job in a nursing home about ten days after I arrived in the country. It was already hard when your mum left and it was just the two of us. When I left, I knew I’d be leaving you with your ‘Lola’ (grandma), but it was still hard. It’s always hard to leave your child, especially your only child.
‘We hoped you would join us in three months, but the process took longer than expected. There was no Facetime back then, we had to send letters and wait for letters from the family to see pictures of you. You couldn’t just make a call to the Philippines on Facebook Messenger like you can now. We had to go to a corner shop to buy a calling card and top it up with credit so that we could call you. We had to be careful not to use these up quickly in case there was an emergency. It’s completely different from now.
‘Your mum and I love you so much. There was no time that it was taken for granted. Everything we did was planned around giving you the chance of a better life. We did not risk our lives to come here, but there were still a lot of sacrifices made. Leaving your child, your one and only child back home and you’re here? That is hard.’
After hearing my dad’s experience and reflecting on our family’s journey to making the UK our home, I am proud as ever of my parents for their courage and resilience, and forever grateful for their love and sacrifices to give me a better future. Many of my friends who moved to the UK share similar experiences of being separated from their parents, who worked abroad to provide for their loved ones. These remarkable parents waited years to be reunited with their children in this country and relinquished their own dreams so that their children could pursue theirs freely. Their stories are a testament to unwavering love and selflessness and deserve to be heard and celebrated.