A glimpse into life in the country’s third largest expat community

Published: Fri, June 3, 2022, 11:19 PM

Last update: Fri, June 3, 2022, 11:50 PM

Have you ever wondered why the Filipino community in the UAE is so cheerful and accommodating?

Award-winning Filipino educator and author Dr. Rommel Sergio has a plausible explanation. “It’s part of our culture,” says the 48-year-old professor from Canadian University Dubai.

“The way we were raised and the environment we were in are just some of the factors that make us hospitable, calm under pressure and happy.

“We can’t change much in the world, but our attitude to keep on living makes a difference,” he adds.

02- Rommel Sergio.

02- Rommel Sergio.

Dr. Sergio should know. As a highly respected community leader and founding board member of the Philippine-UAE Chapter of the Psychological Association, he has his finger on the pulse of his colleagues. kabayans (compatriots) who represent 21.3% of the population of Dubai.

There are nearly 700,000 Filipinos in the UAE, of which around 450,000 are based in Dubai alone.

Contrary to popular belief, they are represented in all major sectors and only a tiny percentage work in domestic and domestic services.

A study by communications consultancy EON Group found that 64% of Filipinos in the UAE work in five key sectors: engineering and construction (17%), tourism and hospitality (16%), customer service (13%) and health and medicine. domains (10%) and marketing and advertising (8%).

The 2019 survey also revealed that 20% of Filipinos hold a middle management position, 27% at the associate or supervisor level, and 31% at the entry level.

Additionally, Filipinos working in the UAE send up to 4.74 billion dirhams to the Philippines in remittances every year.

Filipinos also have the largest share of migrant nurses in the UAE. According to the Filipino Nurses Association of the Emirates (FNAE), there are more than 20,000 Filipino nurses in the UAE, accounting for 60% of the global total. Key drivers of the country’s robust healthcare system, their contribution has not gone unnoticed.

In May 2020, Jessa Dawn Ubag, a Filipina nurse at Rashid Hospital had the rare opportunity to speak with the President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, (then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Supreme Commander deputy of the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates).

During the three-minute video conference, Sheikh Mohamed first asked how she was doing, then asked her to share her experience as a nurse.

Ubag told her about the time she cared for a 20-year-old patient with Covid-19 during his prolonged recovery.

The president then asked her about her family back home. Ubag, from Dumaguete, a town in Negros Island in the southern Philippines, said: “My mother is worried at home, but I constantly reassure her that I am perfectly fine.

To this, Sheikh Mohamed said, “Give him my best regards. Tell him you’re with your second family.

Ubag says the conversation inspired her to become a better instrument of hope.

She says the UAE’s idea of ​​tolerance and acceptance of people of all nationalities has created a social environment that resonates well with her professional values ​​of compassion, empathy and caring.

“I got this opportunity despite being a foreigner. I am a Filipina and I felt it was recognition for the Filipino community in the UAE as well as all the frontliners,” he adds. she.

But Angel, 31, a nurse at a private hospital in Mankhool, says the term Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) is not an appropriate description of their job. “Overseas Filipino Warriors is pretty much that,” says the 31-year-old, who was also a frontline worker during the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

“Most people think of us as barbecue and karaoke lovers with a penchant for fashion brands. Yes, we love our food and our music and love to shop, but there’s a lot more to us.

Angel lives in a shared villa on Al Hudaiba Street in Satwa, nicknamed by Filipinos “Little Quiapo” after the old downtown area of ​​Manila.

The bustling strip from Iranian Hospital to Al Maya Supermarket offers a slice of home to thousands of Filipinos, with dedicated Filipino shops and restaurants like Salt n’ Pepper, Papa’s, Kabuhayan Café, among others. Even bulletin boards here are flooded with advertisements for sleeping space or shared accommodation for Pinoys, a Tagalog term used by Filipinos to refer to their compatriots.

“Satwa is where we live, dine and socialize,” says Nathan R, 27, from Manila, who arrived in Dubai in 2008 and works for a currency exchange firm.

At the other end of the spectrum are veterans like restaurateur Rainier Vibar. Now 60, Vibar moved from Manila to Dubai in 1986.

“I started as a graphic designer, then I opened my own graphic design agency. Choithrams was my client,” recalls Vibar, who lives in a villa in Jumeirah and currently runs a restaurant called Sweet Pepper in Karama.

“I have three sons, aged 27, 26 and 17 respectively and they were all born in Dubai. The eldest helps run the restaurant,” says Vibar.

He points out that despite their large population, Filipinos in Dubai remain a close-knit community. “A big part of that is thanks to St Mary’s Catholic Church which also serves as a hub of social cohesion and helps us connect and bond with each other,” he explains.

Nerry Toledo, a Filipino mental health advocate and yoga teacher, says Filipino workers in the UAE continue to improve their lot.

“We have transcended cultural boundaries by breaking down stereotypes and creating a strong presence in almost every industry, including information technology, science, business and the arts,” she says.

Recognized as one of the 300 most influential Filipinos in the Gulf, Toledo moved to Dubai amid the economic downturn in 2008. “I live the life I want, by my own choice. Likewise, several other Filipinos are making waves in the creative fields, and many have their businesses,” she adds.

However, the numbers tell a different story.

Just 5% of Filipinos hold managerial or managerial positions, and just 4% own a business in the UAE.

Among the few people to break through the glass ceiling is Dr. Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, who arrived in Dubai nearly three decades ago armed with a degree in chemical engineering.

She started as a quality control manager in a textile company in Jebel Ali with a modest salary of 1,000 Dh. Today, she is CEO of the Prime Group of Companies which has partners and branches in Europe, India, China, Japan and the Philippines.

Dr. Mahdi was recently named as one of the seven Dakilang Bayani (Noble Heroes), as part of the Philippine Independence Day celebrations.

A no less inspiring story is that of a single mother, Dr. Karen Remo, 38, who started her career as an executive secretary but rose through the ranks to become the chief executive officer (CEO) of New Perspective Media. , based in Dubai. Under his leadership, the integrated marketing communications agency expanded to four offices in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific region.

“When I came to Abu Dhabi in 2002, the Filipinos were the underdogs. I was offered a job as an executive secretary and told that was the highest job I could get as a Filipina in the United Arab Emirates,” she recalls.


Dr Remo said she set out to break the stereotype by ‘working beyond her role’, driven by ‘curiosity and an endless thirst for learning’.

Dr Remo, who walks 10 kilometers to Dubai Marina every few days, says she admires the safety and security in the country as it translates into “incredibly high business confidence and therefore prosperity. keep on going”.

She adds, “Opportunities abound here for entrepreneurs and expats. I have been in the UAE for 19 years and my daughter is also 19. We both consider the UAE not just our second home, but our home. »

Dr. Remo said his advice to Pinoy expats is to work smart while working hard. “Be strategic and create relationships that could open doors for you. Bring something new to the table that has value and something that helps individuals, professionals and businesses,” she says.

Dr Sergio, who regularly counsels Filipinos with mental health issues, says most cases are related to stress, anxiety and/or depression. “People need to remember that the problems that beset them today will not be there tomorrow.

Remo says Filipinos pay attention to each other, and it is this trait that helps them overcome challenges and stay cheerful in the face of adversity,” she says.

Ferry Joseph Trinidad, cluster digital marketing manager for Novotel & ibis World Trade Center and ibis One Central, says the perception of Filipinos needs to change.

“Filipinos are very passionate about what they do. We work not only with our mind but with our heart. It is the driving force behind every Filipino working abroad and it is what makes us different. This trait allows us to succeed in any field we choose. And yes, we are the royalty of Videoke and Restaurant Buffet but when it comes to work, we strive for excellence not only to have a better life for ourselves but above all for our families back home,” he said. he declares.