“A friend is a gift from God. Keep her in your heart and she’ll forever be with you.” These wise words were once spoken by my late father. They still are vivid after all these years and easily remembered when I think of a particular friend, in the person of Welfare Officer Ofelia M. Castro.
Ofie, to me, is that kind of a friend, as I know, I am to her. She is a friend who is always there and even if we don’t see each other or talk to each other for sometime, she is always there, will always be there. I consider myself lucky to have known her and to become one of her closest friends in Kuwait, the closest to her heart, actually, as she will always tell me.
I remember the first time I met her. It was in the early days of June 1994. I went to the Labor Office, then situated at the basement of the Philippine Embassy, to conduct an interview with Labor Attache Lamberto Marin in relation to a story I was to submit to Kuwait Times. She was sitting in front of her desk talking to somebody on her left and I was standing sideways to her, waiting for a chance to approach Mr. Marin who was then busy on the phone. I smiled at her and she smiled back. By then, she didn’t know who I was and why I was there. After maybe five minutes of exchanging uncomfortable “glances” with her, she asked me: “Ne, anong kailangan mo?” Those first words she uttered, believe me, made their place in my heart! From then on, unknowingly to both of us, a special friendship started to grow.
Contrary to those claimed by other people who don’t even know her much more haven’t met her at all in person, Ofie is not a hard person. That “hardness” she shows is just a façade, a shield she uses to protect her from getting hurt. I know so because I know her more than anyone else. Behind that hard composure is a soft, kind and loving person.
She may shout at you – who doesn’t anyway? – but she does it with concern. Her voice will sometimes be too loud but that’s when she gets excited or angry about something.
Have you ever witnessed how she gets mad at a person who had done something very bad to a Filipino? Or how she talks unceasingly to a wrongdoer until her point is understood? Have you ever seen her shouted at by employers in her effort to protect our hapless domestic helpers and other workers? Did you know that she was even slapped on the face by one angry employer? Or how she was threatened and verbally abused by some unsatisfied individuals? Yes, she had been to these all, and more – situations which are sometimes beyond your imagination. And then you wonder why she seems to be hard?
Some people may even think that Ofie is so hard she doesn’t feel at all. Contrary to that, Ofie is a very sensitive person. I’ve seen her sad and feel sorry for unjustly treated workers. I’ve seen her how she reached out her hands in order to help the needy – and there are too many of them. And I’ve seen her cry! Yes, she is a living person, a human being, just like you and I. She feels and more than anybody else. She gets hurt and deeper than anybody else. She forgives and forgets better than anybody else. And she loves deeply and loyally than anybody else.
Now, you understand why I’m lucky to have known Ofie. She will always be my friend and will always be with me because I’ve kept her in my heart.