A Tribute to an Exceptional Public Servant

In celebration of a dearest friend’s birthday today, I am reproducing a story which I wrote when I was still maintaining a column on Suite101.com – a tribute to one who was very exceptional in carrying out her duties as a public servant. There’s another piece I have written for Ms. Ofelia M. Castro and I give you the link, as follows: http://fredacontreras.com/ofie-a-friend-to-cherish-always/

A tribute to an exceptional public servant

PHILIPPINE government officials or the so-called public servants are more often criticized than praised. This is so because of their public positions. They deal directly with people in all walks of life – people whom they were initially sworn to serve, supposedly, with sincere devotion and concern.

I need not prove why a lot of these public servants run short of praise and appreciation from the very people they serve. It is a known fact and each and every one of us overseas Filipino workers has experienced, at one point or another in our lives, being treated badly or indifferently by most of them both at home and abroad. If I were to take a random survey now and ask Filipinos of how they are treated by officials of Philippine embassies or consulates in their respective countries of work, majority, for sure, will answer as earlier claimed.

There are of course exceptions to this accepted notion and we sometime hear or read that this “so and so” public official has done this “so and so” exceptional deeds to people he or she serves. Very rare though and most often than not, these very few exceptional public officials are not even known or spoken of at all!

We should always give credit to whom it is due and it has actually been my practice in the many years of dealing with them, and at one point in my life of being one of them, to be appreciative of their every good deed or work performed. A kind word, after all, never hurts.

In Kuwait, where I am presently working, there is one public official who deserves all the credits and tributes one can ever offer. For indeed, in the past six years she has served her term of office, she not only performed her duties well as called by her position, she did even more than anyone could have ever achieved.

Welfare Officer Ofelia M. Castro is that one exceptional public servant this OFW-Suite101 now offers tribute to. I am not alone in doing this though. The Filipino Community in Kuwait, a few Philippine government officials and a number of people of varied nationalities whose lives she has touched, join me in giving appreciation to her outstanding work and unique persona. And just recently a special function was held in honor of her by prominent Filipino leaders and organization members in Kuwait, the first-of-its-kind ever given to an outgoing embassy official.

Assigned in 1993 by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to oversee the affairs of Filipino workers in Kuwait, Ma’am Ofie, as she is fondly called by Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike, has exemplified what a true public servant should be.

Professionalism. Resourcefulness. Determination. Perseverance. Intelligence. Dedication. Tolerance. Courage. Compassion. These are just a few words that best describe Ms. Castro as she tackles her day-to-day functions as a Welfare Officer. She is strong in character and in dealing with her, you wouldn’t miss noticing it. You can never sway her from what she believes and thinks is right.

A fighter, no doubt Ms. Castro is, she will never stop until she gets what she aimed for. She is a strong defender of the many hapless Filipino workers, most especially of the domestic helpers who comprise the majority of Filipino workforce in Kuwait. She has never been slow in protecting a worker in times of trouble but fast, she always is, in reprimanding a Filipino who has gone wrong.

As a person, she is easy to get along with as she could be funny at times. She is very friendly and the kind who will never hesitate to offer a helping hand. Kind-hearted and a very forgiving person, she is a joy to be a friend. You will always count yourself lucky just to be acquainted with her.

Ms. Castro is a very endearing person, a character which has made her famous not only among her colleagues at the Philippine Embassy and the Filipinos in Kuwait but also among Kuwaiti officials she regularly deals with. She was instrumental in the present good relations the embassy people enjoy with Kuwait’s labor and immigration officials. This was permanently sealed during her short stint in 1996-1997 as Acting Labor Attache. Where before cases would take ages to resolve, now, with her established professional relations with the proper authorities, cases are timely attended to.

I can go on describing Ma’am Ofie, and believe me, it’s a task I can never get tired of doing but I would like this time to highlight what others say about her.

The previous head of Philippine mission to Kuwait, now Assistant Secretary Shulan O. Primavera (another example of an exceptional public servant) of the Office of the Middle East and African Affairs, has this to say of Ms. Castro:

It has been my privilege to have worked with Ma’am Ofie for five of those six years. Those years, which could easily fit the Chinese description of “interesting times” saw the blossoming of the country-team approach in the Embassy’s management of its multifaceted tasks. And Ma’am Ofie played a pivotal role in achieving that.

Using her dynamism, intelligence and charm, Ma’am Ofie cultivated a wide circle of friends composed of high Kuwaiti government officials, members of diplomatic corps and prominent local and expatriate businessmen. These contacts proved indispensable in resolving labor-related issues, promoting RP-Kuwait relations and enhancing the image of the Philippines and its community.

There is an Arabic saying which states that when the host offers incense, then it is time for the guest to leave. Were it not for an administrative rotation scheme in the home office, I am certain our Kuwaiti friends and host will never offer incense to Ma’am Ofie. Kuwait’s loss will be Manila’s gain.

Ambassador Sukarno D. Tanggol, the current head of mission in Kuwait, silently working to keep Ms. Castro in Kuwait beyond her allowable tour of duty, notes:

Ms. Castro has been in Kuwait for almost six years – during which she has been able to establish close ties not only with the local Filipino community but also with authorities of the host government. She has shown initiative and leadership, two qualities which are essential in a Post like Kuwait which has a large concentration of Filipino nationals.

We, in the Embassy will miss her not only for her gregarious charm but also for her friendship and for the privilege of having worked with her during her tour of duty in Kuwait.

From a friend, Cecille Pena Al Qenai, herself a prominent Filipino leader in Kuwait, the following is how she describes Ms. Castro:

Ofelia Castro is a very dear friend, affectionate and caring in many ways. Her wit, humor and intellect are far broader than anyone can fathom. There are many occasions that proved her word is that of the wise and the learned. It is her warm friendship that I treasure most. Not to hear her girlish giggle, contagious laughter, feel the warm hug, taste her home-made meals (she’s an excellent cook) and most importantly feel her lively, down to earth presence in the coming weeks fill me with great sadness. To say I will miss her is an understatement.

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: October 12, 1999

 

A stolen shot of Ofie and I taken at the Philippine Embassy in the morning of Philippine Independence Day celebration. A breakfast was served to the attendees of the Flag Raising ceremony.

A stolen shot of Ofie and I taken at the Philippine Embassy in the morning of Philippine Independence Day celebration, June 12, 1995. A breakfast was served to the attendees of the Flag Raising ceremony.

About Author

Freda Editha O. Contreras
Writing is a God-given talent which I try to utilize the good way. I used it as a means to earn a living, my very first job after graduating from college, when I got hired as an Information Writer by the Provincial Government of Antique through Governor Enrique A. Zaldivar in January 1982. By profession, I am a Registered Nurse, and was only able to practice it when I got recruited to work in a private hospital in Kuwait. This was in November 1987 and since then I have been living in Kuwait, now retired since June 2002. Because of my knack in writing I got hired in 1994 to write for Kuwait Times and later became an Editor of 'Pinoy News' a weekly supplement of KT. In March 1996 I published the very first independent Filipino newspaper in Kuwait and the Gulf bannered as Pinoy Expat News or PEN. The paper lasted for only 10 weekly issues. This was followed by another publication and came out first as an insert of an ad paper and later as a separate tabloid. I used then 'Pinoy News' as it was my idea the first time it was used for Kuwait Times. This again failed and produced only three weekly issues. I then turned to the Internet and in 1999 I got hired as a Contributing Editor of Suite101.com, a writers' portal on the web. The last of my articles was published December 31, 2002 but my topic 'Overseas Filipino Workers' was still visible until January 2006. All the 38 articles I wrote have been compiled into a book which I published in August 2007. I discovered blogging in 2006 but was not really serious about my writing. I wrote according to my whim. Having this blog under my own domain name is now a welcome development and I plan to concentrate again in writing. As is commonly said: "A writer will always be a writer." http://fredacontreras.com/

2 Comments

  1. Freda Editha O. Contreras (Post author)

    Thank you so much Ces, my amiga, for the heart-swelling words!I believe I was born a mover and a fighter and no amount of sickness nor disability, neither a great and mighty wall can ever stop me! Even before our OFW Club days and our collective fight for our Gulf War compensation to be given us after over a decade of waiting, I invaded the media in Kuwait and made the Filipinos stand among the rest of the expatriates! Come to think of it, I even dared to publish the FIRST ever independent Filipino newspaper in Kuwait and the Gulf! Quite unstoppable, eh? You see, am now wheelchair-bound, yet I continue to mobilize and empower people from far and help them improve their lives.

    Why am I telling you this? Simply to inspire you and others that nothing is impossible with a person who truly loves her neighbors! God, of course, has commanded us and by just simply believing in Him and following His bidding, He takes over our lives and does the impossibles for us!

  2. Cecille

    I have been lucky and honored to have Freda Contreras as my friend. Her support to the Filipino community in Kuwait is OUTSTANDING! I remember the effort, dedication and perseverance she did to follow up our war claims. Her support to the Filipinos not only in Kuwait but also in the Philippines. Inspite of her own medical challenges , her concern for others health is inspiring. What a compassionate person. I salute you Freda. You are truly one in a million.

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