Sharjah group provides safe space for Filipino mothers

Sharjah Filipina Squad members regard the group as a much-needed breather from individual family lives

The Sharjah Filipina Squad began as a Facebook group. Photo: Angelica Christine De Guzman
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The comforting aroma of coffee mingles with the murmur of Tagalog greetings as a group of Filipina women sit around a long table inside Caribou Coffee at Al Majaz Waterfront in Sharjah.

Some have brought their children along, others have been dropped off by their husbands. The group, called the Sharjah Filipina Squad, aims to be a haven where women from the Philippines, mostly mothers, find solace, strength and a shared cultural connection.

The first gathering was initiated by Angelica Christine De Guzman in April and the second session was held on May 11, a day before Mother's Day in the Philippines. “Over the past 19 years that I've been in the UAE, it's always been about work,” says the Sharjah resident who juggles motherhood alongside a full-time job. “Then, when I started my own family, everything became all about them.

“There have been many times when anxiety hits,” she adds, describing a crippling feeling of “suffocation at times”. De Guzman knew she needed to do something about it. “I believe I won't be able to make my family happy if I myself am not happy.”

Although she describes herself as a “very private person”, the Filipino expat decided it might be good for her well-being to open up. “I posted on a Filipino community group on Facebook and immediately got several responses from other women who wanted to meet up for coffee,” she says.

“We often find ourselves juggling numerous roles and navigating life's challenges alone. Sometimes we get scared to share our struggles even with our closest family members for fear of being judged or misunderstood. But life is too short and we need to take care of each other.”

Just days after initiating the group online, De Guzman managed to organise the first in-person meeting at Sahara Centre. Now the 60-strong group plans to meet twice a month at cafes across Sharjah.

The format is refreshingly simple: a casual get-together fuelled by coffee and conversation. But beneath the surface of friendly chitchat lies a powerful undercurrent of support.

'I immediately felt better'

Connecting with the group has been a game-changer for Baby Jane Mendoza Kuhail, who lives in Sharjah with her husband and their child. The Filipina expat is married to an Arab, and she finds mingling with fellow Filipinos a much-needed breather.

“There's a different connection when you get together with other Filipinos. First of all, it's very hard to argue with my husband in English,” she says with a chuckle.

You just have to find the right people that you are comfortable with
Richelle Taki Aldin, member, Sharjah Filipina Squad

Aside from the in-person meetups, members also communicate in an online group chat. “I get excited every time someone sends a message, even if it's just a meme or a joke,” says Kuhail, who gets emotional when talking about finding like-minded people she can relate, and if needed, vent to.

While some members see the group as a quick respite, others call it “life-saving”. Mary Grace Abejoro Rentoria, 31, one of the youngest members, says meeting with the others helped her deal with anxieties.

“My anxiety has manifested physically in the past months, and it's been a struggle,” she says. “After our first event, meeting new friends and being able to open up, I immediately felt better.” The group, Rentoria adds, made her realise that she isn't alone.

This openness is what makes the Sharjah Filipina Squad effective, notes fellow member Zara Concepcion. “Everybody is open, welcoming and very willing to share a part of their lives,” she explains. This is especially important, she adds, as “relationships in the UAE can be temporary as people come and go”.

Sunshine Lamdagan, who describes herself as an extrovert, says she loves listening to other members' stories. “Someone would share her experience and I'd immediately relate,” she says, adding how people often underestimate the power of opening up.

'Empowering to witness the connections formed'

The Philippines has one of the biggest diaspora populations in the world, with about 10 per cent of its 115.6 million population living overseas, according to the 2022 census. The natural inclination for Filipinos to stick together is well documented and has even given rise to the term “Filipino mafia”.

The phrase was first used to describe the informal network of Filipino sailors in the US Navy in the 1950s, born out of the need to resist systemic racialised labour. At the time, enlisted Filipino men were treated differently from their American counterparts leading them to stick together and create deep bonds.

We come together to embrace our vulnerabilities and learn from each other
Angelica Christine De Guzman, founder, Sharjah Filipina Squad

For the Sharjah Filipina Squad, it's all about relatability. “There are many community groups out there that Filipinos can try to be members of,” says Richelle Taki Aldin. “You just have to find the right people that you are comfortable with – a group where you can share your feelings freely and with security.”

De Guzman, who says she is “beyond excited” to organise more meetups, says she did not expect such an overwhelming response.

“It is empowering to witness the connections formed and the support offered as we come together to embrace our vulnerabilities and learn from each other,” she says.

“The first two meetups have taught us that it's OK to open up about our struggles – knowing that we have a community that not only listens, but also uplifts and encourages us on our journey.”

Updated: May 18, 2024, 4:01 AM