Video by Taqdeer, Gulf News | Editing by Maria Botros

From a child who could not even have one full meal a day to an adult providing food and shelter to her father and top-notch education to her daughter in Canada, the journey of Imelda Diaz from the Philippines to Dubai was fraught with poverty, anguish and aspiration.

In Dubai, with the support of her employer Eros Group, Imelda’s dreams and wishes started to be realised. But that journey started years back in poverty in Olongapo, a lowland area near the head of Subic Bay.

The former US Naval base contributed much of the city’s progress, but that didn’t reflect in the income of Imelda’s parents. Youngest of nine siblings, Imelda, the only girl child in the family, doesn’t have many sweet memories from her childhood to cherish, only tales of hardship and poverty.

Her father, a truck driver, was unable to provide sufficiently for all nine children and his wife. Most days, the family survived on fried eggs — that too divided among the 11 members of the large family.

Soya sauce was the only flavouring agent to the bland rice, said Imelda, with tears welling up in her eyes.

When her schoolmates could afford fancy bags and other goodies, Imelda had to be content with what came her way.

Imelda’s mother died of cancer when she was 12, leaving few memories.

“Poverty, poverty” was all that Imelda could say when asked about her childhood, but that painful situation didn’t stop her from acquiring an undergrad degree. Though Imelda wanted to become an architect, she could only get a bachelor of science degree because of a lack of finances.

Marriage and a mother at 23

Love and the vagaries of youth followed, and at 22 she got married and became a mother at 23.

Soon Imelda got a job as a sales representative for a company in the Zambales province of the Philippines.

The marriage didn’t last long, the young couple parted ways, leaving Imelda to take care of her only daughter. That became her driving force: to provide the very best for her daughter.

The child was good in studies and Imelda moved her daughter to one of the best schools in the Philippines, located in the capital Manila. That, however, called for more money — good education means high fees. “If you go to a good school in the Philippines, you get selected for good jobs easily,” said Imelda.

Unlike many Filipinos who aspire to acquire a better standard of living by working in Gulf countries, Imelda was not keen on moving abroad. However, she decided to move to Dubai to provide a better life for her daughter and her aging father.

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Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

Landing in Dubai

In 2007, she moved from a land surrounded by mountains and oceans to a buzzing multicultural city.

Imelda was a Barbie fan who could not afford a Barbie doll. Once in Dubai, she bought a full set of Barbie. However, Imelda never kept it for herself; it was sent to the Philippines for her dear daughter, who became her sole reason for earning more. Her daughter’s education and upbringing, and providing her with whatever Imelda missed in her childhood, became the driving force for this new expatriate in Dubai.

Imelda started as a sales representative for Eros. The multicultural society and different languages threw a challenge to the young salesgirl, but as time passed Imelda got comfortable with the environment and was promoted to a more responsible post in the company.

Happy moments, sad news

Years went by, and Imelda’s life mostly revolved around supporting her daughter's education. Imelda’s happiest moment finally came in 2017: her daughter graduated. However, along came the alarming news that Imelda was suffering from stage-two cancer.

Tears started running down her cheeks when Imelda talked about the painful and financially constrained months of her cancer battle. With the support and backing of her company, Imelda managed to survive the deadly disease. “I am grateful to Eros for backing me both financially and emotionally,” said Imelda.

The exceptional journey of Imelda didn’t end there. She is now supporting her daughter’s higher studies in Canada and taking care of the medical and financial needs of her 86-year-old father. While supporting her dear ones, she has foregone most of her desires, including the ambition to set up a farm.

At 50, Imelda still carries on, hoping to help her father get through his old age.

But what kept her for so long in Dubai: “I love Dubai. It is a safe and secure place. I would prefer to live here forever if given a chance,” said Imelda, after being in Dubai for 17 years, her first and only place away from her hometown.

Dubai Success Stories

This is the first of a seven-part series highlighting how Dubai has changed the lives of citizens and expatriates. These are all employees of companies that won Taqdeer Award.