A supermom-career woman juggling myriad of roles, Maryam Bernabe is a strong force to be reckoned with and an epitome of an empowered overseas Filipino working mom.
In the first of our two-part series celebrating empowered Filipinas this Women’s Month, we interviewed five inspirational Pinays in Qatar. One of them is the acclaimed columnist and publicist in the Filipino community, Maria Luisa Bernabe, also known as ‘Maryam’ and ‘Luisa’, who is a paragon of exceptional motherhood and now in the spotlight of this article in honour of Mother’s Day.
Much has been said about other Filipinas embodying ‘women power,’ but none can match the phenomenal Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) that is Maryam Bernabe.
In an interview with Qatar Tribune, she shares her journey as an OFW and how she juggles being a career woman and a mother at once.
Turning 50 this year, this mother of a 7 year-old girl and a stepmother to a well-grounded, responsible and talented brood of 3, Bernabe takes pride in her daughter and stepchildren’s achievements in life.
For her, “Motherhood is not defined by just giving birth. The instinct and the ability to love even those you did not carry in your womb is innate in every person,” she says, which is why she celebrates being a mom and a step-mom.
Careerwise, Bernabe works as a Communications Specialist handling Public Relations for the commercial arm and wholly owned subsidiary of a government entity, where she manages press releases, deals with local and international media relations and positions brands.
Prior to that role, she coordinated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives with her two previous companies -- an Islamic Investment Bank and a pioneer in the automotive industry in Qatar.
With her penchant for writing, she became a columnist in a Filipino tabloid circulated across Qatar from 2012 to 2020.
Through the column, she was able to use her voice in talking about hope and motivating those who are going through a rough patch in life. It served as a platform to give her own perspective about current affairs in the Philippines and Qatar, especially on issues affecting OFWs.
Recently, this intrepid writer did the English subtitles for the movie written and produced by Direk Oscar Yema – ‘The Eventologist’. Aside from having Direk Yema as a friend, she wanted to be part of putting across a message about resilience.
She came to Qatar in 2006 when she was hired by a German construction firm from the Philippines.
BEING A CAREER WOMAN
What are your proudest achievements as an OFW?
In my almost 17 years of being an OFW, I could say that representing our country, values, and traditions, is always a moment of pride. To be able to take on roles, deliver results, be part of CSR initiatives and show everyone what we Filipinos are made of is already a big achievement. But, if you were to ask me about one proud moment, it was to see my name for the first time on the press page of a revered government entity, as a media contact. Except for the column written in Filipino language bearing my pen name, I have been writing without being recognised. To see my name published on an article I wrote was one proud moment for me.
Just last week, our General Manager openly praised a write-up I did. He said that being a pedantic person that he is, he notices the minutest detail and error in an article or copy. However, the moment he saw my draft without any mistake, he said I broke the record and made history. To be complimented by a person of his caliber is surely a great achievement that I am proud of.
In addition to that, being a Filipina handling PR in the organisation is really something for me.
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
Korean Drama. That’s a great factor for work-life balance! Seriously though, I am quite a homebody. For such a long time since I became an OFW, it had always been just home and work for me. However, my current job makes me enjoy leisure time with my family by going to the Museums, appreciating art and just loving everything about Qatar. This has given me a sense of balance.
What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field? How did you overcome them?
I would rather focus on how I was able to overcome barriers which I prefer not to dwell on. In every adversity, I always hold on to my firm belief that everything will be alright. Since I was 7 years old, my mother inculcated in me that all challenges that we face in life are meant to be there to prepare us for the best that is yet to come. They are meant to test our mettle and show that we are worthy of great blessings. This mindset along with my faith and total surrender to the Will of God tided me over until I received the unexpected opportunity to work in my current organization. Though I would always say that the “best is yet to come”, never did I imagine that at my age, I would be noticed and hired by the institution that I dreamed of joining more than a decade ago. That’s why being patient in times of trials and difficulties pays off. Situations change for the better which we do not even have a hand on. Had I not been patient, hopeful and faithful in the midst of trials, I wouldn’t have reached this moment.
If you could have dinner with an inspirational woman, dead or alive, who would she be and why?
It would be my mother, Patricia. She was a prolific writer, a great teacher, a woman of faith, a revolutionary… a person who loved unconditionally. She was my best friend. She died of leukemia 20 years ago. It would have been great if she’s still alive and I could show her Qatar and my workplace. I would take her for dinner at IDAM by Alain Ducasse to enjoy French cuisine and experience fine dining surrounded by art.Then I would bring her to Jiwan to experience contemporary Qatari cuisine executed in French techniques. Finally, we would go to Café #999 for the authentic Italian taste. She lived in Sicily, Italy for nine years when she was still a nun. I am sure she would love it! However, I could just have these running like a movie in my mind because she’s gone.
What advice did you receive early in your career that has stayed with you?
In 1997, I started working for a humanitarian foundation. The founder was a priest who also became my great mentor. I was just about 24 years old then and so confident, passionate and full of myself. He told me that I was an “intellectual snob” and I have to learn humility by listening to others and accepting the fact that I do not know everything. Since then, I look at every person I meet as a source of knowledge. I started learning even from a child. No one is above others. We learn from every single person we meet.
What does success mean to you? And why?
Success for me is all about transcending our limitations and overcoming challenges. When we feel that we have nothing more to prove and we have reached a level of contentment, that, for me is success.
How do you define power?
Power is all about influencing others to do good.
Why do we need more women in leadership?
Women are visionaries. We are creative, always finding ways to innovate and having the nurturing spirit. By instinct, we know and feel what needs to be done and how it has to be done so that the welfare of the people around us are protected and secured. We are good counsellors. With our words, we are able to soothe one’s tattered soul and motivate. But most of all, we are resilient. We never give up easily.
Remember the cliché, “Behind every successful man is a woman”.Why is that so? Because when a man is about to give up, the woman has his back.
What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your footsteps?
Have faith. Always believe that things are happening for the better. Also, never forget to look at the comedy of life. Laugh! When you go through a rough patch, be patient and always remember that it will pass. Never stop hoping for the best. “Hope is not hope unless it is the only thing you are holding on to.” Most of all, just keep doing your best. It is not all about how fast we reach the place of success. It is all about the journey. Enjoy each discovery along the way. Embrace the learnings. Cry your hearts out if needed. Just keep fighting and never give up. Sweat, tears, and heartaches – they transform you into the best version of yourself.
What is your favorite quote or motto in life?
“All the challenges in life prepare you for the best that is yet to come” – Patricia Latay Bernabe
BEING A MOTHER
What does motherhood mean to you?
Motherhood is not simply about child-bearing. It is about the ability to nurture whether or not the child came from her womb or not.
What is your favourite thing about being a mother?
Embracing and kissing my child is one of those favourite things as a mother. It gives me a certain kind of peace. But, to get to know my child with her own character, always gives me a surprise. I am amazed how such a being came from my womb.
What is your favorite memory of your mother?
Our night swimming at the Beach, watching theater plays, movies and checking out books.
If your mother was reading this article, what would you say to her today?
I would say, “Thank you, Inay. You have taught me a lot. But I can’t be at par with how you write. I can only strive to be a good person as you are...I hope you are proud of me.”
What advice would you give young mothers today?
Enjoy motherhood. Be present in each of your child’s special moments whether physically or virtually. Get to know your child and don’t make her your clone. Let her individuality come into full bloom.