Eddie Flores / Orquid Valenzuela The Netherlands November, 2007
In the early 60s, The Netherlands was recovering and rebuilding itself from the destructions of World War II. In many sectors of society there was a shortage of manpower. The country did not have enough medical personnel, construction workers, professionals in various fields.
Gendringen-1966, With "Miriam Catalan", group's social worker
It was the period for the country to open its doors to guest workers. People in specialized fields and those with experience in technology were offered jobs.
With Father Van Dooren-1966
The industrial sector had also a shortage of manpower. One of those experiencing difficulty in getting people to work in their factory was Berghaus BV, a garment manufacturer with a factory in Ulft, a town close to the German border .
Mr. Croonen(+), the company's personnel manager, saw the success of the hospitals which recruited Filipina nurses to work for them two years earlier. He broached the idea of contracting workers from the Philippines for their factory in Ulf to Berghaus officials.
Assisted by his brother Father Croonen, a Dutch missionary priest assigned in Guimba-Nueva Ecija and Fr. Lagerwey, head of Social Communications Center in Manila, Berghaus started its first recruitment.
In March 1966, the first group of 63 Filipinas arrived in this country with a three-year contract with Berghaus. They were accompanied by Miriam Catalan, as their Social Worker.
After deducting the costs of their food and lodging and their forced savings the "girls" received 25 Dutch florins a week. (approximately euro11,=). At the end of the contract every "girl" received a forced savings of Dutch florins 3000.
Berghaus provided the shuttle bus for the "girls" to and from the factory in Ulft.
Filipino Fiesta in Gendringen, 1966
Ambassador Rogelio dela Rosa and Consul Clemencio Montesa visit the girls in the Achterhoek
The Berghaus "girls" as they were fondly called by Fr. Josef van Doormen and their Dutch friends, occupied rows of houses, six or seven in one house in Gendringen, a Dutch town near the German border.
A Richard Burton-look-alike Catholic priest in his mid-30's, Fr.f van Dooren was assigned to be the spiritual counselor of all the groups in Achterhoek. When he learnt the "girls" as he called them, had only a net of about 25 guilders a week and from that amount they sent support to their families, he appointed himself the girls' "chauffeur", packing five or six of them in his beetle and drove them around the country and nearby Germany. Often, he did errands for them.
The first group to arrive in Amsterdam were the first tenants of the then newly -constructed Kruitberg complex in Bijlmermeer, occupying 10 apartments from the first to the sixth floors.
And so they came...ages ranging from 18 - 26 years, originating from far-away towns in the Philippines and from Manila, carrying with them "baggage" of innocence, dexterity, ingenuity, and above all...charm that won the hearts of local villagers of Gendringen, Ulft and Wehl as well as that of the Amsterdammers.
Group Wehl 1970-1974 (Laly Noble-Social Worker)
1971 - Ulft Group (Social worker-Dolly Magbitang)
Mr. Croonen's proposal to hire Filipina workers proved to be a success that Berghaus BV, in the years that followed until the mid 70s took more than 700 Filipinas in groups of 60, each group with a social worker, to work in the factories in Ulft and Amsterdam .A few Filipinas were given office jobs in the factory's office in Amsterdam.
Social workers Miriam Catalan, Dolly Magbitang and Laly Noble in their favorite pastime.
In total, there were 12 groups contracted, guided by Filipino social workers, Miriam Catalan (2x), Candida Belarmino(+), Aida Torrevillas, Alice Edano, Laly Noble, Esperanza Oliveros, Dolly Magbitang, Perla Jabate, Terry Trijo, and Marie Balesteros.
Their life in The Netherlands was one filled with fun, adventures, excitements.... and anecdotes.
Filipinas never run short of ingenuity. A time when cell phones of today have yet to be invented...the girls in Kruitberg-Bijlmermeer devised a primitive, yet effective means of communication. They tapped their water pipes using their devised codes to send messages to other apartments, below or above theirs..
In the Achterhoek, Burgemeester (mayor) Mayor Pau endeared himself to the "girls" and told them, "Just give me a call...anytime you need my help."
The girls took this offer literally and seriously. When the toilet in one of the houses clogged one evening, they called Mayor Pau...in no time...he was there. ...complete with all the" tools-of-the-trade" and unclogged their toilet...himself.!!
2004 Renion -Dolly Magbitang / Aida Torrevillas groups
One time in summer, a farmer complained to the town's mayor that he caught some of the Filipinas stealing corn from his field.
The mayor's "Solomonic" solution: supply the "girls" with corn. Every corn season, the farmer delivered a car-load of corn to the "girls."
One anecdote that stands out was the incident in Rome. It was the group's first trip.
Inside their hotel room, a Filipina "needed to go to the bathroom" and with all her innocence...used the bidet. All efforts to flush the toilet failed! She heard someone calling her. Afraid that she would be left behind and miss the tour...she hurriedly scooped the thing with her hand, wrapped it in newspaper and threw it discreetly in the trash disposal infront of the pension house.....!!
2005 - Mini reunion in Toronto-Canada
Berghaus BV closed its operation in the Netherlands in 2006 after filing bankruptcy.
The last Filipinos working for Berghaus when it closed down were Rey Agbayani (married to a former Berghaus Girl Virginia del Rosario) and Linda Manalang (of Dolly Magbitang's group) who returned to The Netherlands after her contract.
Worth mentioning is the fact that the Berghaus Girls most probably was the biggest group of Filipino migrant workers in Europe contracted by a single (land-based) establishment in a span of 10 years.
Some of The Berghaus Girls who opted to stay in The Netherlands
Photo: the DPA DAY, September 2007. Except for a few who have opted to remain in the Netherlands, most migrated to Canada - a big number in Winnipeg while the rest in Toronto and Vancouver. Some went back to the Philippines while a few took residence in USA.
Now spread in three continents the Berghaus Girls still hold reunions, crossing oceans only to say..."Kumusta na kayo...hindi pa rin kayo nagbabago..." and relive memories of their days together.!!
Valentine's Party Yearly Reunion 2007 / Group 12-Wehl (last group)
Standing l to r: Edna dela Merced Balterocruz, Luz Castres, Divina Ancheta Imperial, Neneth Plata Sarao, Helen Panganiban Amaca and husband Ben Amaca, Amy Rebillaco Santos, Cora Borillo Dimalanta [V July 1, 2007], Myrna Bernabe dela Cruz, and Emmie [Yolanda] Barcelo Mapatac
Sitting l to r: Nneth Corpuz Gonzales, Delia Fuellos, Espie Oliveros Ramos [social worker, group 12], Ponciano Ramos [Espie's husband], Susan Carganilla Ponce and Malyne Granados Soliven
This feature article (and posted as well) in www.mnnetherlands.com is a tribute to all the Berghaus Girls who have contributed to the post-war economic recovery of the Netherlands and at the same time (together with the Filipina nurses) established a beachhead for today's thousands of Filipino migrants in The Netherlands.
They have been our close friends since 1966 ... warm friends....until now, 41 years later. They gave a stir of excitement to our early years in the Netherlands.
Eddie Flores / Orquid Valenzuela
Berghaus Girls Upcoming Events:
(Group Wehl '67 is planning to hold their 40th Anniversary reunion on November 24 in Doetinchem and possibly in Manila in January 2008. For more info, those interested may contact Irma Galias, firstname.lastname@example.org).
A Valentine's Ball is being organized by the Berghaus Girls in Winnipeg-Manitoba-Canada to be held on February 16, 2008. For more info, contact Remy Ambay Alina, email@example.com.
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