Sarah Balabagan, from Victim to Victory
Before, Sarah grew up in a poor Muslim family in the town of Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao province. She had 13 siblings, and due to childhood diseases and poverty, only six survived. Sarah realized early that education was her only ticket to get out of poverty. That dream, at her very young age, had driven her to work as maid to her relatives that got her through fifth grade. When she was 14yo, she decided to seek employment abroad.
A recruiter secured her a job by listing her age at 28. And Sarah learned it only when she already boarded the plane for Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Assigned by contract to work for a 67-year-old widower with four sons, Sarah was apprehensive and fearful; she naively comforted herself with the thought that, being fellow Muslims, they would respect and treat her well. It did not happen; Sarah was subjected to sexual harassment.
On July 19, 1994, barely a month after she started working, her employer, Mohamed Abdullah Baloushi, asked sarah to go to his room to answer the phone but when sarah entred the room her employer followed her and pressed a knife to her throat. He threatened to kill her if she refused. but when sarah shouted for help mohammed chocked her with his hand to stopped her from shouting; however, Sarah managed to pick up the knife and stabbed him 2 times. Sarah was arrested and landed in jail without bail. In June of 1995, she was pronounced guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced by a local court to seven years in prison. She was also ordered to pay the Baloushi family $41,000 for diyah, or "blood money." The court also found that Sarah had been raped and awarded her compensation for damages. The state prosecution however appealed the case and a retrial was ordered. The second court found no evidence of rape and she was pronounced guilty of premeditated murder, and was sentenced to die by firing squad in the desert.
An international outcry however led by Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos and ambassador Roy seneres resulted in the reduction of her sentence, to one year, 100 lashes and a payment of "blood money" to the Baloushi family. A Filipino-Chinese businessman mr. william gatchalian was moved by Sarah’s case paid the blood money that was required by the court. But for five consecutive days of 20 lashes a day, she was whipped and suffered before the family members and friends of Mohammed Baloushi. It took her months to heal before she was able to sleep on her back again.
After serving almost two years in Al-Ain prison in U.A.E, Sarah was released and was deported to the Philippines in 1996. Welcome as heroic kababayan that represent the exploited OFW, she arrived in Manila with great honor. In 1997 her life story was made into a movie, “The Sarah Balabagan Story,” starred by Vina Morales was a box-office hit. Sarah, thinking of her poor family and her education, the money she received for the movie, she sent them to her family and used some for home schooling to secure her high school diploma. She also took computer classes and voice lessons. She started a singing career; her songs pictured the overseas Filipino workers whose plight she speaks of in her songs.
While singing, she met a Christian singer, Dulce Amor, who introduced Sarah to her pastor, Reverend Gasty Maribojoc. There, she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and renounced her Muslim faith.
Sarah's mother feared that she might be killed for abandoning Islam. But Sarah told her mother that she does not fear death, now that she has found meaning in her life. Since then she has dedicated herself spreading the good words of Christ. Sarah has also devoted her life to the cause of the OFWs, especially the domestic servant workers who are going through what she went through. When Sarah sings of the OFWs in the Middle East, sadness filled her songs reflecting the painful abused life of many of the OFW domestic servants, but when she sings of her love for Jesus, her heart rejoices and she fervently wishes for everyone who has gone through this earthly hell to go to heaven.