OFW Success Stories in Business

Working abroad is often the hard road taken by Filipinos who seek a brighter life for their families. Being based abroad entails distance from one’s family and friends, having to adapt to a new culture and the difficulty of making a new life for themselves. They are a lot of stories of OFWs who have come home from working abroad in debt or even in a worse situation then before they left to work abroad.


At the same time, working abroad can bring a host of opportunities and teach someone advantageous skills they could not have learned working in the Philippines. There are a slew of OFWs who came out of their experience with a new business and on the road to achieving their dreams. Meet Eden Zaniega de Castro-Villa and Mike Casas, two OFWs who reinvigorated a dream after working as an OFW.


Eden Zaniega de Castro-Villa worked as a household service worker in Hong Kong before she realized that she wanted to go back home to La Union and live her dream to own a business. Living in Hong Kong and spying at the different products sold in the street markets, she was inspired to create something that could be sold in these street markets and be truly Filipino as well.


“I decided to go home and open a small school and office supplies and crafts store,” said Eden. Her company, David’s Well Crafts and More started out as small environment-conscious business, selling handicrafts and trinkets made out of twigs, leaves, bark and items that could be found in nature. After 12 years of small business, Eden’s products were discovered by SM in a trade fair at La union and her life suddenly changed. “It was a big leap… Our products were being displayed and sold in KULTURA at SM Department Stores.” she said.


With the increase in demand she applied for financial assistance for her business from the Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA). Not only does the Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA) program offer financial assistance, Eden and her husband Lowell attended the different training and business seminars offered to learn and improve their business.


With David’s Well Crafts and More the leading handicrafts enterprise and a center of creative arts in North Philippines, Eden has become an entrepreneurial personality and shares her story to fellow Filipinos as a resource person and speaker for trainings and seminars hosted by the OWWA and the Department of Trade and Industry. She has also guested on several morning shows like Unang Hirit where she even does live craft demonstrations. “As we share the success story of our business, even our ups and downs as former OFWs, I believe we inspire our fellow OFWs who opted to stay in the country for good,” said Eden in an interview. Eden currently serves as the president of the La Union Cottage Industry Producers Inc. (LUCIPI) and manager of La Union Overseas Worker’s Micro Entrepreneur Cooperative (LUOWMEC).


Mike Casas worked as a mechanical Engineer in Brunei for four years before deciding that he can create his own long-term opportunities back home in the Philippines. “When I was still an OFW, what I did was only to save money. I was frugal because I want to start my own business when I return home,“ Casas said. Using his saved up money and with help from family and friends, Casas ventured into the bottled sardines business when he founded Tito Mike’s Food Company in his home of Dipolog City.


Tito Mike’s started out as a small venture. With an initial work force of 4 people, the company sold to family and friends. Through word of mouth, the popularity of Casas’s sardines has escalated that his products are now sold nationwide in supermarkets and specialty stores, and even in Filipino supermarkets abroad. Tito Mike’s sardines has since expanded to selling a variety of bottled fish such as sardines and bangus.


His skills as an engineer come into play during production as Tito Mike’s is chosen yearly as the showcase for cleanliness, hygiene and efficiency by the government of Zamboanga del Norte to visiting guests. The Dipolog School of Fisheries (DSF) and the DTI have played major roles in Tito Mike’s business as The DSF provided technical assistance in the firm’s first stages of operation and DTI has been supporting Tito Mike’s growth as a business.


Tito Mike has participated in several trade fairs and the 2002 Asian Ethnic Food Festival where he gained valued and loyal clients from counties like Canada and the United States where he export his products. Mike Casas has banded together several sardine manufacturers in Dipolog to form ISDA (In-glass Sardines of Dipolog Association) where he served as President to vie for their rights and benefits as a community.


What Mike believes he has done differently is to provide more jobs to fishermen, bottlers and the different personnel he hires so that they themselves do not need to work abroad and be able find livelihood in the Philippines. Eden sums up the new mindset of most OFWs in her interview with DOLE as she says “We were once OFWs who shared in the larger dream of a comfy life overseas, but it is here in the country where we found joy, purpose, and fulfilment.”


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