Meet the ex-teacher who made millions from seaweed

by Jon Carlos Rodriguez,

Posted at May 24 2014 08:08 AM | Updated as of May 29 2014 07:07 PM

MANILA, Philippines – A former teacher from Jolo, Sulu is now making millions through processing seaweed or "guso."

But before Filipina-Chinese Rosalind Wee discovered the potential of what she described as “the gold of the ocean,” she went into other businesses to be able to provide for her children.

“Sa Maynila, kung teacher ka lang kulang. Ang sweldo namin sobrang kulang para sa mga anak ko. So we thought of doing something sa loob lang ng bahay, which is handicraft, ‘yun ang pinakamadali,” she said on “My Puhunan.”

Rosalind Wee. Photo from My Puhunan Facebook page

With only P5,000, Wee started a small handicraft and silkscreen business. She also sold T-shirts, canned goods, and fish with her husband.

It wasn’t until she met an American businessman, who inquired about the seaweed industry in the Philippines.

Her talk with the businessman piqued her curiosity and pushed her to do her own research on seaweed farming.

She began purchasing tons of seaweed from local farmers and exported the products overseas. She also attended seminars to learn more about the industry.

Seaweed extract, or carrageenan, is known to be a key ingredient in food processing and used as food thickener or stabilizer.

Because of the demand for carrageenan, Wee had to expand her business and put up a plant in Carmona.

Her company is now processing 400 tons of seaweed every month and supplies food stabilizers to major companies in the US, England, and Japan.

Her career, however, faced a major roadblock when it was discovered that she had brain tumor.

“Ang feeling ko parang ‘yung buong mundo talagang nag-collapse,” she said.

She survived a brain tumor surgery in the US, but the procedure left her right eye blind. She also lost half her vision in her left eye.

“I prayed to God to give back my eyesight. Sabi ko, pwede namang iba na walang ginagawa at tamad. Bakit ako? Madami pa akong gagawin,” she said.

When she returned to the Philippines, Wee did not allow her condition to stop her from continuing her business.

“Kung gusto niyo, kaya nito. Kung ayaw niyo, kahit na kaya niyo, wala rin,” she said.

Picking up from where she left off, Wee grew her business to become the biggest producer of carrageenan in the country.

“God has a plan for all of us, ‘yan ang tanggapin natin, na mayroong Diyos. Kung bakit tayo nabigyan ng ganitong kapansanan ay mayroon siyang dahilan,” said Wee.

In 2009, Wee was named Pearl S. Buck International 2009 Woman of the Year, joining the likes of former President Corazon Aquino, human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, and US politician Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Wee is currently president of Pearl S. Buck Philippines, an organization devoted to providing shelter for displaced children.