MANILA, Philippines – Dreaming for a better future for her family was what drove Marylyn Cleto to work overseas and endure not seeing her husband and children for seven years.
As an overseas worker in Taiwan, Cleto juggled jobs being a domestic helper, caregiver, and factory worker.
Her sacrifice paid off, putting her two daughters through college and making enough money for a new 2-storey house in her hometown of Bagulin, La Union.
But when time came for her to come home to the Philippines, Cleto had used up most of her savings.
“Noong umuwi ako wala akong masyadong naipon kasi nagpatayo ako ng sarili naming bahay tapos may dalawa akong anak na kolehiyo noon kaya doon napupunta lahat ng kita ko,” she told ABS-CBNnews.com.
To earn some money, Cleto began selling packs of sugar and sardines in a makeshift sari-sari store in her house, which eventually drew more customers and more products, and opened the door for her soft broom, or “walis tambo,” business.
Marylyn Cleto, CMA Luzon Awardee. Photo courtesy of BSP Corporate Affairs Office
Cleto capitalized on the abundance of Tiger grass in Northern Luzon and started purchasing bundles of soft brooms in exchange for uncooked rice.
Starting with five bundles a day, Cleto said she would go around the province to sell the brooms to have money for groceries.
As demand for the soft brooms grew, Cleto went as far as Baguio and Pangasinan to sell her products.
Business was doing well until typhoon Pepeng battered Northern Luzon in 2009 and triggered massive landslides and floods in the region.
Cleto’s business wasn’t spared.
“Na-wash out lahat ng paninda ko kasi sa ilalim ng bahay namin ay ‘yung pagawaan namin ng walis. Noong na-wash out lahat, hindi ko na alam kung paano magsisimula ulit,” she said.
Cleto and her family were forced to stay at an evacuation center, where she resorted to doing the laundry of other evacuees just to make money.
To revive her soft broom business and restock her sari-sari store, Cleto secured a loan from microfinance institution Tulay sa Pag-unlad Inc. (TSPI) worth P7,000.
From there, she continued to grow the business and tried her luck selling the brooms in Manila in 2012.
“Noong nakabili kami ng sasakyan, sabi ng kapatid ko, bakit ‘di natin subukan magbenta sa Maynila. Nang pumunta kaming Maynila, nakakita kami ng dalawang outlet na umorder. After two weeks, umorder ulit hanggang sa trak-trak na ‘yung order nila,” she said.
Cleto has also delivered the La Union-made brooms to Abu Dhabi, Australia and Saipan.
The success of the soft broom manufacturing and mini-grocery businesses allowed Cleto to start other business ventures.
With the help of her husband and daughters, she now runs a computer services shop, G-CASH remit center, and a small gas refilling station in Bagulin.
Her efforts were recognized by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilpinas, Citi Philippines, and Microfinance Council of the Philippines in 2013 when she was named regional winner for Luzon in the 11th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards.
Cleto received a cash prize of P100,000.
But despite the recognition and success, Cleto said she will continue to dream bigger and work harder.
“Ang pangarap ko kasi, ‘yun ang nage-encourage sa akin para magsumikap lalo,” she said.
She said that with the help of TSPI, she is planning to purchase a gas tanker to expand her refilling station.
As a former OFW, Cleto said that more than the profits, the real reward now is in being close to her family.
“[Para sa ibang OFWs], mas maganda na kapag may naipon na sila, dito na sila para mabantayan ‘yung pamilya kasi ang hirap sa abroad na hindi mo nakikita ang pamilya mo ng ilang taon,” she said.