Meet Agnes Olarte, cancer survivor; now entrepreneur

Date Posted: July 22nd, 2014 03:30 AM

A life’s challenge can also be turned into an opportunity through positive outlook, hard work, and perseverance.

This sums up the philosophy of Agnes Olarte, President of the Irisan Overseas Workers and Families Organization Multi-Purpose Cooperative (IOWFO–MPC).

This also depicts her journey from being a cancer survivor to becoming a successful entrepreneur who had helped overseas Filipino worker-returnees and their families start their own businesses in Baguio City.

Agnes is not an OFW, but her husband is. The Olartes have dreamt of becoming business entrepreneurs. However, when Agnes was diagnosed with colon cancer, stage three, their savings and income from their sari-sari store dwindled--was almost wiped out--due to hospital and medical bills.

The Olartes was able to cope up with their struggle with the support of friends and OFW families in their community. When Agnes was declared cancer free in February 2008, she showed her gratitude for her new lease in life by pledging she would also help other OFWs and their families become entrepreneurs.

“Nangako ako bilang pasasalamat sa Panginoon na nagbigay sa akin ng bagong buhay at maka-survive sa colon cancer na ako at ang aking pamilya ay tutulong sa iba pang OFW at sa kanilang pamilya na makapagsimula rin ng bagong negosyo para magkaroon ng extra income para sa kanilang pangangailangan at sa kanilang pamilya,”  said Olarte.   

Agnes started IOWFO–MPC in June 2008 with a mixed membership of 30 OFWs, OFW returnees, and their dependents. The cooperative's first enterprise was recycling which earned them an average of P1,500 to P4,000 per month, depending on the volume and quality of recyclable  materials they were able to retrieve from the dumpsite in Irisan.

In June 2011, the cooperative's fortune changed when Agnes and the cooperative  members decided on expanding their services by setting up a bakery.

“Naisip naming magtayo ng bakery at magkaroon ng dagdag na kita para sa mga miyembro. Naisip namin na makakatulong ito sa komunidad kasi mas masustansya at mas murang mga tinapay ang ititinda namin,” said Agnes.

In July of the same year, the IOWFO-MPC applied for a P100,000 livelihood grant with the DOLE's Overseas Workers Welfare Administration-Cordillera (OWWA-CAR) under government’s national reintegration program for OFWs. The loan application was processed by the National Reintegration Center for OFWs, a DOLE attached agency, and approved it in September 2012.

The National Reintegration Program for OFWs provides livelihood assistance to OFW returnees, both those who opt to stay in the country permanently, or those looking for livelihood while waiting for another job opportunity. It also offers assistance to distressed or repatriated OFWs who fell victims to human trafficking, illegal recruitment, or those who face employment- and health-related problems. Upon verification and evaluation of their status and livelihood project proposals, the NRCO provides a P10,000 livelihood assistance to individual beneficiary and P100,000 to OFW groups, association, or cooperative, such as the IOWFO-MPC.

The cooperative used the livelihood grant to put up the bakery. To prepare for the new venture, Agnes and 13 other members, including five out-of-school youth, attended basic training on baking and bread production at the Baguio City School of Arts and Trades. The training lasted for 10 days.

In October 2012, the cooperative bakery formally opened, with the members themselves doing the work of bread sellers. The bakery was a hit after only a few months.

As a result of the successful operation of the bakery, the cooperative membership also grew, from 30 in 2012 to 75 members in 2013. The members who used to sell the bakery's bread products became distributors themselves, with twelve of them now  operating their own sari-sari stores which sell the bakery's products.

The cooperative also started to offer membership credit and savings to its members, and expanded its services to help vulnerable workers. Growing steadily, the cooperative's assets have reached P850,000 and coop members expect these to continue growing in the coming years as the cooperative expands not only in Irisan, but in the adjacent barangays.

“The IOWFO-MPC is very good example of a cooperative which has used its funds wisely. Although it is not obliged to repay the money, it being a grant, the beneficiaries used the DOLE's livelihood assistance solely for their business following the business plan they themselves drew during the Entrepreneurial Development Training administered by the DOLE Regional Office,” said Baldoz.

The IOWFO-MPC is also helping Bgry. Irisan through various projects. In coordination with government agencies, Agnes and her fellow coop members have been training barangay residents on baking bread and sweets for pasalubong

It also continues to capacitate its members for self-improvement through training and seminars offered by the DOLE, OWWA, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and Department of Trade and Industry. The cooperative has assisted its members in accessing social protection programs of the Social Security System and Philhealth.


(with reporting from Patrick Rillorta, DOLE CAR)

    Search Jobs
  • Phil-JobNet Logo