Bees means pesos.

While most people run away from bees, the members of Cordillera Beekeepers Overseas Workers Association, Inc. (COBOWAI) in Brgy. Irisan in Baguio City keep bees to earn more pesos.

Irisan, the largest barangay in Baguio City in terms of population and land area, is home to the beekeepers of Cordillera. Nine years ago, Plan International, a non-government organization concerned with children and their families, set foot in Baguio City, particularly in Barangay Irisan, and introduced beekeeping to the community as an alternative source of livelihood.

Florida Labon, current president of COBOWAI, was among the first residents of the barangay to take up a one-year beekeeping course. She has since become, and still is, a beekeeping trainor herself, helping out interested people in the barangay to acquire skills and knowledge in culturing bees. She said a third of the COBOWAI membership are beekeepers abroad, while the rest are local beekeepers who are dependents of OFWs.

What used to be a just an alternative source of income, however, turned out to be a rewarding job, albeit seasonal, in countries like Canada and New Zealand, as Florida disclosed.

In February 2004, COBOWAI had its group registered with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in the Cordillera Administrative Region (OWWA-CAR). It didn’t take long until they approached OWWA to inquire about some of its programs for OFWs and dependents.

Upon close scrutiny by OWWA, the group qualified as a beneficiary of the OFW Groceria Project. Through the groceria project, beneficiaries are given P50,000 worth of goods as capital with a repayment term of two years.

Soon enough, the OWWA-CAR delivered grocery goods to the association on July 15, 2004, opening up an opportunity for the group to augment its income. The goods were stacked inside what was originally built as a store for honey and other bee products.

The association is confident its OFW Groceria will gradually expand as efforts are being put in place to sell goods that are highly in demand. Essentially, COBOWAI was organized so that the variety of bee products produced or brought in from abroad by beekeeper members can be consolidated for sale in a common store. They never thought that aside from bee products, more would be in “store” for them.

With the OFW Groceria project, the beekeepers in Cordillera are buzzing with activities, producing and selling not only bee products but other goods as well.

“We’ve used the revenue from the original products to purchase new ones, whatever sells briskly. We’ve also added other items that customers often look for. And so far, the store’s doing good,” Florida enthused.

But the more admirable thing about the association is the way it has managed and invested its funds. COBOWAI has an existing lending program exclusively for members, with the funds partly derived from the fees they collect from beekeeping trainings they conduct. When the groceria began turning in handsome dividends, the group decided to infuse the lending fund with the income derived from the store.

Florida said the group’s lending program recently got a boost, thanks mainly to the income generated by the groceria, as the fund now amounts to around P80,000. “When our members leave for abroad, they are usually short of pocket money, that’s why we divide the fund to accommodate workers in need,” she explained.

“But not every member is allowed to avail of the loan. Only those who are about to leave for work abroad are given the chance to borrow from the funds. That way, repayment will not be a problem,” she added.

The sense of fulfillment brought about by the OFW Groceria project to the group has made Florida grateful. “The OFW Groceria helps associations like ours to start up and encourages us to move forward. It really serves its purpose and we’re grateful for that.”

The beekeepers indeed, are grateful not only to the OFW Groceria Project but also the bees.

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