Becoming an OFW is a goal for some people, but for others, it’s only part of their bigger journey. Such is the story of this former Hong Kong domestic helper, Janice Morales de Pablo, who is now a business owner and serves in public office back in their hometown in the Philippines.
Long before Janice decided to get a job as an OFW in Hong Kong, she and her former college sweetheart and now husband, Rex de Pablo, already had a clear idea of what business they wanted to have when they settle together. And while this has been a common goal of the couple, Janice, for her part, has always been involved in their small community in Balasan, Iloilo, coming from a family of reputed public servants.
Ex-OFW Puts Up Company, Holds Office Community in Her Hometown
So even before she decided to go to work in Hong Kong in 2007 – she was then only 23, Janice had been deeply involved in community work, having served as Sangguniang Kabataan Chairman in Batuan and Vice President of the Sangguniang Kabataan Federation President in Balasan, a fourth class municipality.
And when her father and brother had to step down from the role as barangay captain, Janice, though pregnant at the time, became the natural choice, not only for her family but also the other elders in their barangay.
Thus, it so happened that she ran unopposed for the post of Punong Barangay in 2018.
However, this was just a part of what Janice was bound to achieve since returning to their hometown back in 2013. With Rex, whom she married two years earlier, she started not just a family, but also a company that they had long dreamed about.
Their company, 21 Designs Printing Services, was one of the reasons why she decided to work abroad in the first place, and grabbed the opportunity to join the Ateneo Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (LSE) program in Hong Kong.
Janice shared that she had always been quite listless back during her time working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong because she wanted to improve herself so much, for herself and her family – so when she saw an opportunity at the Ateneo Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship (LSE) Program through the SUN, she immediately applied.
Though she had the confidence and the technical know-how for the business, they were still lacking in funds. And so after she married Rex in 2011, Janice had to work for two more years in Hong Kong to help raise the funds they needed.
On the side, the ever resourceful couple, who both took up a computer technology degree, was already doing printing jobs, but needed to raise more capital to set their business on track.
With capital pooled from their savings and investments from Janice’s father and two siblings, 21 Designs was officially formed in 2018.
Janice shared that like any other small enterprise, 21 Designs has had its ups and downs. Surprisingly, the one that devastated it more was not the pandemic, but typhoon Ursula which struck in December 2019, flooding their shop and washing away their stocks.
And when the coronavirus broke out last year, the schools they supply products to cancelled their T-shirt orders and other services, like printing souvenir programs and book-binding.
But while their business took a hit from these events, the couple dug deep into their inner resilience, and found ways to cope. They took on other printing jobs, and with his photography skills, Rex even worked as wedding photographer to generate additional income for their family.
Janice further put her business acumen to the test by setting up a shop called Bugay Pasalubong in the town center, where she sold native products created by native Aetas in the province, and inmates in a nearby jail.
But the focus on their business never disappeared or became sidetracked, so that in no time, their company acquired a reputation for quality, dependability and good service. It now counts among its satisfied clients several local government units and agencies like TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) and companies like Yamaha and the St. Peter’s group.
From initially focusing on their T-shirt design and printing, they have branched out to doing car and motorcycle stickers, decals, calendars, shop receipts, risograph and photocopying. When demand for a certain product drops, especially amid the pandemic, they shift to doing other services.
Seven years since they started, the company that is registered in Janice’s name now has a full-time staff of five: two artists, one secretary, one machine operator and one t-shirt printer. Rex acts as the chief of operations while Janice and her two siblings who are also invested in the company handle the finances, marketing and supply procurement.
As they pursued this venture, the couple had decided to move from Molo to a more laidback life in Balasan, where they have bought their own home and a rice field that has been augmenting their monthly income.
Janice, during this time, too, embraced public service and has been busy working on and executing projects for Batuan like installing street lights, buying monobloc chairs for the barangay hall, school supplies for children and medicines for senior citizens, and acquiring a grass cutter and initiating “Regalo sa Basura” to promote cleanliness.
Most recently, Batuan was hailed as the best among all barangays in Balasan when it won the Communal Garden 2020 award initiated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to address malnutrition.
Amid all these, Janice never slowed down in juggling her jobs of running the barangay, helping out in the business and looking after her children.
She shares that her resilience and deep passion for the things she is doing right now, though physically exhausting, was due to her experiences back in her earlier years, having survived working abroad as a domestic helper and the challenges she had to hurdle in establishing a business and taking up public office.
From what she has achieved thus far, Janice encourages her fellow OFWs still dreaming of going back home and starting their own businesses: “Magsipag at magtiyaga, at siyempre, manalangin din. Kasi iyan ang pinaka powerful sa lahat.” (Work hard and persevere, and of course, pray, because that is the most powerful [weapon] of all).
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