BUILT ON FAITH | Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards Mindanao winner grows business while healing

April 21, 2017 - 12:56 PM
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From its production site in Montevista, Compostela, word of mouth about Soup Wonder Oil spread and thanks to its growing popularity, it has now reached different markets in Mindanao. Photo courtesy of Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards.

Marcelina Occeña’s faith is unwavering. But unlike many who seem to think that faith alone will get them what they want, Occeña is a firm believer that “God helps those who help themselves.”

An earlier business venture with her husband did not do very well. When he passed on, she suspended the business. But she needed a steady income and the family did not even own their house. A pastor in a born-again Christian church in her community, the 51-year-old Occeña knew “God is always there with us in our struggles.”

Interested in the medicinal properties of herbs and other plants, she started production of her Soup Wonder Herbal Oil enterprise, drawing inspiration from her church’s head pastor’s vision that a business would become a source of healing for many. “His vision was not only a blessing but (it also showed the way for me) to go.”

Living in an area with only a few pharmacies, Occeña saw the business she was going into as not only potentially profitable but, more importantly, would help meet the needs of her community for cheap but effective remedy for some of their health issues.

Occeña started experimenting with a mixture of 36 herbs, boiled to extract their therapeutic oils. As she had hoped, the extract became an affordable, accessible option for people who found commercial pharmaceutical products too expensive and so chose to endure aches and pains.

At first, she had to travel long distances to harvest her ingredients. But soon, she said, the plants she needed started growing near her home, further bolstering her belief that God was guiding her in her enterprise. Those that do not grow near her she buys in the market.

Some of the herbs that Marcelina uses to make her product grow from her own backyard. Photo courtesy of Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards.

Word of mouth advertising

Testimonials on the efficacy of Soup Wonder Herbal Oil soon had people traveling to Montevista, Compostela Valley to get Occeña’s concoction. Her customers reported getting relief from body pains and ailments such as urinary tract infection, muscle fatigue, migraine, high blood pressure and insomnia. Most of her clients are poor, rural farmers and their families who cannot afford expensive medical care. After eight years, demand for Soup Wonder Herbal Oil has spread to other parts of Mindanao.

The success of Occena’s enterprise would make her the 2016 regional awardee for Mindanao of the 14-year-old Citi Microentrepreneurship Award (CMA), staged by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Citi Philippines, and Microfinance Council of the Philippines, Inc. The annual CMA is a nationwide search for the most outstanding micro business owners. It recognizes outstanding entrepreneurs with assets of P3 million or less, who have achieved remarkable growth as indicated by employment generation, profits and sales turnover, and have contributed to community development. Entrepreneurs should also have maintained healthy repayment records on loans even as they build their savings.

Funded by Citi Foundation, CMA was launched in 2002 to celebrate Citi’s 100th year in the Philippines. The award has since recognized more than 100 winners across the country. Some of the winners have now grown their enterprises from micro to small or medium-sized businesses.

Micro partnership bears fruit

While Occeña is grateful to God’s help, she is also mindful that human assistance helped turn divine intervention into reality. Occeña is thankful to the Peoples Bank of Caraga for believing in her and supporting her enterprise. She has been a member of the bank for 13 years, starting with a P3,000 loan, which became her initial capital.

“Other banks have offered to lend me money but I turned them down,” Occeña said. “I am loyal to Peoples Bank.”

The success of her business has enabled her to buy three motorcycles and invest in other assets. Selling 1,300 bottles every month, her business’ annual total sales has grown to over P1 million with net income of more than P600,000. Every month, she plows back cash to the business to increase its capitalization. Most of her savings go to her children’s educational expenses and church contributions.

Occeña currently has seven employees, including four family members. She has also made sure her business has the necessary permits from the Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Internal Revenue and her Barangay. An application for a permit from the Department of Health’s Food and Drug Administration has been filed.

As her business expands, Occeña plans to construct a building to increase production and have more storage space. She also intends to convert her land into a farm for her herbal plants.

Occeña said what people became in life was really up to God. Determination and faith helped shape their destiny. “God always helps in whatever we do,” she said.