Church-based Centro Filipino for Returning Migrants or CF4RM is strengthening its cooperative and livelihood units to generate sustainable income to expand the services offered to association members.
Registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission in in 2014, CF4RM aims to help returning OFWs reintegrate themselves into the Filipino culture, back to their families and a ones.
The group provides support to help returning migrant-members adopt to the socio-cultural milieu of their homeland and help alleviate the condition of returnees and their families by allowing them free access to services and facilities within the CF4RM compound. Returnees are also offered a chance to be part of the cooperative and participate in livelihood programs espoused by the CF4RM livelihood group.
Balik Ginhawa Multipurpose Cooperative (Bagimpco), the cooperative formed by CF4RM in 2015, markets the goods produced by the livelihood unit led by Emmalyn Rubrico.
“Right now, we have a few products that we ourselves manufacture. We’re trying to have them certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so we can export our products to countries where CF4RM is present,” she said.
Rubrico is working on the certification of its indigenous snacks like shoestring sweet potatoes, shoestring cassava, shoestring bananas, banana chips and rice coffee. All Bagimpco products are Halal certified.
Short staffed, the group has momentarily stopped the production of fruit jams and mushroom chips. Since the the group relies on volunteerism, the lack of manpower is another challenge that affects operations of the cooperative and livelihood unit. Othel V. Campos
Despite this, things are looking up for some of the products manufactured by the livelihood unit. The group is working on the necessary permits and certification while finalizing on a new packaging that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional to have its products qualify for export.
The group targets OFW markets in Japan, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Spain – countries with active CF4RM membership.
Rubrico noted that fruits jams and banana chips are among the classic products that are in demand abroad.
She revealed that Bagimpco products reach markets overseas only through unofficial channels – through the efforts of OFWs returning to work abroad, bringing with them goods requested by fellow migrant workers.
“This time, we want to export our products the sustainable way. We have follow the proper protocol if we are to market our products globally. We are rushing the certifications and the required packaging specifications following an offer from Cash and Carry Spain to import our products, specifically the banana and mushroom chips,” she said.
Another good news, she added, is the possibility of landing its shoestring banana amongst the choice products served by the Philippine Airline (PAL) commissary for in-flight meals.
Sold under the brand name Puchi, Bagimpco snacks are manufactured in partnership with Absmush Mushroom Farm, a start-up micro, small and medium enterprise that has been in the manufacturing business for 5 years.
Bagimpco products had its first digital exposure in the virtual marketplace Iskaparte.com, an online social enterprise aggregating Pinoy products, usually consumables like food and beverages.
One of the second generation volunteers, Rubrico who was a migrant returnee after serving her contract as a registered nurse in Japan, noticed that the group cannot rely on volunteers to operate the cooperative and livelihood program. The group is also dependent from dole-outs and donations from members abroad to finance projects for members.
“I told my mentors to upgrade, sort of professionalize the association and its cooperative and livelihood units by providing monthly allowance to volunteers for their transport and personal expenses. As it is, only a handful of members volunteer to work with us, probably because many are already in their senior years,” she said.
About 60 percent of the membership is composed of clergies – priests and nuns – based abroad who are of retiring age. Many of whom already passed on.
Left to continue the legacy are the second generation CF4RM members and their family members.
From a over a thousand members, the remaining active members of CF4RM declined to more or less 200.
The livelihood unit aims to generate income to provide for the needs of members. The constant string of visiting OFWs who use the current staff building as a half-way house – either as a place to stay for vacation or a place to stay before while waiting for the flight back to work -pushed the group to advocate for a dormitory type of structure where visiting members can stay for free.
Another project is the so-called palliative healthcare project that will provide much needed health assistance especially to elderly members who are living by themselves.
“These are the reasons why we are eager to have our products out there. This is a self-sustaining plan that will break our reliance from donations,” Rubrico said.