An inspiration for OFWs to follow (There is life after being one) | Inquirer Business

An inspiration for OFWs to follow (There is life after being one)

/ 05:14 AM June 22, 2014

IMELDA Ahalul-Dagus (left), Dennis Ahalul and Putri Kumala Sug-Elardo. Tausugs about to open a cafe in Zamboanga after having 5 cafes in Jolo now.

Back story: In January 2012 I went to Sulu and met the owner proprietor of the only café in Sulu called Dennis Coffee Shop. I then wrote about my visit entitled “Sulu coffee is alive and brewing” in the PDI sometime February 2012.

A friend of the subject showed her or led her to the article about her father they call Pah Salih (like Papa Salih). Salih Ahalul had seven children by his first wife who died at 36 years old. He has since remarried. A few of the children went abroad, Imelda being one of them 18 years ago.


Imelda wrote me via e-mail and wanted to meet up sometime late 2012 after reading my article. We met in ECHOstore and she recounted to me how she was moved by the piece I wrote and this made her think about coming back from Oman to settle in the South for good. “It had to take someone else (referring to me) to open my eyes, ” she says. “I truly have a heritage I should not waste,” she continues.


In 2013, Imelda was ready to put on her boxing gloves, so to speak. I introduced her to a good friend and guru Butz Bartolome so she could design a Franchise package for Dennis Coffee in Zamboanga, where the market is ready for a more upscale café. Note that in Jolo, coffee is sold at P10 a cup. Zamboanga, however, is ready for a P50 cup of coffee already.

In late 2013, Imelda made a few trips home from Oman, started fixing the groundwork for what would be her dream: Dennis Coffee Garden. She showed me her business plan and I approved of her concept almost immediately. The plan? To propagate the culture of Sulu coffee as started by her family more than 50 years ago.

Just recently, in 2014, I met Imelda in Zamboanga so we could help her look at sources for her roasted coffee, after getting the green beans from Sulu. She toured me around Zamboanga and brought me to the realization of her dreams: DCG or Dennis Coffee Garden. She speaks with much passion: “I want to do this for my Tausug family, for the OFW families who may be inspired and for my children who may be imbued with the same fire and passion as is in me now”, she says.

Today, Imelda has even imported workers from her Tausug town mates to work on a 50-year-old house that will soon be the café. It is located in the very busy section of Zamboanga, just five minutes’ drive from the airport. Meanwhile, Dennis, her brother after whom the coffee house was named in 1962, is supervising the construction and renovation. “It will really be a Tausug project,” she proudly says.

Imelda has another inspiration in doing this project. After 18 years of working in the Middle East, she realized that many of her kind will soon come home, retire on a meager savings account, and soon start depending on their children. And the cycle goes on. Parents send children to school from OFW earnings, children finish university, and get jobs as OFWs again. What is missing is a healthy family life, a social life and contribution to community. It may take a whole generation to change this cycle but Imelda is unfazed. “We have to do it, and I think it is a calling.”

Imelda knows the nitty gritty of investments, having served in board meetings in global companies as an Executive Assistant with a good-natured boss CEO. “I hear of money flowing in and out of companies because I have attended countless board meetings, and my superior even encouraged me to invest in some stocks in Oman.”


But it is not only her good employment that sharpened her business sense. She also read self-help books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, listened to audio tapes during her drive to work and has a supportive spouse who allowed her to fly (literally and figuratively) in her career.  After doing all these and learning so much, what is one to do with all these knowledge and experience? Retire? Not at all.

Imelda took the giant leap of faith when her first-born was about to start college in Manila. She went home with him, sharpened her pencil and with quick resolve, made the decision to quit her good-paying job to start her own business.

Imelda also heard about the OWWA’s OFW reintegration program where loans are available for returning OFWs who want to start a business. Armed with her Business Plan, she applied with OWWA for a P2 million loan which may be given through LandBank, with a grace period of two years and a repayment term of seven.

“I can still see the loan through,” she says, if it is approved. ‘’I am only in my mid-40s and I am sure, the loan program will help other OFWs like me, get out of that cycle and start to make our OFWs  the new entrepreneurs.”

She has a lot of choices now, because she opened her eyes to the opportunities available to OFWs. She reads, she attends seminars and she listens and continues to listen to advice from mentors and successful entrepreneurs.

We are definitely looking forward to the opening of Dennis Coffee Garden in Zamboanga City.  Even just starting to look back to her culture and heritage, and making it the cornerstone of her business already makes Imelda a success story. To even think of dropping her workgloves and starting a new life as an entrepreneur, she deserves our congratulations and our cheers.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

We hope that there may be more Imeldas in the years to come. And with her example, may we inspire our 12 million OFWs to sit down and listen, if only to open their eyes to many business opportunities that are here in the country. There is, after all, a life after being an OFW.

TAGS: Butz Bartolome, DENNIS Coffee Shop, ofws, overseas Filipino workers

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.