Left behind, OFW families also earn in low-cost tours

They may be tourists abroad, but back home in San Pablo City in Laguna, spouses and children of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) play hosts to guests, either as tour guides or as home-stay operators.

At least 10 houses, mostly left idle by migrant workers, have been turned into bed-and-breakfast (B&B) lodges or home-stays to accommodate small groups of tourists. At the same time, the children of the OFWs, aged 18 to 25 years, have been trained and hired as tour guides around this quaint city.

These developments are part of Ekotour, a prearranged program to promote San Pablo as a bustling tourist destination. It was formulated by the city’s tourism office and the nongovernment Atikha Overseas Workers and Community Initiative Inc. (Atikha).

Ekotour also addresses issues involving the OFWs and their families.

“When the OFWs themselves return for vacation, they usually search for places to visit. And they don’t travel alone but with their families,” says Mai Añonuevo, Atikha executive director.

Cheap vacation

Concerned about the workers’ spending hard-earned money, Añonuevo says Ekotour packages offer them cheaper ways of going on vacation.

A one-day city tour, priced at P1,500 per head, includes a “balsa” (raft) ride in Lake Pandin, one of San Pablo’s seven lakes; a tour of Ato Belen’s organic farm; a visit to Sulyap Gallery Café, an arts and antique gallery; massage at Rx Spa; and a lakeside dinner at Café Lago.

A two-day package, which costs P2,600 per head, covers trekking at Mount Banahaw, a zipline adventure, bush walking and visit to farm towns with arranged overnight accommodation at the home-stays.

Customized tours may also be arranged.

Atikha trained the home-stay operators—families of the OFWs or their home caretakers—on security and accommodation of tourists.

The children-turned-guides are paid P500 per tour. “They are earning extra from being tour guides. Since most of the tours are scheduled on a weekend, those who are still in school don’t find any problem,” says Atikha staff Maria Therese Daya.

For Lili Brul, 48, the P350 she earns for every tourist staying in their home is not bad. All she needs as capital are the vacant room in the house and the extra work of preparing breakfast for the guests.

Her husband, Barcholvi, has been working in a telecommunications company in Saudi Arabia for the past 12 years now.

“It’s not always true that when someone in the family works abroad, their families in the Philippines are well-off,” she says. She believes that families must also save and wisely spend the money earned and sent by the OFWs.

As a home-stay operator, “we are also taught to find ways to generate income here. We can’t just be totally dependent on the remittances,” Brul says.

That way, she adds, the OFWs could cut short the years of working abroad and have a “fallback” when they retire and return to the Philippines.

Infancy

About half of San Pablo’s population are migrant workers, mostly based in Italy and countries in the Middle East, says city tourism officer Donnalyn Eseo.

“We could trace back (the trend of migration) as early as during the time of Flor Contemplacion,” she says. Contemplacion, who hailed from this city, was a domestic worker executed in 1995 in Singapore for murder. Her death spurred issues of abuses and exploitation against OFWs.

Eseo says the Ekotour helps in the reintegration of the OFWs with their families and boosts local tourism. Its tour packages promote local products, mostly food and handicrafts from coconut, the local establishments, and the lakes and organic farms that the city is known for, she says.

The tour also came just as the city government was starting to shift attention from healthcare and education programs to tourism. “I can say we are still starting. But San Pablo has the potentials,” Eseo says.

For inquiries, contact 049-8000082 or Cherry at 0922-8778430. E-mail vangieatikha@yahoo.com; atikha@atikha.org.

SOURCE: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20101103-301297/Left-behind-OFW-families-also-earn-in-low-cost-tours

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