Back home, the air is filled with the scent of "Stateside" lotion, soaps, chocolates and the whiff of Americana deliciously trapped inside what have come to be known as balikbayan boxes.
To 59-year old Consuelo Valencia, the concept of the balibayan box inspired her to put up the Farochilen Group of Companies 10 years ago. The business venture eventually earned her millions.
No fairy tale
But the success of Manang Consuelo, as she's fondly called by friends was hardly a fairy tale at the start. It took courage for her to fly to London in May 1977 to work as a domestic helper.
She left her two young sons in the care of her husband who himself was trying to make ends meet.
Armed with the ambition and determination to give her family the best that life can offer, she rose from scrubbing floors to being one of most the most successful Filipino businesswomen in the United Kingdom.
"It was a matter of survival and sacrifice for me and my family," says Manang Consuelo, who arrived last week to spend the holidays with her family.
But the sacrifice eventually paid off. Several newspapers in the UK had carried her story on how a cleaner became a millionaire in 10 years.
How it all began
Her reversal of fortune started in 1986 when after nine years of scrubbing floors in London, Manang Consuelo was offered a job with a freight shipping firm.
"At that time, nobody was doing business with the Philippines," she says, "But I realized there were many people here (UK) who wanted to send parcels to their families."
When the owner of the firm retired, the business was handed down to her. Through her excellent PR skills and her determination to succeed, she managed to bring the company on top of the heap with an ever-growing list of customers.
The company now collects boxes and T chests from individual customers across the United Kingdom. Manang Consuelo says their weekly shipment averages 40 containers shipped door-to-door delivery to the Philippines. This time of the year is the busiest, she says, since the movement of the balikbayan boxes is at its peak.
Also in 1986, Manang Consuelo ventured in a door to door cash delivery service through the Farochilen Remittances.
"With Filipinos in the UK sending money once or twice a month to support their families back home, this is a perfect venture," she says. By offering a reliable face-to-face speedy delivery, high exchange rates and low remittance fees, Manang Consuelo gives the banks a run for their money.
Not content with the success of the remittance and freight business, in 1996 she also embarked on travel services, phone card dealership, real estate, recruitment and publishing house--all of which she never imagined she could ever have.
In just 10 years, the Earls Court-based freight (cargo) company expanded into a wide range of business venture now known as Farochilen Group of Companies, the biggest business of its kind servicing mainly the Filipino community in the UK.
Now its managing director, Manang Consuelo supervises the freight company and its subsidiaries including the widely known travel agency that mainly deals with flights to Asia, Singapore and the Philippines. She now also owns four house-buildings in London.
She also launched Tatak Filipino in October 2002, a mini-supermarket specializing in food stuff imported from the Philippines and the Far East.
Once serving a single household doing household chores, Manang Consuelo, through her chain of businesses, now serves the whole Filipino community in UK.
But serving her fellow Filipinos doesn't end there. She has donated three libraries here in the Philippines, a Catholic chapel and classrooms in Iloilo--her way of giving back, she says.
With an outstanding profile as a business tycoon who rose from poverty, Manang Consuelo has earned for herself accolades here and abroad, recognizing her dedication to work.
She placed 11th in the 100 REAL Women of Achievement in UK in 2004 and also won the Woman into Businesss Awards sponsored by the Bank of Scotland in February 2003.
To date, the rags-to-riches story of Manang Consuelo has attracted various film producers and TV networks. In the UK, a known writer has offered to write about her life while the British Broadcasting Company will soon shoot a documentary film about her.
Manang Consuelo arrived Friday night straight from London to receive her award as one of the outstanding Overseas Filipino Entrepreneurs (OFEs) sponsored by the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE). The award was given yesterday by President Arroyo and Presidential Consultant for Entrepreneurship Jose Concepcion III at the "Go Negosyo Para sa mga OFWs at Balikbayans Fair" at Market! Market! Trade Halls A & B in Taguig City.
Go Negosyo awardee
The "Go Negosyo" para sa mga OFWs at Balikbayans is part of the continuing Go Negosyo campaign of PCE, encouraging the further development of entrepreneurship in the country. It also aims to complement the happiness of OFWs getting reunited with their families by exposing them to business opportunities.
The 59-year old is now a multimillionaire. Indeed, 29 years after leaving her family to become a maid in London, Manang Consuelo is literally made.