Pinay Fish Vendor and Domestic Helper, Now a School Owner in England

At the tender age of 5, she was already selling fish to help her fisherman father earn money while her housewife mom took care of her younger brothers. Who would have thought that this Filipina would become successful later in life and become the owner of a school in England?

Nova Fossgard, 46, recently shared her inspiring story with ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau correspondent Rose Eclarinal.

Nova recalled her humble beginnings as a fish vendor at such a young age. Just like any other vendor in the market, she learned to shout so she could attract customers to the fish she was selling in Tukuran, Zamboanga Del Sur.

Photo credit: ABS-CBN News

Her stint as a fish vendor also involved some mischief which she laughingly recalls now.

Nangawat ko isda sa auntie ko (I stole fish from my aunt). That’s a secret, but I will tell you. Because I was starving. I had this little girl, I gave it to her and passed it on to the market. This little girl gave me the money and I gave her commission,” she revealed.

Mischievous as she was at times, she had a golden heart. She also knew the value of education. So, she didn’t remain a fish vendor but studied hard and completed BS Accountancy from Southern Mindanao College in 1991.

But it is a sad truth in the Philippines that professionals don’t really get a good salary, especially those who just graduated; thus, Nova decided to work as domestic helper to help her parents send her younger brothers to school.

A former employer in Singapore offered her a job as companion for his octogenarian mom in England; she accepted the position.

They had a housekeeper, a gardener. I just sat down with her, just to be a companion. I learned so much from her. She educated me a lot: taught me [how] to cook, read a lot of newspapers and books,” Nova told ABS-CBN News.

It was there in England that Nova met Jan, a journalist. The two got married.

Photo credit: Purley Language College

In 2006, however, their lives took a turn for worse when they both lost their jobs. Jan decided to apply as teacher at Purley Language College in Purley, a town south of London. He was surprised when the owners offered to sell him the school, telling him they wanted to retire.

But while buying the school would eventually bring them good fortune, it wasn’t easy at the beginning.

In the beginning, we borrowed so much money. We remortgaged and it tested us, our relationship, financially and emotionally. It wasn’t easy,” Nova said.

Thanks to Nova’s background in business as a fish vendor, however, as well as her degree in accountancy, they were soon able to improve the business. Jan also credits Nova’s bubbly personality and marketing skills as the biggest factors in helping them grow the school.

I’m sure that coming from a family that had a small business themselves it must have helped her a lot. She had to work at a very young age. She must have felt what it’s like not to have a lot. That [is] probably what has driven her to better things through the years,” Jan said.

She’s got a bubbly, magnetic personality. She is bold enough or confident enough to speak to people in different levels. She enjoys travelling as well, so she can operate in many different countries. She is able to relate to people and negotiate and close the deals.

Today, the school has grown to 3,000 students coming from different parts of the world. It’s just so amazing that its owner used to be a fish vendor and domestic helper.

Don’t be afraid. Follow your instinct. Gawin mo lahat ang gusto mo sa buhay. If you keep holding back with your fear, you think may mangyayari? You have to overcome (your fears). Takbo ka, don’t crawl. Always run,” Nova advised.

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