PHOTO: Authentic Tongan Handicraft Sales
I have been very involved with assisting the women's group in Matamaka for the past few months. The group has been newly revived after years of neglect. As a result, the new group is called Finemata'anga 2. The group's central goal is to empower the women of Matamaka to take a more active role on financial development in the outer-islands. The groups has successfully established a successful handicraft business from Matamaka. Members of the group have been busy taking workshops on handicraft designs during the low tourist season provided by a local NGO called MORDI.
The women travel to the main harbour in Neiafu to sell their goods to tourists visiting Vava'u from the numerous cruise ships that visit the area. Handicrafts include various necklaces, braclets, bookmarks, tapa cloth, beach wear, and more. One of my primary duties has been to prepare the women with their English skills to help them sell their goods more effectively. There has been a significant increase of sales that correlates to the number of English lessons with each of the women. Prior to the English classes, the women sold an average of $5 TOP per cruise ship. After some English lessons, revenues increased to an average of $70 TOP per woman per ship. That is an extraordinary increase in revenue!
PHOTO: Some of the crafts.
Currently, the group has been focused on completing a grant to help construct an official boat for the group. The boat will be used for the transportation of the women to Neiafu as well as offer private island tours to tourists. It will essentially provide additional financial support to the people of Matamaka if approved. A lot of other groups in Tonga also applied for the grant, so we will see if their grant proposal is worthy to become a reality.
PHOTO: Some of the group members with their crafts.
My only concern for the women's group is the concept of savings. Stereotypically, to most Tongans living IN Tonga have a difficult time grasping the idea of putting money away for future use or in AN ACTUAL SAVING ACCOUNT. I believe that is the nicest and politically correct way I can state the problem. Some Tongans literally eat their money. After making their first sales, some people have the need to quickly spend the money--most likely on food. I have seen it first hand and couldn't believe how quickly the money disappeared. (SIGH) You have to pick your battles right? I would say it is a win with helping the group with some business principles and English lessons, but a loss on the concept of savings. This will be the next issue I plan to tackle on if not advise my predecessor to suggest to focus on. In the end, I am still impressed with the amount of progress the group made in just the last few months.