By Martin de Jong, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand
Lisa Vehikite is the leader of a tapa-making (cloth-making) group that is finding new life through a Caritas programme in Tonga. Lisa’s group is one of 43 micro-enterprises benefiting from small loans provided through Caritas Tonga in partnership with Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand. The scheme has been made possible by the New Zealand Aid programme and our New Zealand donors.
Lisa’s husband works in Australia picking fruit for seven months each year. She has five children at home in Utulau Village on the main island of Tongatapu. Income she earns through the tapa making group helps pay her children’s school fees. She heard about the scheme at a community meeting where Caritas Tonga’s Amelia Ma’afu spoke. ‘This project makes me feel like I am a real mother … someone else is helping us to do our work at home,’ says Lisa. Her dream is to one day have her own handicraft shop.
In all, groups involved in the three-year Caritas programme will reach 425 households in 21 villages across Tongatapu and Vava’u to the north. Groups consisting of 8 to 15 people are given a loan of up to 5,000 Tongan pa’anga (NZ$3,516) at a low interest rate of three percent (standard Tonga interest rates are as high as 25 percent). Monthly repayments are made over a 12-month term. Once the loan is repaid, the funds are available for other groups to use – or the same group for a new project.
Most projects involve traditional activities such as tapa making, mat weaving, pig and chicken farming, sewing, fishing, and crop growing. Crops include peanuts, yams, kava and cassava. Products are sold at local markets.