Raga sewing project - North Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
We were asked to visit Nth Pentecost Island, Vanuatu with a view to assisting with books and resources in the schools there. Part of any visit is receipt of "wish lists". On many lists was "school uniforms". Since MESCH is not about "giving things" and the people are educated, skilled and very capable, we floated the idea of a community project to make their own uniforms. A decision for joint co-operation between MESCH and the local community was made at a large general meeting and “Raga” was born in April 2014 (*Raga is the name for Pentecost in the local dialect).
A workroom had been prepared and the hand powered machines and sewing supplies we had sourced in Vila were set up. The ladies chosen were good seamstresses and by the end of day 1 the first shirt had been produced
The logo is hugely important to the identity of the project.
What are its aims?
Be the first business in North Pentecost to provide general employment for the community.
Establish a sewing business to make school uniforms and other sewing services on Pentecost island
Contribute to the education and skills of those directly involved in the project and, by example and training, to the wider community
Establish a model of community involvement that could be modified for use by others on Pentecost and/or Vanuatu
Distribute profits among the schools in North Pentecost
When did it start?
Who has been involved?
North Pentecost Debra (interim manager), Ephraim (accountant)
MESCH Narelle Cassey, Lisa Brown, Penny Wayne, JohnCassey, Steve Threlfo, Stephanie Berick
Other Emma Cassey (consultant), Peter Cassey (builder)
Debra (interim manager) was balancing a full time job, family, community responsibilities and now Raga - an impossible task. Gerole was appointed as full-time manager but was unable to deliver the full range of skills required. A new manager was appointed in 2017. Although a better choice, he is unable to deliver required goals.
A workroom was provided by the local school. It has been gradually upgraded with shelves, power and light A verandah and path have been added to keep out the mud!
Equipment and supplies
Hand powered machines have been replaced by domestic electric and an industrial one was added in 2017 Sewing supplies initially provided have been used and a supplies network established
A diesel generator and shed have been set up, a "manager's phone" configured, printer and laptop provided and a signal booster added to improve telecommunications.
There are 3 excellent seamstresses and 2 apprentices - senior high school students learning to sew
We have a full time Ni-Van manager - though skill set not ideal
A logo was designed by one of the local teachers and is hugely important to the identity of the project
We were initially adivsed to pay a base salary. Since this did not encourage "ownership" and the project was not going to work financially with this setup, we changed to a production /sale based wage structure.
The oriiginal hand machines were replaced with electric and we set up a diesel generator, installed lights and outlets and made a verandah and path to keep out the mud! This could not have been accomplished without the goodwill of all concerned and particular thanks to Peter (master builder, electrician, plumber etc) and Emma (shop manager and retail business expert).
Communication continued to be an issue - both a cultural and telco issue. A booster has been installed and a new "manager's phone" configured.
New and innovative designs flourish
There have been millions of dollars spent on community projects in Vanuatu with little return. None have succeeded on Pentecost. There are many reasons people prefer handouts rather than making their own way. We believe we have the right mix of individuals in Raga to make it happen differently!
New and innovative designs flourish
The project made a profit by the end of the second year
Mentoring of school students has started
Women are working full time as seamstresses and leaning to repair and maintain machines
We were initially advised by a NiVan partner to pay a base salary. Since this did not encourage "ownership" and the project was not going to work financially with this setup, we changed to a production /sale based wage structure. We should have followed our own intuition
This is not an easy environment in which to work. The weather is frequently adverse, supplies are poor and frequently get "lost" and there is little manpower to help. As an example... it look countless hours, more than 40 phone calls and emails to Vanuatu to arrange delivery of a generator, wiring, timber and other building materials by boat to Pentecost before one trip. Many did not arrive or were delivered elsewhere...
Communication is a big issue – with both cultural and telco contributions.
Meeting targets and marketing strategies to get new customers are slow to be adopted
How soon will we need a new centre for manufacture and sales? How and where will this be built?
Should it include local artisans? How will they pay for useage?
How to develop design skills amongst staff?
How to arrange solar power backup?
When to phase in more industrial machines?.
Should we take the model to Ambae (neighbouring island)?
What do we need to advance this?
Support to MESCH project manager with visits to assist local operations (5000AUD pa)
Freight and maintenance for equipment (2000AUD pa)
Industrial sewing machines (4) (4000AUD)
Telco annual fee (380AUD pa for 2years)
Upgrade to solar power and improve telecommunications (not quantified)
This is a big step and we will continue to support and encourage the staff for some time yet but with less hands on organisation from us.