Raga sewing project - North Pentecost Island, Vanuatu

 

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Why was it initiated?

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 
Empower women
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?

 April 2014

 

Who has been involved?

North Pentecost Debra (interim manager), Ephraim (accountant), Pauline, Harriet, Cinderella and Merilyn (semastresses)

MESCH Narelle Cassey, Lisa Brown, Penny Wayne, John Cassey, Steve Threlfo, Stephanie Berick

Other Emma Cassey (consultant), Peter Cassey (builder)

What’s happened?        

Infrastructure

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! Lights and outlets were installed. 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). 

 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Hand powered machines have been replaced by domestic electric and an industrial one was added in 2017 Sewing supplies initially provided have been used and a supplies network established  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. Communication through telephone or digitally has been unreliable and expensive. It is also a cultural difficulty. 

Steve serviced all sewing machines in April 2018 with Pauline assisting and troubleshooting. A lot of work!!! Regular service emphasised and small video made to supplement Steve’s prior hard copy manual. Generator serviced and brief mini manual produced.
 
Staff

Merilyn left in 2016. The business has 3 excellent seamstresses (Pauline Hango, Harriet Siro and Cinderella Bonga).  Two apprentices (senior high school students learning to sew) have been present intermittently)        

Debra (interim manager) was balancing a full time job, family, community responsibilities and now Raga - an impossible task. Unfortunately, the 2 subsequent managers (Gerole and Isiah) were unable to deliver the full range of skills required and a (female) manager was appointed in May 2018. She is a recent graduate from a TAFE level small business course, is keen to be involved in a business which is “culturally appropriate” and has strong support from the community.  

Staff were initially paid a base salary. Since this did not encourage "ownership" and the business was not financially viable, we changed to a production /sale based structure. Subsequently, we have belnded the 2. 

Marketing

A logo was designed by one of the local teachers and is hugely important to the identity of the project
 

Business development and structure
Narelle produced a discussion and recommendation document "  “GOING FORWARD: Notes for Business Department Manager”. Important recommendations are: developing a culture of respect, honesty and interdependence; develpoing and recognising expertise; defining roles more clearly; streamlining staff wages; creating separate production and business departments; further training of Pauline in maintenance of all machines; regular staff meetings; adding more seamstresses; using Facebook more; move to a new site; create not just be a business but also a place of learning.

 

Evaluation?

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! May 2018 was our 11th trip in 5 years

Successes 

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

Failures

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

Impediments 

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 

Some questions 

Should a new centre 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?.

What do we need to advance this?

Funding for

  • 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)

  • A new location to provide more space for more workers and a shop separate from the workroom. This needs not to be owned by the government or a school so that it has independence and security. 

  • Possible satellite / assocate business in Efate (Prot Vila).    

Want to find out more?    Please email