Raga sewing project - North Pentecost Island, Vanuatu



Why was it initiated?

We were asked to visit North 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 (seamstresses)

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

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

What’s happened?        


A workroom was provided by the local school. It was gradually upgraded with shelves, power and light. A verandah and path had 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 were replaced by domestic electric and an industrial one was added in 2017. A sewing supplies network was established.  

A diesel generator and shed were set up, a "manager's phone" configured, printer and laptop provided. Communication through telephone or digitally was unreliable and expensive. 

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

Merilyn left in 2016. The business had 3 excellent seamstresses (Pauline Hango, Harriet Siro and Cinderella Bonga).  Two apprentices (senior high school students learning to sew) came 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 was a recent graduate from a TAFE level small business course, keen to be involved in a business which is “culturally appropriate” and had strong support from the community. Unfortunately, elements of the community bullied and belittled her and she was unable to contniue.   

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 blended the 2. 


A logo was designed by one of the local teachers and was 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 included: developing a culture of respect, honesty and interdependence; developing 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 a business but also a place of learning.



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 believed we had the right mix of individuals in Raga to make it happen differently!  May 2018 was Narelle's 11th trip in 5 years


New and innovative designs flourished

The project made a profit by the end of the second year

Mentoring of school students started

Women were working full time as seamstresses and leaning to repair and maintain machines


We were initially advised by a Ni Van 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 unreliable and frequently get "lost" and there is little manpower to help. As an example... it took 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 

The final straw

There was a change in ownership at the Raga site to the local church. Independence of this popular Ni-Van business was no longer guaranteed and its generator was taken and returned broken. We had no choice but to remove all equipment and sewing supplies from the site. It was transferred to storage at another site. We await a decision is made to re-locate or fold.

Some questions 

Should a new centre include local artisans? How will they pay for usage? 

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 / associate business in Efate (Port Vila).    

Want to find out more?    Please email