Tonga women encouraged to get into local agriculture
An agricultural project aims to encourage Tongan women into farming and out of debt.
An agricultural project is underway in Tonga that aims to encourage women into farming and other industries as part of efforts to help locals avoid using loan sharks.
A spokesperson for the Women in Agriculture Media project, Melesila Weilert, says farming is traditionally considered men's work and many families are relying on loans to help pay the bills.
Ms Weilert told Daniela Maoate-Cox she hopes the project will encourage women to become more self-sufficient.
MELESILA WEILERT: We started last year and the first project we did was the making of the tapa clothes, ngatu, and the second project we did was the planting of the paper Mulberry tree because that's what we are using to make the tapa, the ngatu. And the third one is how we recruit all the women of the village and do growing crops. There were a few numbers of our men in the village who have gone with the New Zealand and Australian working scheme, the season workers, and that's why we took up the Women in Agriculture.
DANIELA MAOATE-COX: So a lot of the men in Tonga have gone to Australia and New Zealand to work and the women have stepped into those roles or those jobs that have been left by the men?
MW: I shouldn't say most, because I'm only doing this regarding the village and our community. Because it doesn't mean when I say the majority of the men that all men are almost gone but with those who can still work, they are on this working scheme. So they have to send money for the family and it was really with the idea to buy food for the family. But the way I look at it, for women in agriculture, doing farming is kind of offensive when it comes to our culture because women are not supposed to do so but to me, that's what will make a difference, and will change the mentality of women to empower us to make a sustainable income for the village so people can afford to put their children in education. Because with the money they send from Australia and New Zealand, most times it goes to our food.
DM-C: Another aspect of this project then is that it's another way for women to earn money.
MW: Exactly, that's the second reason. The first reason so we can make sure we have our food supply, food security. And also the second reason, instead of using the money that was sent from the husbands or from the other members of the families on this working scheme or even overseas, we can sell what we grow to make money.
DM-C: Now there is a problem with debt and people taking out loans in Tonga as well. Is your hope that this project will help people become more self sufficient so they don't have to take out loans?
MW: Exactly, that's the whole idea. My heart is bleeding when I see some of our locals, they have this loan company in Tonga and they are tied up with it, and at the end of the day I don't see much with what they have used the money for. That's why I promote the idea of let us go back to our grassroots, do women in agriculture, do handicrafts as well. I always prefer that if we do make these kinds of things it will make a difference and then we don't have to owe money to any loan companies.
DM-C: But as part of that project you also need to change people's attitudes towards the type of work women can do.
MW: Empower them, I'll put it that way, empower them. Because my idea, this is my own opinion, when I look at the village people, most of the women are not confident, they're not secure, and being a single mother, it's really encouraged me and makes me feel that what I can do, everybody can do the same thing. If I can do it, anybody can do it.
Melesila Weilert says the next step is to expand the project to other parts of Tonga.
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