Tonga group aiming to export ngatu for high school fees
Women in Tonga are making ngatu or tapa to sell overseas so they can pay their children's high school fees.
Melesila Weilert (centre) with women from Ha'atafu village.
The organiser of a group of women in Tonga making ngatu or tapa for sale overseas says they are doing everything they can think of to earn money to put their children through high school.
Melesila Lutolofi Weilert says women in the village of Ha'atafu on the main island Tongatapu have been using the paper mulberry tree or hiapo to make ngatu or tapa.
She says the group has been selling them locally and to relatives overseas but the aim is to export them commercially and a couple from New Zealand has pledged to help facilitate that.
Ms Weilert says her community of just under 300 needs help with school fees.
MELISILA WEILERT: In the primary school you don't have any option, you have to send your children to school. It is a must. But secondary, high school, people decide, they have to make choices whether they are able to send their children to secondary or they have to quit. And that's the thing that I am trying to make different. I know for a fact in my heart education is very important, because it can make a change for a community. And especially in my village I believe education will make a difference and we can all speak in the same language. Because there are issues when it comes to social and economic, but if we educate our children, the younger generation will come up with the idea and understand the importance of education, because it's related to everything we do in life.
ANNELL HUSBAND: So how many people are involved in your enterprise?
MELISILA WEILERT: As I said, it's not a company, it's a community project. And there are 41 people, women. And that includes the young mothers - when I say 'young mothers' they just got married - and also youths of the age of 18 up. I'm trying to find a way that my relatives... The village we live in is more like a clan. My relatives need help, and when I say 'help', I'm talking about money, especially with trying to upgrade the standard of living. But the one that I'm focusing on is the education of our young ones.
ANNELL HUSBAND: And if the couple don't come back, they're not able to set up anything, what will you do then, because there must be other ways of doing it?
MELISILA WEILERT: That's right. If, as I said, they are not going to do so we are looking into finding a market for them with our own relatives and family members that have migrated overseas. Because even though they are on the other side of the world they still need the ngatu for our traditions, like I said, the weddings and funerals, et cetera. Right now we're going to be done with the 41 members in our koka'anga. We will be through on the 23rd of this month. And right after that we're going to check up the... Everybody is supposed to plant a hiapo, a paper mulberry tree. And right after that, 'cause everybody needs to try to have an income, we are going to do something called Women In Agriculture, and we are going to do farming. Women will go out and do farming.
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