Skills uplift the economy and livelihood of people on Ha’apai

Tupe Vakasiuola (left) and Tomitila Pongi (right).

On the island of Ha’apai, fishing, weaving, and farming are the major sources of income for most families. However, in more recent times, the impact of climate change on the island caused by extreme weather events has led some people to look for innovations and variations on traditional work to sustain their incomes.
Tonga Skills for Inclusive Economic Growth has facilitated a range of trainings on Ha’apai over the past four years which have resulted in many participants being able to use newly-acquired skills to diversify their work for financial gains.

Some of Tomitila and Tupe’s production

In 2019, a couple of best of friends, Tupe Vakasiuola and Tomitila Pongi, participated in basket weaving training which was delivered by Tonga Skills in collaboration with trainer, Hu’ahulu Ha’unga. During the training, they were not only taught fine basket weaving skills, but also how to make use of scraps and off-cuts from materials such as tapa, hibiscus strands (fau) and dried pandanus leaves to produce woven pieces for use in making earrings, bangles, and necklaces.
Shortly after the training. Tupe and Tomitila started selling their baskets and accessories for women on Ha’apai island but soon orders started to arrive from clients on Tongatapu and eventually from overseas as more people saw their work through friends and family who sent photos of items that they had bought.
“Our production boosts our finances, and our earnings help significantly to pay for our children’s education,” said Tomitila.

Beautiful accessories for women made by Tomitila and Tupe from colored hibiscus husks (fau) and dried pandanus leaves (lou’akau).

She explained that they often have more than 10 clients a month which resulted in earnings of more than TOP$1000.
“Before I completed this training, I was often penniless and needed the help of my siblings and relatives to cover the costs essential for raising four children. Unlike most other women on Ha’apai, I cannot weave fine mats – this training triggered my capability to produce fine handicrafts and accessories which has been most helpful to me,” Tupe said.
Tupe and Tomitila have proven their mastery of the skills they acquired from the training and are now thinking about learning new skills in carving and crafting coconut shells to combine with their existing ones in order to produce more innovative items.

Tomitila (left) and Tupe (right) demonstrating how to make earrings from dried pandanus leaves.

“We have lodged an application to our Parliament Representative to fund a carving machine for us and the women of our constituency so that we can make more handicrafts to generate additional income,” Tupe and Tomitila explained.
“Our happiness is not just from the fruits of our work but we also find happiness in helping other women in our community by teaching them these skills so they can consider making use of handicraft and weaving materials within their reach which most people disregard thinking they are rubbish.”
The business success of Tupe and Tomitila is inspirational for other men and women on Ha’apai and is leading more of them to acquire new skills that can be used to improve their economy and livelihood.