Friday, November 23, 2007


THE world of a mother-of-four crumbled when the military took over the government last year. Her husband, the sole breadwinner in the family, was made redundant.

But Makereta Matemosi dug deep and refused to give up.
With $35, she bought a manual sewing machine and set to work.
Having learnt the art of tali ibe (mat weaving) from her elders, she knew it was her best chance at earning a living.

Driven by her determination not to let her two children down, she started by adding value to her mat baskets and other mat-woven accessories.

One of her children was in a tertiary institution and the other at primary school. Mrs Matemosi is from Namuka-i-Lau in Lau but resides at Namuka-i-Lau settlement at Veisari outside Lami.

"I started sewing bags from mats and other items which I sold," she said. Her break came when she was approached by the makers of Mokosoi products to provide them with traditional packs for their products.

"To me it was something hard to believe. I was more into doing orders I received from women in the area," she said. "With the large number of orders they gave, I asked some women of the settlement for us to work together in meeting the demand.

"We worked day in and out weaving and sewing for the company." Mrs Matemosi said she did not learn any sewing or weaving skills in school. "I was able to learn a bit of English and that was it."

She said orders from the Mokosoi company included small boxes made out of voivoi for lotions, soap packets, baskets for a set of Mokosoi products and poly bags. "We also do masi which are sometimes asked by the company to be blended with the voivoi bags that we make."

Mrs Matemosi said they were struggling to keep up with the increasing demand when an old friend answered her prayers. "Thanks to my Australian sister Catherine Spicer who donated three electric sewing machines to us.

"It was a blessing and we thank her and all those involved in bringing in the new machines. "It certainly helped us in a big way to meet the demands." Her new machines made invite more women of the settlement to join and they formed a business group.

The women, most of whom are kin, welcomed the opportunity. On a working day they meet at the vakatunuloa (shed) beside Mrs Matemosi's home to work on their craft. "Now we have about 40 women who have shown interest in joining the group," she said.

"Most of the women are traditional weavers and they are very talented with their hands. "I know that if I was holding on to the business to only benefit me, I won't be able to meet the demand and it is good that we are helping each other out as women and mothers of this community."

Mrs Matemosi's ingenuity was rewarded at the 2007 Fiji Development Bank small business awards where she won the overall winner award. Since then the future looks bigger and brighter.

"The day after I was announced winner of the award, officers of Trade Aid New Zealand visited me and told me they would be putting in their orders for some of our products soon," she said excitedly.

"This is good news to us and we thank the Lord because we believe in him and know that he is helping us out." Mrs Matemosi believes women can make something for themselves out of nothing.

"Thanks to my $35 manual machine, my products which are produced right under this shed at Veisari, are entering the world market in a big way," she said. And that, is just the start for the hardworking women from the far-flung island of Namuka-i-Lau.

The next step may be is an exhibition on the world stage. But for now, Mrs Matemosi has a family to look after first. The world will come next.

Adapted from the November 23rd, 2007