A hand up – not a hand out

Following the devastation caused by cyclone Pam in 2015, NZ Quilters donated 741 quilts for the people of Vanuatu.

When Caroline Mason (a member of the quilters group) delivered some of the quilts she discovered just how few resources the ni-Vanuatuan people have and decided to start a project to help the women become more self-sufficient. Her philosophy was just as the old saying says “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.


On returning to NZ she appealed to her network of quilters and found that there were literally hundreds of old sewing machines living in the backs of wardrobes waiting to be rediscovered and reused! Caroline proceeded to collect sewing related items from the NZ Quilters and the NZ public which would provide women in Vanuatu with some of the tools they need to make and repair their own fabric projects, and at the same time increase their independence. Contributions such as small sewing kits, cotton fabric, and sewing machines quickly arrived at Caroline’s Matamata home. Her husband Julian, put all the machines through electrical safety tests and even repaired and rebuilt a couple of the machines that came in. The plan was to ship these donated items to Vanuatu through the Kiwanis Vanuatu Schools Assistance project, returning to Vanuatu to teach sewing lessons to ni-Vanuatuan women.

The sewing kits were made up of a small drawstring bag containing a dark and a light reel of thread, hand sewing needles, pins, scissors, a tape measure, buttons, and extras – a metre of elastic, lace or ribbon. She collected cotton fabric suitable for making a child’s dress, shorts, a bag or a table cloth and followed up with a collection of 14 sewing machines, stipulating that they must be an older sturdy style ideally in a carry case, in good working order.

These items were then transported to Auckland and included in a Kiwanis shipment to Vanuatu. The Port Vila Kiwanis Club unpacked the shipped items along with the rest of the container and stored the bins and boxes until Caroline arrived on November 4th to do a series of sewing workshops.

With help from several expat women in Vila, They concentrated their efforts on the main island, Efate. Caroline’s two week stint in the country was action packed with lessons – including clothes sewing, but also machine and hand sewing projects intended for selling to tourists.

The inaugural free sewing workshop was for 12 unemployed ni-Vanuatu women. The aim was to give these women an intensive but comprehensive sewing course over 4-5 days so that they could take away enough skills to be able to make a couple of basic garments and basic items. The BIG surprise for the women who turned up for every session and completed every task properly, was that they were given a sewing machine to keep.

IMG_3378Following the course the ni-Vanuatuan ladies continued to meet weekly, with several expat women teaching further skills their goal is to have a stall and raise money to repair the roof at their church Mamas building. Caroline says “There is such a desire to learn and already people like the Disability Centre and ‘Won Sml Bag’ and other church groups are wanting machines.”

Whilst in Vanuatu Caroline discovered that the women need cash to pay school fees for the children as well as costs of everyday living. Firmly convinced of the benefits the niVanuatuan women gained through those first sewing classes, she returned to New Zealand enthusiastically looking towards expanding the project.

With the assistance of NZ Kiwanis providing the transportation and Port Vila Kiwanis storing the product until she returns to conduct more sewing workshops, the expat women who are committed to assisting at the Port Vila end with accommodation and transport around the island, a return trip is scheduled for early May 2016 and another for November 2016. Caroline’s philosophy is that if many people contribute a little as they are able, who knows where this will end up!


February 2016: Other quilters have expressed interest in joining in with the project, so in May one other Matamata quilter will travel with CaIMG_3370roline for the 16 day project. A recent article in the Bay of Plenty times resulted in around 50 more machines being donated. Thirty of these machines are now being prepared for the next Kiwanis shipping container. In addition to taking donated items Caroline offers every women on the workshops a pair of zigzag scissors and a low voltage iron both purchased in New Zealand. Both items are important for improving the quality of sewing. The NiVan women have the option of purchasing the scissors or irons at a very reduced price. Anyone wishing to contribute to the purchase of these items is very welcome to deposit a donation to the project account: Westpac 03 1318 0673774 002

See more images of the project on the Facebook page “Threads across the Pacific”. Caroline is able to visit groups and talk about the project. Leave a message for Caroline through the Contact Us button or email her direct at caroline@techmason.co.nz.