John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Old sewing machines help out Vanuatu families

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Women in Vanuatu are taught to sew on donated machines from New Zealand.
Women in Vanuatu are taught to sew on donated machines from New Zealand.

Sewing machines gathering dust in Tauranga homes hold the key to helping families in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu become self-sufficient.

Caroline Mason, who co-ordinated the Quilts for Vanuatu project, is in Tauranga for the next three days taking donations of solid sewing machines.

She said the machines offered a lifeline for women of the impoverished Pacific Island nation to make and repair family clothing and earn money selling crafts to tourists.

Her latest project was a spin-off from the hugely successful quilt project in which more than 740 quilts were collected from around New Zealand and sent to Vanuatu people desperate to rebuild their lives from the devastation of Cyclone Pam.

Mrs Mason said good used electric sewing machines sitting around homes in Tauranga and elsewhere in the Western Bay could make a big difference to the lives of women in Vanuatu.

The first consignment of 18 machines, gathered from her hometown of Matamata, led to a group of expat New Zealanders living in Vanuatu running practical sewing workshops.

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Mrs Mason likened her project to the old saying that it was better to teach someone to fish than give them fish to eat.

Once Vanuatu women had been shown how to use a machine they were able to make clothes for themselves and their family, repair and resize clothing and sew crafts to sell to tourists.

"Sometimes the women already knew how to sew but they did not know the ways to make a quality product," Mrs Mason said.

And because families in Vanuatu had to pay for their children's education, the goal of some of the women, including grandmothers, was to upskill themselves in order to make craft items to sell to cruise ship passengers.

The Kiwanis organisation is helping Mrs Mason to get the machines to Auckland where they will be shipped out in a container on February 13.

Donating machines
- Machines will be collected from Tauranga from Jan 26-29
- Contact numbers: 021523234 or 5763571
- Seeking solid metal machines up to 30-40 years old

- Bay of Plenty Times

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