New initiative helps disabled in Tonga make coconut products

A story in Pacific Periscope on the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) project last year, highlighted how the lives of two workers with disabilities were changed after being employed in the production of VCO.

A participant in the initiative fashions a product from a coconut shell. (Image: Supplied)

Since then TNYC have taken the impetus to work with Naunau o e Alamaite Tonga Association (NATA) helping people with disability on a joint initiative that could assist more people into employment.

NATA and TNYC teamed up for the Life Skills and Self-Employment Initiative (Life SEI) in recognition of their joint roles under the Tongan National Policy on Disability Inclusive Development 2014-2018.  The policy goal is to break down barriers for people with disability, respecting their dignity and rights and enabling them to reach their full potential and empowering them economically and politically and improving their quality of life.

Siotame Drew Havea, a TNYC leader visited Auckland recently as a representative in the Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) NZ Pacific Path to Market four-day programme to Pasifika Festival in March. He was in Auckland to understand more about New Zealand’s market and seek potential buyers for VCO.

Mr Havea said they had no initial funding for their initiative so each organisation had to look at their own resources to put together a programme to help their respective groups.

NATA through European Union projects had equipment for handicraft work and TNYC have staff with skills in using the equipment.

Mr Havea said “LifeSEI is an experimental initiative that needs support to get started, with a vision to provide self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities and the unemployed youth through handicraft on-the-job skills training and practice. It is not a theory classroom approach.”

TNYC provides workshop training space and trainers and will link the finished products to the existing local market stream with their coconut oil production.

The programme is in the early stages having just started at the end of March and early April with two half-day training sessions for 13 participants – five people with disability in wheelchairs and eight youth (five females and three males) with two trainers. The participants were trained on Health and Safety procedures in the use of machinery and product design using raw materials from coconut shells.

Down the track, the programme envisages that youth and people with disabilities will be supported to earn their living from the sales of products they have made. The programme will also provide financial literacy and business to enable individuals to start their own businesses.

Mr Havea said Civil Society Forum of Tonga (CSFT) with the Pacific Leadership Programme (PLP) funding recognised the opportunity to support this initiative as it has the potential for future employment opportunities for people with disabilities who will be part of the programme.

“It is also important to understand the context that access for employment for people with disability has to be in skills development as Tonga is challenged with providing inclusive education to people with disability.”

For more information on VCO or the joint project please contact:  PT&I Trade Development Manager, Joe Fuavao on

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