When a birthday comes up, it’s easy to grab a bottle of wine as a gift. But instead of buying a bottle, why not be a little more creative and buy a placemat for the wine to sit on? Not only will the placemat look wonderful and have multiple purposes, it will also be cheaper than the wine itself!

Threads Across the Pacific is a group of local mamas who sew a variety of products including table runners, tablecloths, bags, placemats, blankets and children’s clothes. When you buy one of their products, you will also be supporting the mamas. This initiative began in 2015 when Caroline Mason asked quilting groups in New Zealand to donate small and large quilts for Cyclone Pam survivors who had no shelter. After she had delivered the quilts, she was shown two old sewing machines destroyed by mud and salty water from Cyclone Pam’s aftermath.

Threads across the pacific

‘I began to think about whether or not there are spare sewing machines in New Zealand which I could collect and take to Efate,’ Caroline says. After making contact with a small group of Kiwi expats based in Vila, she was able to run the first machine workshop at a Presbyterian church in Nagere.  A hand-sewing workshop was also held at a school in North Efate and there are plans to take sewing machines there once the school is connected to the main electricity. Of the Kiwi ladies, she says, ‘I could not possibly have got this project underway without this small group of very generous women’.  Threads Across the Pacific also receives help from the international organization Kiwanis who have generously taken donated sewing machines and fabric to Port Vila.

Twelve local women ended up attending the first machine workshop and each received an electric machine at the end of the four-day class. They continued to meet weekly and learn further skills assisted by a couple of expat New Zealanders.  This group recently held a very successful street stall that generated over $1600NZ from their sewing efforts.  They decided together to spend their profits in three ways.  One third went towards repairing the roof on their Mama’s house, one third was used to buy further supplies of sewing materials and one third was distributed amongst the women.

Caroline says that it’s satisfying to see the mamas grow to the point where they are now assisting in teaching other groups of women. She hopes that in the future they will be able to organize their own workshops. At this stage the workshops only occur when she is in Vanuatu, which she plans to visit again in May and October.

sewing vanuatu

‘My ultimate goal is that a great many women receive a sewing machine, learn to sew and then can generate some income by selling the things they make. They can enhance the lives of themselves and their families, school fees can be paid, and more children can receive an education,’ Caroline says. ‘The main objective of the project is to give women a ‘hand up, not a hand out’.  After a disaster like Cyclone Pam, it is a danger that people can become dependent on aid.  Feeling like they are powerless to do anything and must sit back and wait for help to arrive from far away lands.

This project follows the same philosophy as the old saying; ‘If you give a man a fish you feed his family for a day, if you teach a man to fish he will feed his family for life’. I change the saying to, ‘If you give a woman some clothes it will dress her child for now, if you teach the woman to sew she will dress her family for life and potentially sell what she makes to pay the school fees so her child is educated too’’.

Please support this project by visiting their Facebook page Threads across the Pacific and click on ‘like’.