Illiteracy does not hinder SI women from self-employment: an inspirational story from the MAF
When Anne Maedia was a nurse at Honiara’s main hospital, she noticed how much flowers cheered up patients at the bare wards. That gave her an idea–why not a floristry business? She approached local florist Primrose Maetoloa, who agreed to let Anne “learn by looking”.
FLOWER POWER: Solomon Islands florists Anne Maedia (left) and Primrose Maetoloa (right) at the MAF in Suva.
By 1999, Anne decided she had the skills and the confidence to swap nursing for floristry. She and Primrose now run a blooming company together, their own gardens supplying most of their flowers. Their clients range from individuals to companies and government departments – and a local businessman who pays them to take flowers twice a week to Anne’s old hospital.
Now it’s Anne’s turn to share what she has learned with the 30 members of Honiara Grassroots Women in Self-employment. Ten of the members have participated in the Third Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival (MAF) with the assistance of the Solomon Islands government.
The festival has given the women a bigger market for their baskets and jewellery than is possible in the Solomon Islands. A basket worth $15 Solomon dollars in Honiara was sold during the Festival for about $20 Fiji dollars.
But more importantly, says president and jewellery-maker Gaye Au Ramosaea, the women have picked up fresh ideas they will put into practice back home.
Anne, the secretary of the three-year-old group, says most of its members are illiterate. But their culture and traditions have handed them skills in cooking and handcrafts. The women pool their knowledge, learning about money-handling, improving the quality of their work, and setting prices. “It’s about women helping themselves,” says Anne. Their self-esteem also rises: “It gives women confidence, being out at the market day after day, and not just working at home,” she says.
“They are motivated. Even if they can’t read and write, they can earn money for their families. They sometimes earn more than their husbands.”
Anne adds: “The husbands … realise that the women can do something for the family. All the women in this group are paying their children’s school fees themselves.” In Anne’s case, she brings home more profit in a day than her nurse husband can earn in a fortnight.
The earnings of enterprising women like Anne can lift families out of poverty, says Linda Petersen, the women’s development adviser at the Pacific Women’s Bureau at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
However, governments need to recognise the value of such projects when developing strategies for reducing hardship: “They should support these efforts through the provision of resources and basic infrastructure,” said Ms Peterson.