Financing the Makoi Women’s Vocational Training Centre (MWVTC) project in Fiji

The IsDB has participated in the development of Muslim minority community in Fiji in partnership with Fiji Muslim League (FML) by providing grants for building of schools, medical and vocational training center, ICT upgrades, leadership training and emergency relief supplies for victims affected by cyclone and floods.

One of the projects that has positively transformed the lives of Fijian women is the Makoi Women’s Vocational Training Centre supported by the IsDB Communities Outreach Programme.

Many underprivileged and destitute women in Fiji such as widows, deserted mothers, school dropouts, and women from broken families did not have access to the skills, training and resources that would help them become independent and financially self-sufficient to support themselves and their dependents. Due to little or no education, they are powerless and locked in a vicious cycle where dependency is the norm.

The IsDB Communities Outreach Programme and Fiji Muslim League agreed that the best option was to help these women by training them in a lifelong skill in order to generate income and not be dependent on the handout mentality. To this end, the team from the IsDB Communities Outreach Programme and Fiji Muslim discussed the development of the scope and the objective of the Makoi Women’s Vocational Training Centre (MWVTC) project.  The project was approved in 2010 by the IsDB with the grant of US$ 470,000 for the construction, equipping and the capacity building, with the contribution from the Fiji Muslim League which provided the land and assured the provision of the overhead cost of the center.

This Project aims to economically empower and at the same time educate women, providing them with the entrepreneurial skills they need to become economically self-sufficient. These free skill-based developmental opportunities are provided to the underprivileged women regardless of their race and ethnicity. The centre recognizes and leverages women's crucial role as the "Trainer" and a "Catalyst" of a family by offering a plethora of skill-based vocational training geared at enlightening, educating and equipping women to be self-sufficient.

The Centre is a Double storey building with equipment (industrial and portable sewing machines) on the first floor to cater for sewing classes for 35 women. The first floor provides open space for leadership training and seminars/courses, conducting training modules, and for general class use. There is an office for the Manager, and a boardroom. The hall is also used as a showroom for the display of garments made during special open days to attract community support. It has a furnished Library and Computer room which is also used for caregiving practicals.

The ground floor has a state-of-the-art culinary kitchen and equipment setup. It also has a 20 bed Dormitory facility for Muslim women that come from outer Islands to get trained at the Centre and return to their homelands with the skills and knowledge gained at MWVTC.

Today, in offering free courses, the Center enables marginalized and destitute women to have access to training in areas such as cooking, pastry, tailoring, embroidery and hydroponics for the duration of 8 weeks. These skills they learn can be utilized to start up income generating activities after graduation. The center has the capacity to enroll 100 women in each batch running simultaneously.

At   the   culmination   of   the   said   courses, the women also undergo training in Financial Management skills to enable them to draw up a budgeting and savings plan. This includes Planning, Budgeting, How to Build a Budget, Saving, Borrowing and How to Protect It. This service is provided by the Westpac Banking Corporation under their corporate social responsibility.

In August 2020, the center partnered with the US Embassy and Women Entrepreneurs Business Council to facilitate the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs Program to 115 women. 33 of these women were graduates from MWVTC. It is a 7 month online entrepreneurial program that helps women entrepreneurs achieve success.

The courses that are included in the program covers relevant topics such as Marketing, Finance and Accounting. In addition to the interactive courses, women have access to helpful tools and templates. Throughout the program, a Business Plan Generator guides the participants in the creation of a business plan for their new or existing businesses.

Currently, the centre is running short courses with 8 weeks’ duration that encompasses the basic fundamentals of Tailoring, Culinary and other easy-learning trades in order to equip students with rudimentary "bread-earning" skills. These short duration participatory courses are more hands on and demonstration-based rather than made up of theory.

At the completion of the 8-week training the center organizes open days to sell the garments and products crafted by the participants. The open day is advertised through the social media platform and word by mouth. Women participants in all the courses are given the opportunity to showcase their products.

The cooking students have a bake sale while the sewing students showcase all their products they have sewn throughout the course. The Hydroponics class showcases all their new methods of planting by using local nutrients and local re-usable products such as plastic bottles, oil gallons, egg trays etc. The income from the sales is retained by the center.

After 8 weeks of training the students graduate with certificates issued by the invited Chief Guests. The MWVTC has attracted a lot of attention in the media by the participants, Fijian Government and diplomatic missions based out of Fiji. To date the center has been blessed by the visits of Ministers, Diplomatic Heads of Mission and prominent citizens who have presented themselves as the Chief Guest at the graduation.

The Centre’s immediate goal is to allow the students an opportunity to make an honest living so that these women and their families are able to move out of poverty, begging and illicit activities on the streets.

Since the inception of the Vocational Center over 1000 women of all races have been trained in Cooking & Pastry, Sewing & Embroidery and Hydroponics. The participants have come from peri urban, rural and distance communities and villages from the two big Islands of Fiji, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu and Taveuni.

The highest number of graduates from Makoi has been deserted mothers followed by widows and divorcees. Some of the graduated women have had no formal education at all or have had only primary school education. Our trainer’s converse with these ladies in vernacular language either (Urdu, Hindi or Itaukei) to impart the skill-based education.

To further its services to the community, Makoi Women’s Vocational Training Center introduced a caregiving course in February 2020. This is a 6 months course whereby all the theory and practical of providing professional care to the elderly and persons with medical conditions needing constant physical care have been covered.

The caregiving course is also available to women who have been caring for their elderly at home. All students are also provided training in personal grooming, self-confidence and general education such as Financial Literacy with a view to getting them started in a successful practical life. The procedure of training not only explores the hidden skills of the individuals, but also enhances and refines them professionally, preparing them to join a productive workforce and even become entrepreneurs.

Impact / Results of The Project

The following was the benefits of the project accruing to the participants:

  • Over 85% success rate of participants using the skill set to become self-sufficient.
  • 30% of graduates have successfully started their own business. One graduate who started her own sewing business is now looking at opening a small garment factory.
  • 70% have been employed by hotels, retailers and other businesses including managerial positions.
  • Some students have been employed by the centre itself and the Fiji Muslim League.
  • A number of the students have formed groups/clubs and participate in craft shows, women’s expos.
  • In a number of instances, the graduating students entered into entrepreneurship and were extremely successful. They have expanded their businesses to such extents where they have now become employers. Their success is exemplary for the students of the centre since they managed to not only improve their own family’s livelihood; they created employment opportunities through which additional families benefited.

Due to the popularity of the MWVTC, the support that has been provided by the government and other stakeholders, as well as the quality of the products produced by the centre, management approached the accreditation authorities to have the centre successfully certified.

Makoi Women’s Vocational Training Center has achieved Approval of Recognition by the Fiji Higher Education Commission (FHEC) to operate and issue recognized certificates to the graduating student. The centre is currently in process of registration with FHEC as a ‘Higher Education Institute’. Having the centre courses accredited with the FHEC is a short-medium term goal and the centre is working closely with stakeholders to achieve this sustainable development goal.

The centre is also accredited with the “Fijian Sewn” certification by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism. Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism. The quality of training that it provides, as well as the quality of the finished work, has been recognized with this accreditation.

The center has sustained itself until now. Post COVD 19 there has been an even greater demand for training for those women who have lost employment in the formal sector for training in new employment skills. The benefits accruing to the participants through this center has been phenomenal, this evidenced by its positive impact on their socio-economic lives.