As a part of Hibiscus Three's celebrations for International Women's Day 2022, we had the opportunity to interview a number of small and medium enterprises whom, through their ventures, are addressing social issues in Papua New Guinea.
Adding to these interviews, we'll be revisiting conversations we've had with other talented PNG Creatives with whom Hibiscus Three has collaborated with through our merchandise arm.
For our first interview, we were pleased to speak to Evelyn Mopafi, Social Media Manger of Apo Meri/ Handmade Locally, and learn more about the collaboration and fantastic work with with talented artisans and weavers in rural PNG.
Hibiscus Three: What social issue(s) in PNG have you identified for your business to focus on addressing?
Evelyn Mopafi: Income generation for talented artisans and weavers in rural PNG and social inclusion. We particularly target widows, single mother, family members of female headed households and are actively looking to support weavers with disabilities and the elderly. Our goal is to assist them to find a market outside of Goroka so that they can provide for their families.
HT: Is there an initiative that your business has implemented to respond to this social issue, and can you briefly describe this initiative?
EM: The name Apo Meri simply means Goroka (Apo) woman/Girl (meri). It wasn’t a well-thought-out name and the intention was to change it later after the page/account was created but its stuck now and became our identity.
We have a small team in Goroka comprised of family members who collect all the items from the weavers and artisans, do quality control and send the items to Port Moresby.
In Port Moresby another team (family also) sorts, varnishes and sells mainly on social media but we are always at the POM City markets on Sundays.
Proceeds from the sales are sent to out team in Goroka who pass this on to the artisans and weavers.
HT: What is your motivation?
EM: I myself am an avid collector of Lufa Cane baskets.
At one stage I had so many in my house in Goroka I had to bring the artisans to my house to prove for themselves that I couldn’t buy anymore. At that time, I was moving to Port Moresby so when I mentioned that that’s when they as asked me to help sell their products in Port Moresby.
This has extended now to bilums, rugs and other handmade products from artisans from my province. I’ve also assisted women from Gembogl sell their flower in Port Moresby.
Since then, the weavers and artisans have been able to pay for their children school fees and meet their basic needs. That in itself is my motivation.
I’ve been so blessed to see the difference this has made to their lives.
HT: What previous experience and/or skills do you have that you bring to your operating your business?
EM: In my full-time employment, I work in the GEDSI field ( I work for a great organisation and absolutely love my job!) so this is actually an extension of my day job to my personal life where my goal is to assist rural people in my area use their skills to make ends meet by having an income.
HT: Through your business’ efforts, what does social impact in PNG look like to you?
EM: Through this effort, especially the sale of bilums, we have been able to influence the mindset of families in my village. Men and young boys now assist the female in their families with cooking and house hold chores. They also assist with sorting out and breaking the wool for the women to twist.
Bilum making has now become a family event and mothers are teaching their daughters how to make bilums which is important to keep this skill in our community and country. The women also reported that they don’t gamble anymore. “why waste time and money when we can me making money?” is what they have said many times.
Apart from changing mindsets, families are now able to pay for school fees and meet their basic needs and social/ customary obligations.
HT: Are you open to the idea of collaboration with other businesses or individuals to expand/accelerate your business efforts?
EM: We are open to collaboration as long as this benefits the weavers and artisans. Currently we work ourselves.
HT: In achieving your goals for social impact, what is one challenge that your business is currently faced with and how are you navigating this?
EM: Our biggest challenge is quality control and making sure the customer is happy with our products.. We are getting there, mainly due to customer feedback and I believe the items, especially the bilums, are far better now compared to what we sold before.
HT: Where can the Hibiscus Three community and readers support your business’ vision to addressing social impact ?
EM: Apart from IG, we are also on Facebook as Apo Meri and we also have a FB page Handmade Locally.
(all images featured in this article are courtesy of @handmadelocally on Instagram)