The story of Savai’i needs to be told.
This is how Manager for the Women in Business Development Incorporated (W.I.B.D.I.) Savai’i office, Australian Gillian Stewart, feels since she has been on the big island for the past two years.
She says the people and the land have a story to tell the world.
“They have amazing resources and clean food in Savaii. The world is screaming out for clean food and we shouldn’t just be about supplying things, we can also tell the story of the amazing work that’s happening here with the families on this island.”
W.I.B.D.I has been working with families in Savai’i to supply the components of herbal and organic tea sold by C1 Expresso Café in New Zealand. Organic fruit, herbs and flowers are harvested from around the big island and brought to the W.I.B.D.I. office to go through tea drying and quality assurance process before being exported.
To walk into the tea drying room at the W.I.B.D.I office in Salelologa is to be taken on a fragrant anthology of all that gives Savai’i its sweet aroma and flavour. Wafts of ginger, pineapple, teuila, coconut, felila, hit you and automatically the ability of scents to awaken memories starts to kick in.
“I work with my heart” Ms. Stewart says as she takes us through a demonstration of the drying process.
“The best thing about living and working here is working with Samoan people and looking for opportunities.”
According to Ms. Stewart, since they started 18 months ago, the tea project has gone from experimental to a full on operation and it has been rewarding to see the families reap the benefits from what is growing in their back yards.
“I’ve had one of our tea farmers say to me recently that she was so proud to have paid her children’s school fees and buy groceries with the money made from selling their produce for tea making.
“We are really helping people improve livelihoods with being able to pay bills, water and electricity. I’ve seen the standard of living with some of the families – new fales, new kitchens, investing back in the health and wellbeing of the family.”
The Savai’i Tea project employs two organic warrior academy graduates, who do everything by hand and learnt valuable skills along the way.
“Having our organic warrior academy graduates working here ties everything together nicely, it’s not just a process for them, they are fully engaged in the whole experience in looking out for opportunities.
“It’s rewarding to hear them get excited when they have found a new component, like the other day a variety of passion fruit was sourced and that could be another opportunity for a family.
“They are learning so much and they are doing export orders, sourcing from farmers and we received feedback from our clients that their quality control has been exceptional. Our client is really happy with the quality.”
Ms. Stewart worked in a similar role in Australia prior to coming to Samoa. Two years ago Ms. Stewart came to Samoa on a holiday and took an opportunity to see what W.I.B.D.I. was doing in Samoa.
She was astonished to see what they were accomplishing on the island in a remote part of the Pacific. What happened next can only be described as a calling without a second thought; Ms. Stewart returned to Australia and a couple of months later packed her bags and returned to Samoa on a one way ticket.
“I just had a look at the struggles I was having at supporting the creation of a local food economy and clean food in Australia. Seeing what was being done in the organic space here in Samoa, it really lined up with my values and how I may in the future want to work.
“I packed up my bags and came back three or four months later on a one way ticket with faith about the organic space that I was going to be working with W.I.B.D.I. and the work we can do with families.”
The Savai’i Tea project is doing well with export orders increasing and since they started, Ms. Stewart says the hard work has paid off in terms of their behind the scenes efforts in strengthening the supply chain.
“Now, we are actually confident in supplying quality and timeliness of certified organic products into export markets. This island is just full of potential, there’s so much opportunity in the ma’umaga for income on a regular basis with clean food. It’s a treasure trove here and that’s why I’m still here.”