Kiribati April 2024

Team at Nadi airport

Kiribati Report: April 7th-22nd 2024.

Aims and Objectives

  1. To teach twenty-five women to sew, with some to become teachers for future sewing courses to be run by the AMAK Women’s Centre.
  2. To set up a permanent sewing workshop where sewing courses will be held, and local women will be able to come and sew for themselves under the supervision of teachers.
  3. To train a number of men or women to become proficient at servicing and repairing sewing machines.
  4. Establish a small production sewing workshop to make school uniforms and other clothes and generate a small income for AMAK.



Teachers: Rhonda Whitton, Vera Liondas, Jenny Eggleston, Fay Kitto, Jennie Beeston

Admin and Management: Tony Castley, Paula Vincent, Erimeta Barko ( Kiriabti)

Mechanical Training: Mario Azarpadi, Zac Vincent.


Getting there:

The team flew out of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on Sunday, 7th April 2024, overnight in Fiji, and onto Tarawa( Kiribati) on Monday, 8th. We were met at the Tarawa Bonriki airport by David O’Toole and his wife Julie, who were Australian volunteers working with AMAK. Tarawa is the main island of the Kiribati group, with 65% of the 110,00 total population crowed in South Tarawa. We went through to Fema Lodge, where we were staying, and then back to AMAK.


AMAK Celebrations

The AMAK Women’s Centre had recently been substantially renovated and funded by the Australian Government. On a Monday afternoon, under a specially erected marque, we joined in the “ handing over “ ceremony. There were about 50 people in attendance, including the Australian High Commission Karen Bray and the Kiribati First Lady . The festivities included a number of speeches followed by local dancing.


SewAid  set-up:

After the celebrations, at about 4 pm the Sewaid team began setting up. We had shipped the following goods in a container, which was only delivered to AMAK on Friday, after sitting on the Kiribati wharf for 12 weeks, held up by paperwork!

13 large tables, 30 stackable chairs, 15 new sewing machines, 5 new overlockers, 20 second-hand sewing machines, 5 second-hand overlockers, a new high-speed Singer industrial sewing machine and bench, a high-speed Singer industrial overlocker and bench, 160 rolls of fabric and very large amount of haberdashery and sewing accessories.


Accommodation and Eating :

At the Fema lodge, we had 8 rooms, with Zac and his mum Paula sharing a room. The rooms were run down, with mould on the walls, etc., but the essentials were there: hot showers, a good bed, and an air conditioner and toilet that both worked. At  $117 – $134 a night per room, it was expensive for the condition of the rooms. Ketrina, a young lady that ran the office, told us she works 14 hours a day (7am -9pm) six days a week and is paid $2,00 an hour !!  So, they don’t have much of a labour cost!  We had dinner at the Fema restaurant the first night, and the food was not great, so for most nights following, we went to the Utirerei hotel nearby, where the food was much better, and the staff really looked after us. For lunch each day, we went to the Chatterbox café, which is the only Western-type café in Kiribati, and it was conveniently close to AMAK. Paula ordered and arranged all the lunches and dinners each day.


Getting around:

We hired two cars: a Subaru SUV for $90 a day and a medium-sized late-model Nissan car for $70 per day.  We had a small accident the first night, which cost us $350 for the damage, but otherwise, we had no further problems with the cars. Paula and Mario did most of the driving. There is only one road that runs the 35km length of the island; the speed limit is 40kph, but most of the traffic moves at about 20-30kph, so travelling between Fema Lodge and AMAK takes about 30-45 minutes each way.  There is one section of the road where there is a sign, saying highest point in Tarawa – 3 meters !!   Petrol was $1.20 ltr.


Sewing Teaching Program

On Tuesday morning, there was another ceremony, this time to welcome SewAid, more dancing and food, and we also celebrated Zac’s 17th Birthday. Finally got started on the teaching Tuesday afternoon.  There were three beginner classes of five students, ladies who hadn’t sewn before, and two advanced classes of five, ladies who could already sew. The beginner classes were taken by Jennie B, Fay, and Vera, and the advanced classes by Jenni E., and Rhonda.

The teaching progressed every day for the next 8 days, including Saturday morning, finishing up with a big party on Wednesday 17th; a very large number of bags, dresses, shirts and craft items were made- see the photos, and the teachers were all happy with the progress the students made. Thank you, teachers, you did a wonderful job!

One afternoon, Mario and I conducted a servicing lesson, during which the students were taught to service the sewing machines and the overlockers. Knowing how to service the machines and understanding the importance of servicing is so important in third-world countries. In Kiribati, there are hundreds of sewing machines that are rusted and unusable because of the lack of service.

The main sewing teaching program ended on Wednesday and concluded with a party and a ceremony where all the sewing classes put on a small song and dance for their teachers. Then we gave out the certificates to all the students and presented Erimeta with a beautiful quilt kindly donated by Vera, followed by a raffle of a second quilt and other prizes.  Six of our team left for home the next morning while three of our team, Rhonda, Vera, and Fay, stayed on until the following Monday to train the teachers in teaching methods and techniques and set up the ongoing sewing courses for AMAK.


Embroidery machine:

We carried an Elna Air Artist embroidery machine on the plane, and many thanks to Rhonda, who taught two local ladies how to use this quite complex machine. It will be a great asset to the sewing room.


Mechanical Training

Mario set up his training in the other building, and he and Zac taught a team of 10 men and women how to service and repair sewing machines. They serviced and repaired the 25 second-hand machines, assembled the industrial machines, and also made a service call to the RAK and RAB sewing workshops, where they successfully repaired some of their machines. Mario was amazed at how interested his students were and how quickly they learnt. Several could competently repair mechanical sewing machines at the end of the course, and I believe this will be the first time that sewing machines can be repaired in Kiribati. Thank you, Mario; we have never had a sewing machine mechanic in our team before, but having you with us this time was a huge success.


Admin team:

I was very ably supported by Paula and Zac, who quietly took care of the many jobs that needed to be done each day.  Paula organised all the meals, the water, and anything we needed, as well as organising all the paperwork and the certificates.   Zac, in addition to helping Mario, unpacked and sorted out all the container goods, assembled the wall stands, and he and Paula sorted out all the fabrics. This room became known as the fabric shop!  Thank you, Paula and Zac, for all your assistance.


Public relations:

The local TV station came and did some filming, and we were able to see part of this on the news when we visited the George Hotel in Betio (the top end of the island ) on Sunday. We also have the film on a USB.

We were also invited to a reception at the Australian High Commission (HC)), which is a modern, impressive building in Biriki (area of all embassies, etc.). A large amount of finger food was turned on, and we had the opportunity to ask High Commissioner Karen and assistant Brenden a lot of questions about their work. Some interesting details: The annual cost of the Australian program is $44 mil, and the number of staff is 5 Australians and 30 locals. Staff salaries range from $75,00pa to $16,000pa for a driver, and their work is heavily focused on global warming, gender equality and Australia maintaining a strong relationship with the Kiribati government and its people. Group photos were taken and later posted on the Embassy website.



The small Rotary club of Kiribati was to have a meeting on the Wednesday night, however this was postponed until the Friday night, so as to included District Governor Vineeta Nand who flew in Thursday from New Zealand. Rotarians Rhonda, Vera, and Fay attended the meeting. DG Vinetta inspected the Sewaid program and was most impressed and wrote up an article for one of the Rotary websites.


Conclusions and Thanks:

I visited Kiribati back in 2019 when I met Mrs Erimeta Baraka, the manager of the AMAK Women’s Community Centre, who asked me if I could help her establish a sewing program. Then COVID got in the way, and so it was 4 years later that we finally got to put this together.  Prior to the actual trip, some twelve months of planning and organising went into preparing for the program. Many thanks to Rotary Donations-in-Kind in Melbourne for all their assistance in getting the container of goods shipped to Kiribati in November 2023. Many thanks to our donors and suppliers, including Sewgroup International, Hobbysew Australia, Janome and Singer sewing machines, Simplicity patterns, Rotary Down Under and others. To get these trips up and running, I rely on the great assistants of the Hobbysew staff, including Tracey, Eve, Donna, Analise and Chris- and a very big thank you for all that you prepared for this program, including the Polo shirt embroidery, the team profile and certificates etc.

It really took a huge amount of work to put the team and the program together, and Erimeta and I had hundreds of emails over many months to work out the details. At the airport when Erimeta came to see us off, she said “we did it “ to which I replied “yes we did it “ Many many thanks to Erimeta – a beautiful lady who worked so hard to make this happen.

But the Sewaid team program would never exist without our wonderful volunteers- our teachers and other members of the team. Not only do they donate their time and skills, but they also pay their own airfares, which this time were $2,000 each !   A huge thank you to Rhonda, Vera, Fay, Jenni E, and Jennie B.; you were all wonderful teachers.  Thank you to the Kiribati team, you were a fantastic team, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Women in Kiribati have learnt new skills and more will continue to learn because of your efforts.


Please see the photos when reading this report.  Click on the photos to enlarge.



Tony Castley, SewAid Manager.