While their nimble hands weave intricate Tongan tapa cloth, the women chat, laugh, uplift each other – and importantly, share tips about how they can support themselves and their families through careful budgeting and saving.

Palema started Mo’ui Feinga Kihe Lelei (Strive for the Best) 11 years ago after her father urged her to share her skills for making money stretch with others in her community.

“I know what it feels like to have absolutely nothing and I know what it is like what it is like to have a little bit of money to my name. I could see the struggle in my neighbourhood when I first moved in,’’ explains Palema, a mother of four.

“When my Dad was staying with me, he said: ‘Palema you can help people. Share what you know’. He told me to reach out to others and to strive for the best. And that’s what I did.”

While the Mo’ui Feinga Kihe Lelei meetings that Palema set up look like they’re just about making beautiful Tongan crafts, they serve a deeper purpose. The women not only discuss life’s challenges, they have also set up their own saving scheme.

“We have a secretary and a treasurer and each family decides how much they are going to contribute. The money goes into the bank and whatever you put in, you get out in December. Some of the members were blown away by how much they could save, and what a difference it meant to their lives,” Palema says.

Getting the funds back at the end of the year meant it wasn’t a struggle to buy Christmas presents and, for some, it meant that for the first time they could make sure their kids had stationery on the first day of school.

In the early days of Mo’ui Feinga Kihe Lelei, the group met at Palema’s Kāinga Ora home. Neighbours and women from across Auckland heard about the group through word of mouth and Palema’s savvy use of social media. It now has 23 members, including children and meets monthly in a local hall.  At the end of the year, the women hold a special meeting to display the work they have made over the previous months.

For Palema’s neighbour, Kaufo’ou, it’s been life-changing: “I learned how to budget, to save and to socialise with people. And I have gained self-esteem,” Kaufo’ou says.

Kāinga Ora Senior Housing Support Manager Andy says Palema has made a profound impact on her community through her group.

“She has really empowered members to gain confidence with money. They’re saving significant amounts of money, and really benefitting from the power of the group. It has been fantastic to witness and now they are looking at options for investing,” Andy says. 

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Page updated: 27 June 2023