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Photo: Valu assuring quality of VCO
Valu is a happy man these days volunteering as the Quality Control Officer for the Tonga National Youth Congress (TNYC) virgin coconut oil production process.
His full name’s Filohivalu Tuitavake. He’s 54 and grew up a carver of ocean creatures in Kolomotu’a village in the shadows of the royal palace in Tongatapu.
He’s not producing as many carvings as before because these days he is busy helping reshape the future of unemployed Tongan youths. But it’s very rewarding.
“It’s a good place to be. I find meaning in working with youth who need a helping hand,” he said cheerily.
As the quality control officer he closely monitors temperatures for cooking virgin coconut oil. Too hot and the oil will burn. Colder than required, or not cooked for the right amount of time, the oil can go bad.
‘We can’t have that because we export the VCO and we want to continue to keep our market because of the young lives that depend on it,” he said.
“Young Tongans are increasingly finding themselves unemployed these days, either because of the lack of opportunity, not getting good advice or for not getting a good education.
“They cannot help their families and we find many mucking about.
“One day I was walking along and met two young men on the streets. I asked them where they were going.
“They said nowhere; they were just mucking about and maybe going to town.
“I asked them if they wanted to work and they were excited.”
The TNYC, established in 1991 is the national body that deals with youth issues in Tonga.
Around 25 youth aged between 18 to 30 years old work shifts at the TNYC cooking coconut oil.
The Virgin Coconut Oil produced by TNYC is guaranteed organic with third party certification conducted by National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia NASAA and sell to Heilala Vanilla in New Zealand.
At least six to eight buckets of VCO is produced in a 12 hour shift.
It’s their smiles on payday Friday that warms his soul.
“The best part is Friday when they get paid, when they get happy!
“Their parents tell me all kinds of good stuff their kids are doing, bringing home their earnings to help their families and changing lives.
“I think that’s the most important part of it all.
“It’s so good to be part of this system as a whole of producing organic VCO.
“I was away from Tonga for so many years and when I came back I feel my Tonga needs help especially youth and the opportunities they have with technology as well.
“Here I fit in!”