I was 18 years of age when I first started my first piece of tapa.
I would always go and watch my aunty draw tapa (tohi ngatu) for other people and she would get good money for it and it interested me how demanding it is for the people of Tonga especially when functions occur, such as birthdays, weddings, etc. I was eager to learn how to draw tapa as well.
At the time, I didn’t have a job and I was helping my aunty draw tapa full time. I saw how my aunty made good money from what she did and I wanted the same, so every time she gets a tapa to draw, I would always join her and she would always give me pocket money for helping. While helping her with her work, I was learning at the same time with what we were doing.
From 18 years of age till now that I am 25 years old, I have become more experienced with tapa drawing and people would look for me to draw their tapas. I am now occupied with a regular job going on three years now but that doesn't stop me from drawing tapa in my free time after work. I must say that tapa drawing makes really good money, but unfortunately, it can be seasonal at times hence why I'm holding on to my job.
I have come across challenges as a youth entrepreneur doing tapa drawing and that occurs when I team up with someone older than me to draw tapa. From my past experiences, every time the money comes in for the work that we're doing, the older person will always get the money and from there, she will decide how much to give me. The problem is, she doesn’t pay me according to the hard work that I do, yet I do most of the drawing and the other person benefits from it.
I then decided to not rely on someone else with the payment for my tapa drawing, so I stopped drawing in a team and started drawing by myself. I always knew people would still come to me to draw their tapas because they know how hardworking I am. I am always glad when they come to me and that’s the result of doing what you love, you become a natural.
I've seen today that there are so many youths that can manage to build their own small businesses but they lack the support system. But doing business, youths have to get up and look for support and not just sit at home and expect the support to come to them.
However, I do what I do because of my parents. There are only four of us left at home and I’m the only one working. I always make sure to give every penny that I make to my parents. I don’t want to be selfish and keep all the money to myself so I help out and give the money to my parents to pay for daily expenses such as food, groceries, etc. Siblings from overseas sometimes send money, but the money they send is only enough for the weekend, so I'm the one that covers the expenses during the week. So basically with everything I earn, especially the good money I make from drawing tapa, I use it to prioritize feeding my family.
What I do can be rewarding most times because I see myself with what I am capable of. Every time I finish drawing a tapa, I make sure to post my work online and I always receive positive comments and feedback. Customers nowadays pay me beforehand because they trust me with what I do and I always make sure to draw their tapas with my best capabilities. It's always rewarding seeing my customers happy, and for that, I have never received any complaints about what I do.
A piece of advice from me to an entrepreneur that is thinking of starting up a business is to don't live a life where you have to rely and depend on another person. If you see that you can do the work, just do it yourself without depending on others. Always make sure to ask for help if you're struggling with what you're doing, but don't let that discourage you and make you feel that you have to give up, no, don't let anyone drag you down. For instance, myself, lots of people contact me to draw their tapa, and I always say Yes even though I have a lot on my plate with my 9-5 job, but I always make sure to have time for their needs and wants after work. I never give up; when you work, you will see that money comes from different sides, not just your regular job.
Adding on, always make sure to be available to explore new things. You never know that what you’re exploring is your talent. But, you will never know what your talent is and what you’re capable of if you just sit at home doing nothing. For instance, I am not only doing tapa drawing in my free time, but I also explore catering because my mum is a natural cook and we cook all the time and when she is busy, I do the cooking for anyone that hires me. I also do necklaces for graduations, birthdays, etc. I like to explore different things, and it makes me happy.
However, with the work that I'm currently doing here in Tonga and my tapa drawing business, I don't see myself doing that in the long run. I haven't thought crucially about the future hence why I haven't had a plan yet, but when the borders open, I hope to ask my siblings to help take me abroad so that I can work abroad and help my family here in Tonga financially. The work that I do now is all right for the meantime, but I don’t see myself settling with what Tonga offers because I would like to do tapa drawing full time but the problem is, it can sometimes just be seasonal.