Community Café does much more than vend Tongan coffee

Emeline Afeaki-Mafile’o is the owner of the Community Café at the Mangere Arts Centre in the heart of Mangere on the outskirts of South Auckland. The area has a high concentration of Pacific Island families, many struggling to make ends meet. Driven by her passion to help the community, Mrs Afeaki-Mafileo has grown and flourished as a social entrepreneur. 

Emeline Afeaki-Mafile’o in front of the café with Tupu’anga Manioke and Kumara chips, coffee and Popi’s organic vanilla.
Emeline Afeaki-Mafile’o in front of the café with Tupu’anga Manioke and Kumara chips, coffee and Popi’s organic vanilla.

Earlier this year Mrs Afeaki-Mafileo was made Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the Pacific community. She is the founder of Affirming Works, a not for profit youth mentoring programme. Since 2001 more than 5000 youth and children have been supported, with training and employment for more than 100 youth workers. She established the Fofola Consultancy to give independent advice on Pacific matters. She has won a number of awards from the Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader Award in 2006 and the Westpac Woman of Influence for Community and Social Enterprise in 2013. She is inspired and inspiring.

The Community Café is located in the foyer of the Mangere Arts Centre (MAC), a modern light-filled airy complex that also houses a performing arts theatre and art gallery. Pacific Periscope visited the centre amidst the celebrations of Tongan Language Week. The place was alive with activity and a contrast to when the space was largely lonely and underutilised until Affirming Works took over the café in September 2015.

Children from the nearby Rise Up Charter Primary school were watching a video about Tongan tapa making. Students from nearby Kings College had just left. Another group from Rise Up were due in the afternoon. A local Muslim school had been in the day before for a cultural exchange. A display table of Tongan products including Tupuanga Coffee, cassava chips, vanilla, soaps and Tongan made crafts and purses in front of the café space and a specially invited masseuse gave massages using Tongan coconut oil for a $1.00 a minute bring forth a flavour of Tonga.

The café food cabinets are full of scones, cakes and pies. Their famous Lu Sipi – lamb and taro leaf pie sold fast. Mrs Afeaki-Mafileó says they just can’t keep up with the demand. They also stock their own bags of Tupuanaga Coffee, a range of manioke and kumara chips and Popi’s organic vanilla extract aside other products.

Tupu’anga Coffee from Tonga.
Tupu’anga Coffee from Tonga.

Auckland City Council had offered Mrs Afeaki-Mafileó the option to operate the cafe after being impressed with her first café in Otahuhu on Great South Road, opposite the Otahuhu Police Station.

The café is more than a place to eat. It is working space for people to come in, hold meetings. Talk.  Have conversations. It is a citizen-centric café – it’s about the community and its citizens. A place where people feel encouraged to come in, have conversations, talk, share – build relationships.

A big part of the MAC Community Café is the support it provides not just for the local community programmes here in New Zealand but also for the coffee growers of their company Tupuánga Coffee. Mrs Afeaki-Mafileó and her husband Alipate own the Tupuanga Coffee factory in Tonga where the coffee is grown and exported for sale. They bought the original company Royal Tonga Coffee several years ago after discovering it was up for sale. It was the perfect fit as her husband Alipate is also an agriculturist and farmer.

Over the years they have lived in Tonga and New Zealand, building the business that now provides jobs for workers in New Zealand and Tonga. The factory has harvested eight tonnes of coffee providing support for 40 pickers, 17 in the factory and farms. It is part of a strategy that satisfies Agri-tourism in Tonga, the market, staff and community. “It’s an authentic investment in our communities,” said Mrs Afeaki-Mafileó.

Emeline Afeaki-Mafile’o (Back row second right), with the children from Rise Up Charter Primary School during Tonga Language week.
Emeline Afeaki-Mafile’o (Back row second right), with the children from Rise Up Charter Primary School during Tonga Language week.

By simply being in the community and part of that community, things have come about in an organic and supportive way, says Mrs Afeaki-Mafile’o.  “I love community engagement – it pulls me in and makes me feel inspired.”

They also supply volunteers to run the Community Café in Mt Roskill in cooperation with the Ethnic Communities market day at the Wesley Community Centre on Fridays from 7-2pm. Add that to a homework centre called Power Plus on three nights a week and quarterly retreats at Snell’s beach for over 50 families from four mainstream churches.

They are fortunate, she says, to have the financial freedom to make choices and support the work they are passionate about. They are not paid from their businesses, her income is made from her consultancy and all their profit from the companies is re-invested back into the communities for development.

For more information, please email PT&I Trade Development Manager Joe Fuavao at joe.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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