Single mother builds her way to greatness

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Elisabeta Torava Waqa takes orders on social media. Picture: SUPPLIED

Women do many things and handle many situations better than their male counterparts.

When faced with a crisis, most women find a way to keep their families intact and their priority would be to ensure their children’s needs are met.

Take the case of Elisabeta Torava Waqa.

She has worn many hats and been called many things.

From “Red Cow” for delivering fresh milk in a bright red car to “Lovo Queen” for selling food fresh from the earth oven from her Tacirua home.

And along her journey through life, she has also met many challenges – but none as big as the day her husband walked out on her and took their eldest kids – the ones who she needed most to keep their lovo business alive.

But to understand who she is and how she got there, we have to wind the clock back and tell her story from the beginning.

Ms Waqa was born and raised in Waciwaci, Lakeba, Lau.

Her family moved to Suva for the children’s higher education after she passed her Fiji Junior Certificate exams as a student at Ratu Finau Secondary School.

She endured many trials before becoming the proud owner of her lovo business – something she said she could never have done without her doting children.

Her journey to becoming an entrepreneur began with when she worked as a freelance consultant.

However, towards the end of 2020 the project was recalled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I came back home and was happy being a stay-at-home mum for a while,” she said.

“Early in 2021, we met an old Indian couple who sold fresh cows milk for a living.

“They needed help since they could no longer sell fresh milk to their Navua customers because the border for us was at Wainadoi.

“Soon, I became known (and still called by the name to this day by most Lami residents) as the milk lady or Red Cow because I delivered their fresh milk in a bright red car.”

Ms Waqa said her family continued to sell fresh milk at a cost of $3 and some days money was so tight that it barely covered fuel costs.

“We may not have benefited financially from the exchanges, however, we established a great network in the Lami area building trust over the months of milk deliveries.

“As time went on, we started to feel the weight of the milk runs financially.

“We had to earn some money to keep us going so we decided to sell lunch packs to cater for those working from home.”

The business was a hit and with help from her children they continued to sell packs delivered free to homes in the Lami area.

“We did our first delivery on a Friday with only five packs and have never looked back.

“I remember how we rejoiced when we had sold out those five packs.”

Nearly two years on, Ms Waqa said with the help of her children, they have grown so much in experience and business know-how.

At present they make about 80 packs on Thursdays and Sundays with free deliveries within the Suva-Nausori area.

The lovo food ready for packing and delivery. Picture: Supplied

Just when things began to look bright for her lovo business, she experienced one of her biggest challenges – separation from her husband, the father of her nine children.

“The break-up with their father when he left was not good.

“He made sure he took with him all the bigger kids, the ones who were needed for the lovo business.

“I was left with the youngest four, the eldest of them was 11 and the youngest was only about eight months old – but that didn’t stop us.

“It was difficult to be a single mother to these young ones but we weathered on, all of us going on the delivery runs since there was no one to babysit.”

Ms Waqa reminisced about the days when things got so tough that she was almost ready to throw in the towel.

“This business has been me and my nine children from day one.

Lovo Queen Elisabeta Torava Waqa’s children. Picture: Supplied

“We turned two years old on August 13 and that is anniversary of the day I dared to do the lovo myself.

“I had only the little kids and the girls, we had taken orders for that particular Friday.

“I was tempted to just cancel the orders and go back to sleep because it was so cold that morning but it felt cowardly to do so.

“So I dared myself that I, a woman, was going to make lovo – something known to be men’s work and we have never looked back since.”

Ms Waqa said over the years they have extended their business to outsourcing lovo making orders for functions specialising in food catering.

“We reinvested back in the business in the first two months, but we grew our orders and our lovo became very popular once the borders opened.

“We lived in Delainavesi then and when the Delainavesi border opened, we were able to accommodate requests for a barter system with a group of women in Tailevu.

“Those exchanges took place at the Logani border so everytime we travel that way now, the kids reminisce on those trips.”

She said with the money she had saved from the business, she had managed to do minor repairs to their home, financially supported the Lakeba Rugby Team, and a handful of single mothers during the hand-holding stages of empowerment.

“We started reaching out also to less fortunate families in our communities both on our own and through some groups we are members of.

“We invested $25,000 on a vehicle and bought about $10,000 worth of household items and sent food rations to my disabled brother on the island.

“We have had so much to be grateful for in our journey and as the adult, and mother, I made sure my children appreciated that.

“I’ve treated the kids to holidays and random picnics, treated myself to manicures, pedicures, massages and just basically taking care of myself.”

She said all the sacrifices were finally paying off for the family and they have gained a huge family in the shape of their customers through their business journey.

“It’s been a wonderful learning journey as I am still learning and discovering myself.

“There was so much we achieved in a year that we would not have been able to achieve if not for the lovo business.

“Since we work together as a family, I am also learning a lot about my kids.

“We have fun sharing our experiences on our Facebook page.

“We have gained thousands of followers by merely being ourselves by bonding with our customers through our stories, as real and raw as it is.”

She said having faith, passion and drive was what kept her running her business.

“When I was deciding to be a single mother, I had no idea how I was going to handle things, especially keeping the kids together.

“But entrepreneurship has shaped our family in ways that have surpassed my expectations and it continues to amaze me how great a difference it has made for our quality of life.

“Looking back, it has been a great healing process that went by so fast because we were too busy loving our journey and each other’s company.”

Her message to women who are looking towards starting their own business is to “work with what you have and start where you are”.

“Be original and never write off an idea that bugs you, instead act on it because that just may be your breakthrough.

“It’s good to be competitive, but you must ensure you are competing with yourself first.

“The person in the mirror, take care of her. Be true to her even when there seem to be no support, you will always have her.”

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