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Coconut oil firm's Northern Ireland founder hopes to help islanders on other side of globe to prosper

By Rachel Martin

A coconut oil company co-founded by a Northern Ireland man is aiming to help people on a Fijian island become more self-sufficient. Coconut oil has become one of the latest health food crazes to hit the UK, despite a relatively high calorie content.

Now Tim McKee from Hillsborough has joined with two friends to set up social enterprise Bula Batiki.

And they are using a campaign on crowd-funding website Kickstarter to attract the funds to increase the production of coconut oil in Batiki.

Through the company they hope to be able to help residents of the remote South Pacific island Batiki to make a better income by marketing their coconut oil in the UK and Ireland.

Coconut oil contains a different type of fatty acid which experts say can be more easily digested by the body, and is also gluten, lactose and cholesterol-free.

Mr McKee (31) said he wanted to help villagers living in Batiki after four years spent volunteering with Think Pacific - and said the experience had changed his outlook on life forever.

He longed to return and made friends with two other travellers who had also volunteered on the island.

Together the three of them came up with the idea for coconut oil firm Bula Batiki and set up a social enterprise with the aim of sending the profits back to the island.

Tim came across co-founders Callum Drummond (23) from Cheltenham and Ellis Williams (23) from Bristol after he read a post online. All three were keen to continue to give back to Fiji - and in particular Batiki - one of Fiji's most remote islands.

They realised that the untouched nature of Batiki island and its coconuts would offer them the opportunity to help Batiki's residents continue and grow athletics, educational and infrastructure projects on the island.

"As soon as you experience the Fijian way of life, their culture and ethos becomes engrained in you," Tim said. "Everything there is about family and community. Bula Batiki belongs to the people of Batiki.

"They have full control of how much oil is produced, and the proceeds go directly back to Batiki. The charity has helped to empower the island's residents and our long-term goals include setting up a sustainable, consistent kindergarten which will prepare young people for school and get them off to the best start to continue their educational journey on Batiki."

Already the product has secured several stockists, including Meant to Bee complementary therapy clinic on Lisburn Road in Belfast, Eatwell Health & Wholefoods, which is also on Lisburn Road, Azora Health and Beauty in Hillsborough and Clare McKinney Make-up and Beauty in Lisburn.

The idea behind it is that producing the coconut oil themselves will allow the villagers to more than double the money they earn selling copra, the dried coconut kernels which are used to make the oil.

All oil sold by the business will be made by hand from coconuts grown in Batiki.

"Unlike more global coconut oil brands, we are actively working to ensure the process does not become industrialised," said Tim.

"Our goal is not to create a high-volume brand, but rather help the villagers of Batiki to develop an industry which can support them with ingredients which are already available to them."

Around 300 people live in the coastal villages on the island. Batiki has no airport or roads, and goods are bought to the island on small cargo vessels and boats.

There is a small primary school and a nurse, but no hospital or doctor on the island. Its economy is mainly driven by farming and fishing.

The trio have already picked three areas they want to help improve on the island.

Bula Batiki hopes to benefit Batiki residents by increasing the island's income and making facilities like schools more affordable for the families there.

They want to support the island's children's scholarship scheme, which will fund scholarships for the top three students each year to go to university.

It's planned that the charity will be able to contribute so that in five to seven years time, they will be able to fund the top three students on the island every year to go on to university, which costs approximately 7,500 Fijian dollars (£2,500) a year.

Tim, Callum and Ellis also hope to be able to help the primary school and the village kindergartens to buy books and resources, and also hope to supply sporting equipment for both children and adults.

The charity has also hosted the Batiki Island Sports Tournament, something residents had dreamed of for years but had never been able to afford to do.

Around a year ago, Cyclone Winston devastated the island.

More than 40 people were killed across Fiji and although no one was killed or seriously injured on Batiki, many houses and buildings were destroyed.

The trio hope to help with the cost of rebuilding and working towards improving structures to minimise the damage caused by future storms.

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