Pandemic Blog Series: Looking inward – partnership, trust and safe spaces

Part three in our Pandemic Blog series

By Kuini Rabo and Menka Goundan

Over these past couple of months, our grantees have shown us that we need to constantly adapt our development mindsets to be more inclusive and responsive to the needs of diverse women and girls in Fiji.  We recognise that whilst we are building resilience in our communities to respond to crises like the pandemic, we need to also build lasting relationships and approaches that help us achieve gender transformational and attitudinal change.

Our grantees themselves have made a shift from focusing on their own projects to a partnership model. They have shown us to look inward to our Pacific culture – a culture that believes in shared values and equity, supporting sustainable long-term solutions for communities during these challenging times.

We have been really touched by some of the strong bonding, sharing and partnerships that our grantees formed among themselves. Through Australian Government funding and various other funders, many of our grantees like Rise Beyond the Reef (RBTR) had been able to ensure that rural communities are included in development and crisis response, they too have something to contribute.  An example of this is the Basa Exchange.

The Basa Exchange is a response-recovery concept developed by Rise Beyond the Reef to on focus promoting circular economies, inclusiveness of rural-remote women and the communities they come from.

In the midst of this pandemic we have to fight with what we have and that involves everybody in the community. Using the traditional concept of “Solesolevaki” working together for the greater good, supporting each other during this difficult time. (Semi Lotawa RBTR Co-Founder)

The Basa Exchange draws from traditional trading systems, where remote communities continue to live and grow traditional root crops and fruits which RBTR purchases at farmgate prices then supplied to food-insecure households in urban centres that have been severely affected by job losses and COVID-related isolation.

As of mid-August 2021, the Basa Exchange has purchased 128 tonnes of fresh root crops and 5 tonnes of fresh fish from 1,573 rural remote households amounting to FJ $140,317.  This fresh produce has helped feed 2,494 households plus 549 individuals from Nadi to Ba, Nausori and Suva. RBTR works in partnership with local government to ensure that the food is reaching the most vulnerable and marginalised communities.

One really great outcome of the model has been the further partnerships and impact that it has had not just on the recipients but also on our other grantees.  Our initial funding to the Basa Exchange kick-started further buy-in from private sector donors like ANZ Foundation and Fiji Water Foundation.

Our grantee partner the Pacific Rainbow Advocacy Network (PRAN) has adopted a holistic approach partnering with RBTR  to source fresh produce which they have also paired with store-bought basic food items and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for their members and communities.

“The exchange was a success on many levels, our members in Nadi and Ba were assisted with food ration including fresh crops and vegetables from youth and female farmers of Vaturu. This initiative benefited our marginalised community with a healthy diet and it also provides that income to Youths of Natawa village and the women of Vaturu who are underprivileged and  remote communities that have limited access to assistance in these trying times of our lives.” Bonita Qio – PRAN Coordinator

Rotary Clubs in Fiji have also sourced fresh produce from RBTR to supplement their food ration packs for families in the Western Division.

Talanoa Treks also adopted a similar concept and has partnered with the Foundation for Rural Integration Enterprises Foundation (FRIEND Fiji) to support women-led farms in the Ra Province and to supply fresh produce in the food ration packs that are being distributed by FRIEND Fiji in the Western Division.  Talanoa Treks has also supported the Naitasiri Women in Dairy Group by providing markets for their oyster mushrooms and the provision of personal protection equipment.

The definition of frontline workers has expanded in the last two months and now we can see it includes community women leaders, volunteers that provide support to the Ministry of Health, women are employed in the food industry, women work in trade industries, women market vendors and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), females employed in defense units. These are women who are now with our medical frontline workers are always on the forefront providing crucial services such as medical assistance and food security, safety measures for everyone.

The Fund supports our grantee partners who are key service providers: Medical Services Pacific, BIRTH Fiji, Pacific Centre for Peace Building, Psychiatric Survivors Association (PSA), Fiji Cancer Society who continue to provide crucial services to those in need.

Notable partnerships born out of this crisis

We also want to recognize and highlight some truly wonderful partnerships such as:

  • Medical Services Pacific (MSP) and BIRTH Fiji have been providing critical medical and psycho-social support to pregnant women. Given the rising COVID19 cases, many pregnant women remain unvaccinated and are anxious about the safe delivery of their babies, both organisations are supporting the Ministry of Health through maternity clinics and counselling.
  • Pacific Centre for Peace Building (PCP) has been providing COVID relief support for frontline workers and community leaders in informal settlements. Building on their existing partnership with the Fiji Police Department, PCP is also conducting surveys on the impact their work during this crisis are having on their families, documenting experiences from communities and determining if psycho-social support is needed post-COVID-19. PCP has also partnered with FRIEND Fiji and the Sosoqosoqo Vakamarama i-Taukei to collectively set up the COVID-19 women’s facility at the Sosoqosoqo Vakamarama ITaukei complex in Nabua.  The facility houses female COVID-positive patients and provides them with support and medical treatment.  PCP provides daily meals for patients and frontline workers at the facility.
  • Fiji Cancer Society (FCS) – The FCS is supporting cancer patients to respond to added human security needs including PPEs and other health needs of patients in this health crisis and their added vulnerable state. FCS is also supporting MSP and the Ministry of Health with home deliveries of medicines. Though they have restricted all in-person awareness, FCS is now teaming up with our grantees the Fiji Girmit Council Women’s Wing to offer virtual awareness on cancer screening.  BIRTH Fiji is also providing counselling support and referrals to cancer patients.
  • In solidarity, the Fund stands with Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Alliance and supports the work of the Alliance members in providing humanitarian support during this pandemic. Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) is working in partnership with Rainbow Pride Foundation, Model Towns Charitable Trust, femLINK Pacific, Western Council of Special & Inclusive Network, FRIEND Fiji to provide food rations, hygiene products for women and baby essentials.
  • The resilience and persistence demonstrated by our grantees are a testament to the passion and commitment of women’s human rights defenders across Fiji. The functioning and resourcing of all these organisations, groups and networks are integral to the full function of the vibrant women’s movement ecosystem. The Fiji Women’s Fund will continue to lobby resources to ensure that our grantee partners and the greater Fijian women’s movement is supported through these difficult times.
  • In case you missed Part 1 and Part 2 of our pandemic blog series, click on the hyperlinks.

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