For almost four years, ChildFund Kiribati has been working with communities in Betio, located in the country’s capital, South Tarawa. In this time, the ChildFund team has developed strong and trusted relationships with families in Betio and with a range of government and community stakeholders through the delivery of community development assistance programming. Such activities have included, youth wellbeing and educational support programs, household nutrition and financial planning support, as well as community-wide cleanup campaigns.
Therefore, when the COVID-19 Pandemic was declared in March 2020,
ChildFund quickly coordinated with stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health, WHO, UNICEF, Betio Town Council (BTC), and the Red Cross to initiate prevention awareness-raising campaigns.
In partnership, BTC, the Red Cross, and ChildFund delivered awareness-raising maroros throughout South Tarawa communities.
ChildFund was also able to redirect their development activities into a COVID-19 response. By Easter 2020, ChildFund had distributed soap to almost every household in Betio and provided the families with critical information and guidance on COVID-19 prevention. The team successfully visited 2,346 households (18,768 people). The team also visited 191 businesses to distribute posters with COVID-19 prevention information and delivered a COVID-19 prevention awareness presentation at Kiribati Institute of Technology to all students returning to class after lockdown finished. Approximately 350 students and staff attended.
At the end of June 2020, ChildFund was also successful in securing two International Government Emergency Response Grants. First, through a partnership with Plan International Australia, ChildFund has been provided with Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) funds, from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), to implement a water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project throughout Betio. Second, ChildFund was awarded funding for a child protection focused emergency response project through NZ Aid’s Disaster Response Program (NZDRP), delivery through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Both projects will be implemented over the next 12 months in partnership with the government, KIT, and Betio communities.
Misinformation is one of the major challenges we faced during our work in COVID-19. Out of fear and anxiety about COVID-19, there were false rumors being spread about this virus. For example, a common rumour that hot weather can kill the Coronavirus, which would mean that Kiribati is safe from infection. Additionally, the spread of COVID-19 can be cured by drinking kava and by herbal medicine. For this reason, we reached out to all communities and households in Betio with information on preventative measures and myths. The communities were then informed of the information provided came directly from the Ministry of Health. COVID-19 related question was directed to WHO and Ministry of Health and reverted to the communities.
Another key challenge was that when we reached out to communities, people were often too busy or not interested in the information as they were prioritizing other commitments or activities. As the Coronavirus had not reached Kiribati and the borders were closed, people often did not consider this virus to be a threat. Also, our team often found that people were less interested in learning about COVID-19 preventative measures when they were on their way to a bingo game (gambling). To address this challenge, we provided information directly to the households, we also held maroros where we could meet a range of people within the communities and we put informative posters up at businesses. This way, people could gain important and accurate information about COVID-19 while they were performing their daily activities, which meant they would be prepared with the correct information if COVID-19 did enter the country.
Providing soap and crucial prevention information when the pandemic was first declared helped families prepare for the risks related to COVID-19.
Our team not only distributed materials and soap, but they were also able to answer questions and provide families with some guidance in this uncertain and troubled times. So far, Kiribati has been fortunate with zero cases but by getting this information and soap to families meant that they were ready immediately to face the threat of this virus.
At this time, we are now initiating the two institutional grants, the COVID-19 Emergency Response WASH project (funded by AHP, through collaboration with Plan International Australia) and COVID-19 Emergency Response Child Protection Project (funded by the NZDRP).
ChildFund’s Emergency Response WASH project will support the preparedness and response needs of 1,540 households through the provision of awareness-raising material; a hygiene awareness campaigns promoting handwashing with soap at Maneabas with preschools though the construction/distribution of handwashing stations and masks for improved hygiene. We are also working closely with KIT on this project as they have provided their designs for the handwashing stations and a student to support the construction of these 14 facilities.
For the Child Protection Emergency Response project, ChildFund recognizes that social distancing and economic decline place enormous stress on families. Prior to this emergency, Kiribati already had some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the Pacific, with almost 70 percent of women experiencing violence in the home. The global lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 therefore will only heighten financial stress, increase food insecurity and poverty. It is these conditions that start violence at home, and which leave women and children with have limited ways to escape – as they lack either the necessary information or resources to leave – or they will be forced to stay at home with the perpetrators of violence. This project, then, aims to work at the community level and with government stakeholders to strengthen protective mechanisms and structures for women and children in Kiribati.