I’ve literally hit the ground running since assuming the responsibility of Director General in November 2019. Upon immediately returning to Fiji after attending the General Assembly in Geneva, the Pacific region was impacted by a measles outbreak (December, 2019), instantly followed by two tropical cyclones – Sarai (December, 2019) and Tino (January, 2020) and then the COVID-19 pandemic (March, 2020).
Whilst Fiji was still maneuvering the early stages of dealing with COVID-19, we were hit by another severe tropical cyclone, TC Harold (April 2020). It was very difficult to provide immediate relief to those that were affected by TC Harold because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Our volunteers were unable to distribute awareness materials or conduct information sessions to the communities that they served, and we have had to come up with more effective ways of continuing to support the community.
“The last few months have been an onerous and educational journey for me as a humanitarian. I was constantly reminded about the need to be flexible with planning, and to always develop community-driven solutions, especially so since COVID-19 has presented new challenges to how we carry out our humanitarian response work”
The biggest challenge for us has been maintaining real time support for our community-based volunteers and the communities they serve, because of border restrictions and curfews. We have had to move our training sessions online, and this in itself created a whole new dynamic related to communication styles, internet connectivity and understanding the various levels of capacity among our volunteers.
We have faced logistical challenges also due to the curfews, which made it difficult to coordinate the delivery of supplies to affected areas because our supplies are stocked in one location, and we didn’t have enough time nor resources to move the supplies to the outer islands.
“Humanitarian work is most effective when delivered in person. With COVID-19, this has become almost impossible and although online platforms are a consolation, there is no doubt that it cannot replace the impact that in-person humanitarian support provides”
I think the biggest impact my work has made in the communities we support is decentralizing the power of humanitarian assistance. We have started to do this more strategically by ensuring our community based volunteers are well-equipped with training, resources and the support they need to carry out their work in at a more advanced level, which means they are able to assess situations on the ground themselves and suggest solutions that are tailored to the community they’re in.