Tumua Li’o-Tofete works for the Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG), coordinating a network of more than 700 village leaders, to help respond to and prevent family violence. When the COVID-19 pandemic gathered pace in March 2020, the Government of Samoa imposed a national state of emergency, closing schools and imposing strict restrictions on movements and gatherings. Tumua’s organization manages a national helpline for victims of domestic violence, and use its country-wide volunteer network to ensure women and children at risk receive immediate – and potentially life-saving – support.
“During the lock-down, SVSG responded to over 400 calls in just six weeks”
“As the coordinator of the SVSG village representatives, the helpline operator would alert me of the need to contact a representative in a particular village, in response to a caller requiring immediate assistance. The village representatives give us access and credibility in every corner of Samoa.”
SVSG provides a range of support services for survivors of domestic violence, including welfare assistance, counselling support and practical help to women and children who urgently need to leave their homes. SVSG’s long-term work in villages has paid off in the current COVID-19 crisis. “During this time of economic difficulties for many of our families in villages, we have seen women who were previously trained by SVSG in livelihood skills becoming breadwinners in their families, ” says Tumua.
The response to COVID-19 in Samoa has not been easy. Limited resources and an increased demand for services has placed strain on SVSG staff, making them rely heavily on its network of volunteers. Restrictions on travel has sometime also made it difficult for village representatives to evacuate victims of violence and bring them to SVSG’s shelter. Nevertheless, Tumua is confident in the value of the work of SVSG:
“I believe being there for our people in times of need is what makes the difference.”