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Digital Cash in Fiji

30 June 2021, Impact of Our Work

“I know those who were really in need were assisted through this cash project.”

In March this year, Save the Children with partner Vodafone Fiji, reached household number 14,000 with a digital cash transfer. The mother from the home who received this payment didn’t quite understand why she was so special to us, but ultimately this payment meant that we had reached the number of people we had set out to support in communities devastated by COVID-19. And it felt great.
 
We’ve recently seen the Government of Fiji act quickly to deal with its first large outbreak of COVID-19 cases, but the pandemic had already impacted entire Fijian communities, as closed borders and no tourists devastated the country’s economy.
 
“Many people from Australia and New Zealand already know what a wonderful country Fiji is to holiday in, so they would understand that the pandemic has crippled our economy which is normally buoyed by tourism,” said Shairana Ali, CEO of Save the Children Fiji. “But closed borders have also impacted households, as remittance received from family members working overseas, at last count made up 5.2% of Fiji’s GDP. It’s an additional blow, that many people around the world don’t know about.”
 
Children will always be our number one priority. But when we started working with partners Fijian Council of Social Services and their District Councils of Social Services, to unearth the people who were the most vulnerable to the economic effects of COVID-19, we discovered that the most vulnerable people came from many different communities and age groups.
 
“We had established a vulnerability criterion which helped us to determine who would receive these payments, yet we were surprised at how diverse our list grew,” Ms. Ali said. “But because we are aiming to strengthen the broader economy, we know that money spent within communities is ultimately going to help children across the country.”
 
On Vanua Levu, one of the areas that was identified to be in desperate need was a small community made up of families of mixed ethnicities from Fiji and other countries across the Pacific. Most of the residents are unable to own land in Fiji. We partnered with the local council to ensure the cash voucher program was reaching the right people here. “We assisted people with disabilities, elderly, single headed households, and those who were directly impacted by COVID-19,” explained Mr Tabaileau, Advisory Councillor for the village and settlement.

Watching them lining up to receive the cash assistance was one of the proudest moments of my life. I know those who were really in need were assisted through this cash project.

Mr. Tabaileau - Advisory Councilor for the village.

“The assistance covered 38 families who were in need at such trying times. I’m happy to see that the assistance covers everyone despite their ethnicity as this is one of the challenges we face where officers in charge tend to serve their kinds better than other ethnicity groups. I’m grateful for the assistance offered by Save the Children to the members of the community I serve.”
 
While this community was in an area needing urgent support, we recognise that all Fijian communities have been impacted. So we travelled all over the country to identify some of the worst-hit households. Tourism industry operators were also in very visible need. Mrs Kawa was one of the people who was directly impacted by the pandemic, as she lost her job soon after the borders closed. “The drastic impact of COVID-19 spared no one as everyone felt its impact through the country. I worked as a hotelier at a resort. When COVID-19 came, we were sent home as borders has been closed and we had no guests at all in the resort,” she said. “The moment when we were informed that we will be excused from work was one of the most painful moments…I was the sole breadwinner for my family.”
 
Mrs Kawa and her husband had managed to just make ends meet, but the additional support the cash assistance provided them came as a huge relief. “Ever since I was laid off, my husband and I go out fishing to sustain us and we sell some to help us buy other things. I am fortunate to be assisted by Save the Children through their cash assistance project.”
 
“The assistance was timely and it’s a big help for us as we invested it in fuel for our boat to enable us to fish more and generate income for our household. Part of the money assisted us in sending our children back to school with a full set of school stationery and uniforms.”
 

Photo: Mrs Gara discusses the difficulties her community has faced
during the pandemic.
Credits: Save the Children.


In addition to the registering households for the one payment, Save the Children allocated funds dedicated to people we met who required immediate assistance. Through a referral from our partner Fiji Council of Social Services and its sub-national District Council of Social Services, we identified Mrs Gara* as someone eligible to access this Special Needs Fund.
 
Mrs Gara described the difficulties she was already facing before the pandemic exacerbated her problems. “Life is a struggle and COVID-19 makes things worse,” Mrs Gara explained. “I sometimes want to give up as I’m aging so quickly with no support. I live with my brother-in-law who is physically challenged ... I also take care of my two grandchildren whose parents got divorced recently.”
 
Save the Children and our partners understand that there are many households in Fiji that would have met our vulnerability criterion. But we simply could not reach everyone. “We have received a number of queries from the general public asking how to register for the cash assistance,” Ms Ali explained. “It is heartbreaking to tell them that we were not able to reach everyone at this time, but I also explain that this entire project was designed to not only help the households receiving the cash, but also their communities as the money is spent locally. We are really excited to follow up in the weeks to come and find out how this ripple effect is helping children and communities in Fiji.”
 
*Name changed.
 
The digital cash transfer project in Fiji is only possible with the generous support and partnership of Vodafone Fiji, The Fiji Council of Social Services.


Banner image:  Nicholas Rabuku/Save the Children Fiji.

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