Kelera looked up from cutting her grass and climbed up the decaying wooden steps to open the door of her house to welcome the unexpected visitors from the social welfare office. She lives alone in her one-bedroom house after her daughter and son married and left, and her husband passed away, “a long time ago.”
Kelera Dimairewa, 79, has lived in Nanuku Settlement for over 47 years.
Her memory of the beginning of her life in the settlement remains clear: “I came in 1971. There were only three houses, and we were one of them.” Currently, the settlement is home to more than 300 households.
Nanuku Settlement is one of over 171 informal settlements in Fiji as identified by the UN Habitat in 2016. Informal settlements in Fiji are often characterized with these legal, social and environmental conditions: there is no legal status of the occupancy; housing standards and environmental conditions are inadequate; and the level of access to services and infrastructure is low.
While close proximity to the city and towns provides many advantages to the residents, the informal nature and stretched capacity of the settlements, compounds adverse living conditions. Residents have insecure control over and access to their land at best and settlements are often built in unsuitable and unsafe locations beside swamps or on river banks prone to flooding. Persons living in these high population density areas have limited access to infrastructure, state utility services and a clean water supply.
Kelera clapped her hands in glee when she learned from the social welfare staff that she was eligible to and could soon receive Social Pension which provides her with FJ $100 (around US $48) every month.
When asked what the pension would be spent on, she shared the strategy for her future saying, “The money I will receive as Social Pension will add to my savings to buy a new apartment.”
She has been preparing to move to a new unit with three bedrooms with her daughter and son’s families, including a total of nine grandchildren. She has to save up to FJ $50,000 (around US $24,000) to obtain the unit title as part of a housing scheme managed by a community-based organization.
Sadala Nareki, 30, moved to Nanuku Settlement when he was a teenager.
“It is challenging for young people to live in this community because of the antisocial activities they engage in such as selling drugs, drinking outside on the road, and so on.”
Adolescents and youths with limited capacity development opportunities face narrow choices for their future. It results in a vicious cycle of poverty without measures to address their specific needs.
Social service providers in Fiji, both governmental and non-governmental, have been vigorously reaching out to those who are left behind. The efforts being made by those specialized agencies and organizations are put together as an integrated programme, supported by the Government of Japan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The initiative, Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion for Rural and Urban Fijians Project, or Project REACH, uses an innovative integrated approach, including raising awareness and delivery of social services at people’s doorsteps.
The Project enables social service providers to proactively search for beneficiaries and help the most vulnerable from falling into poverty and isolation.
Sadala learned some legal aid and social welfare services from the REACH awareness raising programme brought in the community hall in his settlement.
“Young mothers face many challenges when they are separated (from their partners) and have to manage their lives with small children. I learned that the services provided by the government, which we were informed of today, can help them,” he said.
Ataleta Ravenaroba, 17, living in Jittu Estate, another informal settlement in Suva, received a reproductive health check-up through the REACH mobile service delivery.
“I had a check-up for the first time. It is good that it can prevent us from getting diseases. Many teenage girls become pregnant. I would like to encourage them to have the free check-ups I had.”
“The discussion and services the officers brought to us today were good. It encourages people to stop violence and do a lot of good things for the community.”
Bakhodir Burkhanov, Country Director and Head of Regional Policy and Programme, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji said, “Through the provision of inclusive social services to remote communities in Fiji, the REACH initiative ambitiously aims to reach those left furthest behind.”
“Catering to various dimensions of vulnerability, this service delivery model will be critical for the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Experiencing and benefitting from the Project REACH mobile service delivery programme, younger generations like Sadala and Ataleta are spreading the word to vulnerable members of their settlements so that no one will be left behind in the path towards Fiji’s sustainable development.