Suva, Fiji - When informed that his application was approved, Sekove Lili looked over his new farm and breathed a long sigh of relief. He will soon be assisted by a social welfare scheme provided by the government to support the daily needs of his family, the Poverty Benefit Scheme. After an assessment of his finances, Sekove will now receive monthly monetary assistance and food vouchers.
Sekove used to work on a farm in his Naiwaisomo village on Beqa Island and produced root crops and vegetables such as cabbages and watermelons for his family. Some of them were also sold to the hotels on the island, which brought some cash income for his family. However, when he injured his leg and had surgery in 2017, he found himself with no means of subsistence and 10 family members depending on him: his wife, three grandchildren and six children.
Like Sekove, many people who live rural Fiji rely on subsistence farming and fishing, with only a small surplus to sell in and around their villages. They are often not supported by social insurance, and so, when they fall sick or become injured, they must bear the additional burden of medical expenses with no way to generate income.
Fiji has developed social welfare schemes to assist Fijians in need, but usage by the population who could qualify remains low. According to the data provided by Asian Development Bank in 2016, the proportion of potential beneficiaries who receive social assistance benefits in Fiji is 5.6%, sixth highest among 13 Pacific island countries and lower than the 8.4% average.
The geographic remoteness of the people, and the challenge of transport among small islands scattered across the South Pacific Ocean or interior of main islands - only accessible by a long hikes or horseback - have been major factors preventing Fijians from accessing government services in general, but in particular the Poverty Benefit Scheme. Even in communities located closer to towns, people have limited awareness and information of their social, economic and legal entitlements to government support programmes.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji, through the Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) for Rural and Urban Fijians Project, supported by the Government of Japan, addresses the major challenges people face in accessing justice and services, by taking an integrated, mobile and cross-institutional approach, whereby teams of officers from various government institutions visit remote and marginalized communities, provide information on services available, and deliver those services right on people’s doorsteps.
The REACH Project commenced in July 2015, and as of 30 April 2018, 14,389 people (6,733 women, 6,736 men and 920 children) across Fiji have benefitted from its ‘mobile awareness raising and service delivery.
Through the REACH mission to his home village on Beqa Island, Sekove and his fellow villagers learned about the social welfare services provided by the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, and he found out that he is eligible for the Poverty Benefit Scheme. Sekove applied for it when the REACH project team visited his village and discussed their services with the villagers.
“It was a timely opportunity and a great relief indeed during the most difficult time in my life that I came to know I was eligible for the service and able to apply for it. It also saved me from traveling to town with my injured leg and spending the high fare for the boat,” Sekove said.
“The major part of our expenses is food and children’s education. I will be able to meet the needs of my family with the assistance,” he stated emotionally. Sekove is recovering well from the injury and has slowly gone back to his farming on a new plot he obtained closer to his home.
The REACH Project aims to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation and the Legal Aid Commission; increase people’s awareness of their social, economic and legal rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Fiji; and improve the delivery of related services.
Through the REACH Project, UNDP supports the Fiji Government to advance and achieve Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development; the provision of access to justice for all; and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.
 Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2016. ‘The Social Protection Indicator: Assessing Results for the Pacific’
Tomoko Kashiwazaki, Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji; Tel: +679 331 2500; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org