Nukualofa, Tonga - Communities in Lapaha District and Hihifo District are now more aware of services provided by government and civil society organisations (CSOs) and were able to access them with ease this week without travelling to the capital. This was made possible by the Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) pilot programme.

The week-long event saw people from these communities seeking information and services provided by ministries, agencies and organisations which included: the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests; Ministry of Fisheries; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Infrastructure; Ministry of Internal Affairs (Corporate Service Division, Employment Division, Women’s Affairs and Gender Equality Division, Youth Division); Ministry of Justice and Prisons; Ministry of Police and Fire Services; Ministry of Trade and Economic Development; Office of the Ombudsman; and the Salvation Army.

The REACH mobile service delivery model began in Fiji in 2015, and since then has expanded to Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Since its roll out in Tonga in March 2019, government and CSOs have delivered almost 5,000 services to communities. The programme is led by the Government of Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs with support from the Australian Government, UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Vatau Mefi Hui presided over a commissioning ceremony yesterday at Kanokupolu community, one of the communities the REACH team visited this week.

Hon Vatau said, “In that about 5,000 citizens have benefitted from the REACH to date, I am very excited that the number of people kept growing this week, and we have to ensure there is continuity and sustainability of this programme in the future. This programme is a milestone for Tonga, and service providers is availing themselves to the most vulnerables, to access Government services, and they are stepping up on their role as providing service to the people, servants to the country.”

People in the communities learned how to apply for community grants and family protection trust fund with the Ministry for Internal Affairs, as well as register women’s groups.  They also learned of legal aid services provided by the Ministry of Justice, and where to access support services provided to survivors of domestic violence; and to seek support from the Salvation Army, one of the CSOs in Tonga, for drug and alcohol abuse.

One of the members of the community, which hosted the outreach programme said, “I didn’t know that it was illegal for my husband to beat me up and I didn’t know that there was a law for the protection of women against violence in the home. I am very happy to learn there are free legal advice offered by the Ministry of Justice and support services by CSOs.”

The UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Resident Representative, Levan Bouadze said, “The REACH model has demonstrated an innovative solution to service delivery in the Pacific, taking government services out from the office and proactively bringing them to the doorstep of people who need it the most, to ensure that no one is left behind.”

Bouadze said, “I am glad that it has benefitted people in Tonga, and I am thankful for the partnerships with the Tongan Government, UN Women and the donor governments, including the Government of Australia, who have supported the initiative since its commencement in 2015.”

UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office Deputy Representative Melissa Stutsel said, “Since its roll-out in Tonga, it’s the women who have used the services the most, making it clear the programme is bridging a gap in access to information and services for one of the most vulnerable communities. Women are often the ones who access more social welfare services than men, in addition to accessing economic empowerment support services and health services which otherwise would have been impossible to access in the absence of knowledge and presence in their communities.” 

Through the REACH pilot initiative, UN Women and UNDP support the Government of Tonga to achieve the Tonga Strategic Development Plan 2015-25 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a focus on Goal 5, which is a commitment to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls; and Goal 16, which is a commitment to promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

The REACH programme will continue the mobile awareness raising and service delivery in another community on ‘Atata Island this week.

For more information, please contact:

Dr. Fotu K. V. Fisi’iahi, CEO Ministry of Internal Affairs Tonga; email: fkvfisiiahi@mia.gov.to

Milika Tuita, UNDP Tonga; tel: +676 21966; email: milika.tuita@undp.org

Shazia Usman, UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office; tel: +679 3301178 / 9228389; email: shazia.usman@unwomen.org

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