Family lives off biscuits as Fiji pandemic bites

Wednesday 9 June 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional

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Family lives off biscuits as Fiji pandemic bites
Photo: 123rf.com, via RNZ.

Vulnerable families in Fiji are living on a tin of fish or a packet of biscuits a day as the pandemic continues to bite.

Charities have been working hard to deal with a desperate need for food and other necessities like baby formula, masks and medicine.

In the squatter settlements in the Nasinu district on the outskirts of Suva many people live hand to mouth at the best of times.

Now things are getting critical because people have been laid off during the prolonged lockdown, according to Usaia Moli, the president of the local branch of the Council of Social Services, a nationwide charity.

"We attended two families last week. Six of them were sharing a packet of biscuits per day and one of the families we went to yesterday, there was a can of tinned fish for the family of seven."

He is working among more than twenty communities with people in a vulnerable state, including those with young babies, disabilities and other special needs.

The organisation is trying to find out who needs what so families are not left out when food packs were distributed.

Moli said the government was responding but many people were not being reached and were "suffering in silence".

"They don't have the right data to be able to disseminate the food to those that are really in need."

The charity has a "vulnerability index" and was working to collate data, he said.

It had helped more than 3000 families during the lockdown in Nasinu including by "digging into our pockets and our pantries".

On the other side of the capital, Sarah Conrad's charity First Responders has been cooking up 100 meals every Saturday for people around the Serua and Namosi area who were finding it hard to put food on the table.

So far her 100 Hot Meals Drive has fed chicken curry and chicken palau to over 1100 people since it started last month.

Conrad said she had seen a dramatic increase in people going without food and charities were working together with local government to distribute as much as they could.

"Most of the cry for food is because of the lockdown. A lot of people here do have farms they can go to but because of the curfew and the lockdown they are unable to even reach their farms."

She has also dug into her own pocket to pay for the hot meals.

"Most of them are embarrassed to call in and ask and we reassure them that 'look this is Fiji ... you know we look out for one another'.

"Today's you, maybe tomorrow's me. There's nothing to be ashamed of to ask for help."

The charity wants to do a "Baby Drive" next because new mothers were crying out for aid like nappies and formula, according to Conrad.

Further north in Lautoka, Ashley Krishna is a coordinator for the charity Being Helping Hands Fiji.

She said many people were desperate because Covid-19 containment zones had meant they were cut off from their jobs in the bigger town of Nadi further south, although this border has now been lifted.

"This particular family that I visited around Lautoka they were surviving on boiled pawpaw and cassava leaves for three weeks until one of the neighbours reached out to me."

She said not everyone had been able to get relief money from the government and social security was minimal.

It was no problem getting volunteers, she said, but donations were not enough to meet demand, so the charity was suspending its work until they could get more money together.

She said their Facebook page was always flooded with requests for help and with comments from people furious they were not getting any.

"People are getting infuriated. People are getting angry at us as well."

She said the need was heart-breaking.

"Sometimes we get emotional while in the field but we have to be strong because if we start breaking down I don't know who else will be out there helping people."

While Being Helping Hands Fiji needs money, Sarah Conrad said first responders preferred donations in kind such as ingredients for their hot meals.

She said even people overseas could send food vouchers or buy food online to keep the charity's food drive going.