Fijians harness the fundraising power of social media as their government tackles COVID-19 crisis


The flow serious epidemic COVID-19 Delta variant in Fiji is pushing already strained health and community resources to the brink.

With tourism at a standstill and the state seemingly unable to resolve the crumbling crisis, there has been a growing sense of distress in the Pacific nation.

But despite the collapse of health infrastructure, rising death rate and an apparent overloading of mortuary services, the government has refused to issue a nationwide lockdown.

Instead, he placed his faith and the plight of his population of 900,000 in the vaccination program, a policy that has saw the accused to put commercial interests above the health of ordinary citizens.

Some village chiefs were so appalled by the government’s inaction that they instituted their own Mandatory 14-day closures.

Our research discovered that the same independent approach saw Fijians reinvent the age-old tradition of solesevaki – working together for a common cause – for the digital age. As Seattle-based Fijian Taniela Tokailagi explains, social media has allowed support networks to go beyond usual geographic or professional boundaries:

Solesolevaki in the digital age […] is how deeply connected we are, wherever we are in the world.

Disappointed hopes

While these initiatives are positive, the fact that they are needed has been a blow to Fijians who were optimistic after a year without COVID-19 since the first case was recorded on March 19, 2020.

In particular, the epidemic disappointed hopes of a tourist bubble with Australia (which is now also battling new outbreaks) and New Zealand. Instead of attracting tourists, Fiji welcomes Australian and New Zealand doctors, sent to help the crisis.

Doctors expressed serious concerns about Infection and death rate in Fiji and its health infrastructure in difficulty.

Read more: The Pacific went a year without COVID. Now everything is threatened

Financial aid New Zealand and Australia helped government and non-governmental organizations provide support. But while some residents received food rations and loss of livelihood payments of 50 FJD, many had to fend for themselves.

The government also introduced COVID-19 budget to support the unemployed in Fiji, designed to advance the economy to the opening of the borders at Christmas this year.

The news caused shared feelings given Fiji’s debt-to-GDP ratio of 96%, rumors of financial and economic collapse, and the ever-increasing hardship facing Fiji’s poorest people.

A policeman watches a checkpoint in the Fijian capital, Suva.
Getty Images

At home and away

In the meantime, life must go on. As our research focused on how the people of the Pacific have responded to the pandemic shows, there is a clear trend towards self-help and digital innovation.

In Fiji, young designers – including artists, fashion designers and musicians – have used Twitter and other social media to raise funds for community groups providing humanitarian aid.

For example, groups formerly employed in resorts have used Twitter Spaces to organize virtual concerts. These #TeamFiji space jams attract mainly Fijian listeners, but also expatriates as far as the United States and even Mongolia.

Such events can bring in between 1000 and 3000 FJD, with funds directed to households in need, including single parents, widows and vulnerable sex workers.

Read more: Traditional skills are helping people in the Pacific Islands, deprived of tourism, survive the pandemic

The initiative quickly spread beyond supporting struggling artists themselves, as organizer Epeli Tuibeqa explains:

So far, we have hosted over 26 artists and raised over $ 40,000 […] There is a page on Facebook called “Families Helping Families Fiji” that we are also in contact with, and after some concerts we just contact them and they send us the number of a family and we send them money for their needs.

Facebook groups of cultural and provincial allegiance, such as the Urban Youth Bua and Hakwa gang, fundraising directly, with the latter providing food parcels to 50 households in the Sigatoka region, targeting elderly residents.

Each platform works

These community-driven efforts extend to members of the global Fijian diaspora. For example, Fijian rugby player Peceli Yato, who faced the All Blacks on Saturday, newly provided food for more than 80 families from his native village.

Another initiative, #FijiBackToSchoolAid, raised US $ 18,000 for the Fijian NGO, Foundation for the Education of Children in Need. It has helped hundreds of children with school supplies at a time when their parents struggle to provide basic necessities.

Read more: Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and the peril of a tourist bubble in the Pacific

Even the virtual players got involved. Dan Qalilawa started broadcast their matches live as an alternative source of income for his household, but realized he could use his platform to alleviate the pandemic.

Having recently raised over 7,000 FJD to help non-profit organizations such as Operation Grace, he touts the potential to use technology to make a difference:

While people may think of gambling as a waste of their time, it has saved me money to support strangers. Virtual spaces are opportunities for people to be creative and to use social connections to get things done for our people – it has been very rewarding to create change, even from the digital realm.

Read more: Pacific governments accused of using coronavirus crisis as cover for media crackdown

Give digital here to stay

The rise of online platforms as centers of community support is slightly ironic, given the role social media played in the recent creation. pyramid scheme scandals in Fiji.

But it seems clear that this will support a large part of Fiji’s community fundraising going forward. The peoples of the Pacific in general are harnessing social media and other digital tools to reinvigorate old traditions of adaptability, innovation and solidarity to support those in need.

Traditional reciprocal relationships are a good match for modern online giving. Tips and donations from the live group sessions continue to flow, reflecting the resilient and community nature of Fijian culture.

In the words of Epeli Tuibeqa: “The pandemic will not stop us!

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