Fresh from a 10-day tour of Viti Levu - Fiji’s main island - our July cover story shares what we saw as Fijians adjust to the economic and social shocks brought about by the COVID19 pandemic. Employees of now-closed hotels and resorts who live in villages are falling back to subsistence farming and fishing. For the many more families who live outside these communities and who pay rent or mortgage in Sigatoka, Nadi and Lautoka, the adjustments are much harder. Relief offered by the Fijian Government like withdrawing their pensions while helpful, are temporary, and many are resorting to other means to earn income. They include 2014 Miss World Fiji, Charlene Tafuna’i who lost her job as an aircraft engineer at Nadi International Airport and is a regular at the VOTCITY Flea Market in Nadi. Thousands more do not qualify for pension withdrawals nor have the means to venture into business and this is where the work done by non-governmental organisations like the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises N Development and the Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam in providing food packs and free school lunches respectively is life saving.
Buy your copy of Islands Business for the full photo essay.
When it comes the sport of weightlifting in the Pacific, outside of the star competitors, the other name that immediately comes to mind is coach Paul Coffa. In fact, his name resounds across the Pacific region, suggesting strength, power and success with regards to this sport.
His illustrious 26 year coaching career at the Oceania Weightlifting Institute includes inspirational stories, where young Pacific islanders dare to dream big and achieve greatness in the world of weightlifting. By establishing institutions and training facilities in the region, weightlifters from across the Pacific islands were able to come together and test themselves under Coffa’s tutelage. The list of successes is long, and includes Olympics 2008 silver medallist, Samoa’s Ele Opeloge, and former Nauru President and Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Marcus Stephens.
Coffa has now moved to Australia, where he plans to continue his work. He closed the Institute in Nauru as the COVID19 pandemic meant scholarship lifters returned home, the Olympics were postponed to 2021 and borders closed. The Institute had previously been based in Fiji, Samoa and New Caledonia.
To read more about Coffa's plans subscribe to Islands Business.
Seeing Shain hold and play with her daughter, and you can tell that 4-year-old Sarah is her world.
Her job was another important part of her life at one time, until three months ago when that world came crashing around her. That’s when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Fiji to close its borders to tourists, and Shain lost her dream job as a chef at an Asian restaurant, one of several at the 5-star Shangri-La Fijian Resort.
Shain can see Yanuca Island, where the resort is located, from the home where she stays with little Sarah, her parents and a younger sister.
Her community of Naidovi is actually a village of men, women, and young people who work in the hospitality sector. But now most of the residents there have either lost their jobs or are working reduced hours. One young man worked in the IT section at the Natadola InterContinental Resort. Their next door neighbour, who was trying to fix a leaking water pipe when we visited, used to work as deckhand on a game fishing charter boat.
For now, Shain and daughter Sarah are taking each day as it comes.
She had thought about applying for work, but knows no one is recruiting right now.
Her employer assists by sending $50 and a box of groceries every month to employees who have been sent home.
Her sister continues to work at a spa in Sigatoka town, but on reduced hours and pay.
"At the moment, we're trying to save whatever little we have rather than spending on things that are not useful," was her view when asked how she and her family has been managing this far.
Today the Fiji government will deliver its 2020-21 budget. This week we’ve been sharing the stories of Fijians affected by the COVID-19 shutdown.
While many Fijians have been able to access assistance through their savings with the Fiji National Provident Fund, their future looks precarious, and they will be waiting to see what the budget will mean for them tonight.
Sitting in the hot sun, Losana does not seem to mind the humidity and the busy carpark beside her as she stacks heaps of wild lemons and cucumbers.
What do you do when it rains, we ask her.
"Au dau vakaruru ikea (I seek shelter there)," she replies, pointing to the overhang of the shop behind her.
She prefers selling her produce outside the Sigatoka Market because she says that since the lockdown, customers had been hard to come by inside the market, where she used to be based.
"I pay the same rate of $1.10 to sell outside, but at least I have a better chance of meeting customers here."
Losana is selling wild lemons, cucumbers and taro leaves today.
"I don't mind paying the vendor fee because with one heap of this (wild lemons), I should be able to take care of it."
You can tell she is a veteran vendor, and she tells me that she's been selling here in Sigatoka since her son was a toddler.
Now her son has a family of his own.
Losana lives in Draiba village, about an hour's drive up the Sigatoka Valley, dubbed Fiji's salad bowl as it is Fiji's leading supplier of vegetables.
She doesn’t mind the bus travel each day to the market, as the money she earns help her look after her family.
Volunteers like Shree Ram are ensuring 2,000 school children in Nadi are eating well in schools.
He is one of about 20 men and women who are volunteering their time to provide vegetarian meals for children who attend the Then India Sanmarga Ikya Sangam-managed schools in Nadi.
Sangam Fiji provides free lunches to students at all 27 of its primary and secondary schools around Fiji.
In Nadi, lunch is provided on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
TISI Sangam provide ingredients, while some foods including vegetables, are donated by Sangam members.
When Islands Business visited, Shree and two colleagues were cooking up rice, dhal soup and eggplant and potato curry, ready for two shifts of students, primary students at 11am and senior students at midday.
A number of community and faith groups around the country are providing assistance of various kinds in Fiji schools, particularly to families where adults have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.