For four years ChildFund Kiribati has been working with communities in Betio and the team has developed strong, trusted relationships with local families and a range of government and community stakeholders through the delivery of community development assistance programming.
So when COVID-19 hit globally in March, ChildFund was able to quickly jump into action and coordinate stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health, WHO, UNICEF, Betio Town Council (BTC) and the Red Cross, to carry out awareness-raising campaigns and to distribute soap to households.
Betio is located in Kiribati's capital South Tarawa, where about a third of the country's approximately 119,000 population live. By mid April, ChildFund had distributed soap to almost every household in Betio and provided the families with critical information and guidance on COVID-19 prevention.
All up 2,346 households (18,768 people) were visited. A further 191 businesses were visited with posters distributed to be displayed showing COVID-19 prevention information. A prevention awareness presentation was also delivered at Kiribati Institute of Technology (KIT) to all students returning to class after lockdown finished. Approximately 350 students and staff attended. Distributing awareness and prevention information, along with soap to families, means that if COVID-19 does get to Kiribati, the community is better prepared.
The ongoing development programmes that ChildFund is doing in Kiribati include youth wellbeing initiatives, educational support programs, household nutrition and financial planning support along with community-wide cleanup campaigns.
ChildFund has also secured two International Government Emergency Response Grants. First, through a partnership with Plan International Australia, ChildFund has been provided with Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) funds, from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), to implement a water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project throughout Betio. Second, ChildFund was awarded funding for a child protection focused emergency response project through NZ Aid’s Disaster Response Partnership (NZDRP), delivery through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Both projects will be implemented over the next 12 months in partnership with the government, KIT, and Betio communities.
Misinformation about COVID-19 was one of the major challenges that was faced in Kiribati. For example, a common rumour that hot weather can kill the virus gave a false security that Kiribati was safe. Another rumour was that the spread of COVID-19 can be cured by drinking kava and by herbal medicine. This is why reaching out to all communities and households in Betio with information on preventative measures and myths was so important. Knowing that this information was coming directly from the Ministry of Health gave the community confidence and COVID-19 related question were able to be directed to the WHO and Ministry of Health and relayed back to the communities.
Another challenge was that people were not interested in the information or were too busy with other commitments and activities especially when they didn't consider COVID-19 to be a threat. The household visits meant that information could be shared while people still went about their daily activities. Some community meetings and the posters also helped. The team were also able to answer questions and provide families with some guidance in this uncertain and troubled times.
ChildFund’s emergency response WASH project will support the preparedness and response needs of 1,540 households through the provision of awareness-raising materia, a hygiene awareness campaign promoting handwashing with soap at Maneabas (community centres) with preschools though the building and installation of handwashing stations and also masks for improved hygiene. The team is also working closely with KIT on this project as they have provided their designs for the handwashing stations and a student to support the construction of these 14 facilities.
ChildFund recognizes that social distancing and economic decline place enormous stress on families. Another project is aims to work at the community level and with government stakeholders to strengthen protective mechanisms and structures for women and children in Kiribati.
Prior to this emergency, Kiribati already had some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the Pacific, with almost 70 percent of women experiencing violence in the home. The global lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 therefore will only heighten financial stress, increase food insecurity and poverty. It is these conditions that add to violence at home, and which leave women and children with have limited ways to escape – as they lack either the necessary information or resources to leave – or they will be forced to stay at home with the perpetrators of violence.