Empower Pacific has opened counselling helplines where expert counsellors are responding to calls from all over Fiji 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This helpline counselling service aims to respond to people’s stress and anxieties under the current nationwide response to COVID-19 undertaken by the Government, which includes stringent movement restrictions imposed in the Greater Lautoka Area on 20 March 2020, where Empower Pacific is based. Empower Pacific is one of the partner civil society organisations working with the EU-funded Fiji 'Access to Justice Project'.
Empower Pacific’s initiative, a timely response to the psychosocial needs of the Fijian people in this time of uncertainty, was made possible through the pre-existing partnership it has with the UNDP Fiji Access to Justice Project. Empower Pacific is one of four CSOs selected through a competitive process that received justice support services grants from the project in 2019. The success of these grants in 2019 led to a second round of support in 2020, to accelerate efforts and leave no one behind.
”Major issues people have been facing at the moment include access to basic daily needs such as food and medicine. Many of them, as casual workers, have lost their sources of income under the restriction, some of them are in dire need of assistance”, Mr Patrick Morgam, Empower Pacific Chief Executive Officer.
Counselling using phones and videos has been provided to people from across Fiji, mostly from the Lautoka area, including people who were isolated for the treatment and prevention of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and their families. Medical practitioners at the isolation ward in hospitals make up many of the clients of the counselling services.
They have also received calls regarding gender-based violence and violence against women, which are referred to the helpline set up by the Government, according to the referral mechanism established between the Government and CSOs.
The helpline and mobile counselling services are an extension of the services Empower Pacific usually offers: including justice support services to violence survivors, psychosocial counselling, and awareness raising. In the current situation, there has been an increased need to attend to more urgent needs for social and economic support, even from inside the restricted area, following the Government directive.
The Fiji Access to Justice Project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme, supports access to justice, in particular for impoverished and vulnerable groups. It does so by empowering people to access their legal rights and services, strengthening key justice institutions to deliver improved services, and strengthening the capacity of CSOs to deliver justice accompaniment services, with a special focus on supporting persons with disabilities and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.