Meresiana Salauca of Naidi village in Savusavu, Fiji, was one of the unfortunate workers laid off from one of the resorts on the island - as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Fiji with its first wave in 2020. The 56-year-old is a single mother of two, who worked as a massage therapist at the resort, had saved $500 and used it to start a canteen business.
Soon after, the Fijian government announced the COVID-19 Concessional Support Package for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) through which she qualified and received a $3,000 grant to continue her business operations. However, things did not go as planned because she was operating during one of Fiji's darkest periods, when borders were closed, and movement was restricted.
Meresiana was overcome with emotion as she shared her experience at the Financial Literacy Training and seedling distribution, in the villages of Naidi, Waivunia and Vivili between 2-10 May 2022. “Many times, I wanted to close my canteen because there were so many credit requests, but thankfully, my children kept encouraging me to keep going. I'm grateful for their support and encouragement and this training has taught me how to budget my finances, particularly for families, because there is a lot of money committed to village obligations, but I have learnt that even saving $5 is a very good strategy,” she said. Ms. Salauca worked as a Japanese translator for the Freebird Institute in Namaka, Nadi, before entering the tourism industry.
Funded by the UN Development Programme’s Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) COVID-19 recovery assistance project, the financial literacy training was conducted by the Financial Management Counsellors Association of Fiji (FMCA) - a group of financial and business management bankers with community development expertise. The support also included the distribution of vegetable seedlings, agricultural resource materials, and IT equipment such as a multimedia projector, pull-up screen, and hard drive to the villages to enable online learnings and workshops.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on these villages, resulting in job losses, reduced hours, and loss of livelihood.
68-year-old Vika Teki of Waivunia village is a handicraft maker with more than a decade of experience. She was also greatly impacted by the pandemic because she was heavily reliant on tourists visiting the hidden paradise to buy her handicrafts, which included necklaces, mats, baskets, and bracelets, among other things.
"I relied heavily on this business, but since the borders closed and there were no tourists, I couldn't make or sell any more. So, during the lockdown, we had to find alternative source of income, such as fishing, but now that the borders have reopened, business is gradually returning to normal."
She also runs a catering business, where she teaches other village women how to bake and encourages them not to rely solely on one source of income.
Ruveni Barrack, a massage therapist by profession who now runs his own Massage Therapy Academy in Savusavu said the MPTF COVID-19 Recovery Assistance came at a time when they needed it the most, especially coming out of a very dark period, and it has encouraged them to be business minded. “I am grateful to UNDP for bringing this training to Vivili because it has encouraged me to continue training Fijians interested in becoming massage therapists in our hotels and to expand this business. This training has taught me that family comes first and that it is critical to involve family in decision making.”
Mr. Barrack is also a farmer who sells root crops and vegetables during harvest to nearby resorts, restaurants in town, and the Savusavu Municipal Market with hopes to expand his farming business and raise more capital with the eight varieties of vegetable seedlings he received.
A whole family approach was used during the financial literacy training to encourage the 200 participants to appreciate and leverage the knowledge and skills of members of their families when managing and planning their finances. Of the 200 participants, 76 of them were women.
The training was aimed to strengthen the financial competencies of the individuals who will have a direct impact on their families, educate farmers about financial services, allowing them to make better informed decisions about managing family finances and how to move forward following the effects of COVID-19 on their family, business, and income.
For more information, please contact:
Akosita Talei, Inclusive Growth - Communications and Research Officer, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org