Using traditional ways of taking care of community to respond to COVID-19

August 4, 2020

Volunteers for the Ministry of Internal Affairs with a sample of the basket of food for families in need. Photo credit: Ministry of Internal Affairs, Cook Islands

Rarotonga, Cook IslandsTapora Kai Enua is the traditional Cook Islands practice of villagers bringing their crops together to be distributed and shared with everyone in the village.

It not only fosters a sense of community, but it also helps to reach out to those in need in the village who may not be upfront with their hardships. This also reduces the resistance and refusal by families to accept assistance.

It’s the same model that the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Cook Islands used to reach vulnerable communities, in partnership with the UNDP Multi-Country Office for the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau.

Under the first phase of the Tapora Kai Enua Project, the Ministry and UNDP were able to provide much-needed support to fund the purchase and delivery of food supplies to families in need.

In June, 105 baskets of local produce were distributed to families in Rarotonga who were identified as struggling to meet their basic food needs. The baskets comprised of traditionally packed food parcels – using baskets made with coconut fronds. More than 15 local suppliers, including bakeries and farmers, were also supported under this project.

“This is a welcomed intervention for the people of the Cook Islands, whose livelihoods depended mainly on earnings from tourism. With the industry now suffering a major blow due to travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic, people have to find alternative means of income to provide for their daily needs,” said the Secretary for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Anne Herman.

To identify vulnerable households, staff and volunteers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted a Rapid Assessment of 116 households on Rarotonga prior to distribution. Survey results showed 20% were struggling to meet their basics food needs, and many families were reluctant to come forward to ask for assistance.

In addition, many local farmers who previously supplied a bustling tourism industry had excess produce due to be harvested without a market for sale.

The project is part of the social protection initiative for the Cook Islands during COVID-19, targeting the most vulnerable.

Under the same assistance, an assessment was carried out on the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the main islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki in terms of welfare and employment vulnerabilities and perceptions.

“Strengthening the preparedness, response and recovery in the Cook Islands, and our other member islands, is what UNDP always aim to do. We are pleased to partner with the Government of the Cook Islands, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, for this project, and we remain committed to offer help to the people of the Cook Islands as we go through these testing times,” said UNDP Resident Representative, Jorn Sorensen.

Phase 2 of the Tapora Kai project is planned to be rolled out later this month.


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