Ms. Vani Catanasiga, Executive Director of Fiji Council of Social Services on the role of volunteers in supporting a robust post-COVID recovery
The Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS) is a community-based membership organization that delivers social services to rural and marginalized communities in Fiji. About 80 percent of FCOSS members are volunteer-based groups who support the delivery of basic social services, promote the voice and agency of local communities, and support people who engage in decision-making spaces.
In 2021, despite initially having no COVID-19 response funds, FCOSS provided support to various communities through its volunteers at the district level. In addition to supporting communities in lockdown with food, providing surge support to government teams for contact tracing, and supervising testing and isolation facilities, volunteers also helped in data management during vaccination campaigns and provided home-based care. FCOSS volunteers’ experience in coordinating service delivery at the community and district level during crises made them better able to respond to the immediate and emerging needs of the elderly, people with disabilities and female-headed households with multiple dependents.
Through their community observation reports, which included updates from informal settlements, FCOSS was able to show that some vulnerable populations did not receive the government’s food distribution during lockdowns and its district hub volunteers alerted authorities to those often forgotten in society. As a result of volunteers’ efforts, state authorities provided targeted support, including logistical support and capacity-building, and “safety net” care and protection.
Volunteers have untapped potential for inspiring post-COVID recovery in communities. As Fiji rebuilds after the pandemic, there is growing interest in forging partnerships to address ongoing needs. Increasingly, civil society and intergovernmental bodies are seeking to partner with our volunteer networks and leverage their expertise. Using our experience working with communities, we are exploring how to better engage volunteers to help their communities remain resilient in times of hardship.
With their knowledge and understanding of their communities and commitment to positive change, volunteers may well have what the post-COVID world requires to heal and recover.