Ilisapeci Rokotunidau

Ilisapeci was nominated Director General of the Fiji Red Cross Society in November 2019.

On her return to Fiji after attending the General Assembly in Geneva, the Pacific region was impacted by a measles outbreak (December, 2019), instantly followed by two tropical cyclones – Sarai (December, 2019) and Tino (January, 2020) and then the COVID-19 pandemic (March, 2020).

Whilst Fiji was still maneuvering the early stages of dealing with COVID-19, on April 2020 its community was hit by another severe tropical cyclone, TC Harold. It was very difficult to provide immediate relief to those that were affected by TC Harold because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Volunteers were unable to distribute awareness materials or conduct information sessions to the communities that they served, and they had to come up with more effective ways of continuing to support the community.

“The last few months have been an onerous and educational journey for me as a humanitarian. I was constantly reminded about the need to be flexible with planning, and to always develop community-driven solutions, especially so since COVID-19 has presented new challenges to how we carry out our humanitarian response work” .

The biggest challenge was maintaining real time support for the community-based volunteers and the communities they served despite the border restrictions and the curfews.

“We had to move our training sessions online, and this in itself created a whole new dynamic related to communication styles, internet connectivity and understanding the various levels of capacity among our volunteers”.

The curfews made it difficult to coordinate the delivery of supplies to affected areas. The supplies were stocked in one location while time and resources were often not enough to move the supplies to the outer islands.

“Humanitarian work is most effective when delivered in person. With COVID-19, this has become almost impossible and although online platforms are a consolation, there is no doubt that it cannot replace the impact that in-person humanitarian support provides”.

Ilisapeci understood that the biggest impact could only be reached by decentralizing the power of humanitarian assistance. She started to do this more strategically by ensuring  that community based volunteers were well-equipped with trainings, resources and all the additionalsupport they neededto assess situations on the ground themselves, to carry out their work at a more advanced level, and suggest solutions that are tailored to the community they’re in.