Kiribati youth lead local COVID-19 response

Kiribati youth lead local COVID-19 response | ChildFund New Zealand

New handwashing stations are being built around Betio by young locals as part of ChildFund Kiribati's ongoing youth project. Now with support of a international partnership, writes Tukatara Tangi.

The new handwashing stations are being built and installed in community meeting and recreational centres at Santa Teretia mwaneaba and Santo Betero mwaneaba in Betio, to help improve hygiene in the community and to prevent COVID-19. 

Placing the handwashing stations in central and popular locations give community members, including preschoolers (who are taught at the centres) and their parents and teachers, easier access to handwashing.

The initiative is part of a wider ChildFund project and compliments existing ChildFund WASH (water and sanitation hygiene) committees. A total of 14 stations will be built and installed across Betio.

“I am very lucky and excited to be part of the team installing these handwashing station in all preschools," says 23 year old Tebukei. 

"I’m sure the preschools students and teachers, as well as the village church members, will appreciate this kind of initiative very much.”

The project is also being supported by Plan International Australia (PIA), who alongside ChildFund New Zealand, are providing training, technical advice and awareness messaging to ChildFund Kiribati. The partnership is the first Australia-New Zealand NGO collaboration.

Guidance will be given by the youth to the community on how to correctly use the stations and advice will be given on maintaining the stations, along with ongoing support, will be provided to the community leaders who look after the centres. Recent graduates of the Kiribati Institute of Technology (KIT) ChildFund bridging programme are also helping with the project.

Household visits by the ChildFund Kiribati team to raise awareness and provide information about COVID-19 and proper hygiene practices is ongoing in Betio. While another project will see locals sewing facemasks for further community projection. They will also consult Te Toa Matoa (local disabled peoples organisation), to ensure the handwashing stations are disability accessible and the awareness raising messaging is disability inclusive.

PIA is part of the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) which is a five year initiative of the Australian government, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which focuses on Australian NGOs strengthening the capacity of local NGOs and communities to prepare for and respond to disasters. 

Kiribati has remained COVID-19 free since the pandemic started in March. This is despite Kiribati having one of the busiest international ports of entry primarily for fishing vessels. The country has a population of approximately 119,000 people, over a third of whom live in the country’s capital, South Tarawa. 

Betio, is the most densely populated areas of South Tarawa with extended family members living in one household. These households also often lack key infrastructure and facilities, meaning that access to clean water and sanitation facilities is limited. Therefore, if the virus does enter Kiribati, these conditions make these families extremely vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and the likelihood of rapid community transmission is high.

In addition to the youth project, ChildFund is working in Kiribati with the community on projects around child protection and also household and community resilience. Made possible through support from ChildFund New Zealand supporters and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Impact Programme. To help with this work you can become a monthly supporter.