Lionel Rogers, Fiji
My name is Lionel Rogers and I am the President of Youth Champs for Mental Health. Youth Champs 4 Mental Health is a youth led organisation, focusing on education and awareness around mental health and suicide prevention in Fiji and the Pacific. The organisation was founded in 2008 and has facilitated programs and research in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati. Our mission is to establish resilient communities through the development of youth friendly services that are accessible and inclusive. Through effective strategies and community partnerships, we are able to help all young people who are struggling with mental health difficulties and suicidal ideations.
What services were you providing before COVID-19 outbreak?
Prior to the pandemic, we were providing in person counselling, community awareness and education at the grassroots level. We worked closely with government departments to organise national events, establish referral pathways with stakeholders and advocate for youth development.
With the effect of COVID-19 outbreak, how did you pivot your work to serve the community? Can you detail the evolving service delivery during the lockdowns?
The lockdown posed many difficulties for our organisation. We have very limited resources so much of our work was done face to face prior to COVID-19. However with the restrictions we had to restrategise and utilise flexible ways of providing our services and also take care of our members. Most of the support and counselling was facilitated via IM on social media platforms and via phone calls or text messaging. We were presented with cases of abuse, anxiety and depression who were in quarantine and could only provide support and resources remotely. Throughout the lockdown period, we noticed that the LGBT and sex worker community were left out of the community support in terms of food rations. We applied for a small international grant which we are currently rolling out to assist with food, utilities, medical supplies and sanitary or hygiene supplies for the two communities identified earlier.
What were the issues that your clients/beneficiaries experienced during this time?
There were many issues presented by the clients. This ranged from mental health difficulties—anxiety, depression, phobia, drug and substances addictions—to abuse, such as sexual and domestic violence. We received numerous requests for food ration and safe houses, but our support was minimal as we are a non-funded youth support group. Some sex workers had issues with job security, limited family support and no real safe place to retreat to when all the restrictions set in.
How have you, your staff, and volunteers been able to stay safe from COVID-19, and what did you/staff/volunteer do to cope with the mental stress?
We tried to follow all the safety methods and those who could afford to pay for PPE’s used it daily. Everyone was encouraged to sanitise their hands frequently and take breaks when they needed to rest. We were overwhelmed with requests for counselling and had to work out routines or schedules that could work.
As you come out of the lockdowns, what services will you continue to do, and what would you cease, and what would you add?
We are continuing with counselling and support remotely—through Messenger, Viber and WhatsApp—and only do in person counselling when absolutely necessary. All community sessions and awareness programs have all been cancelled.
How has COVID-19 outbreak changed the way that you/your organisation will be working in the future?
We found Zoom or Skype meetings were more convenient for everyone, especially considering the limited resources for travel. Hence his is something that we may be using more often. We have also started exploring other method of awareness and education via media platforms.
What are the worries from your community about the ‘new normal’?
I guess our worry right now is, how long will it take for things to return to “normal”? This is something that everyone has been asking.
Are there any positive lessons learnt from the effects of COVID-19?
The advantage of this pandemic is that we spent more time with our families. We understood the importance of time management as our people had to utilise time well before lockdown. Also our people started to practise communal fishing, farming and all the family activities that was once the joy of our culture.
As the head of an organisation, what resources or support system helped you to get through this harsh time? What further support would you need?
We had very minimal resources prior to the pandemic. When we had our COVID-19 cases, the struggle started and we needed funds more than ever. We needed to cover communication—counselling by phone and internet—, basic ration packs— such as food and water—, housing support, utilities and medical support. We needed resources, e.g. IEC materials that were localised and easy to connect with. We need finances for administration and logistics as all fundraising and other means of raising funds have ceased.