NGOs such as Oxfam and Rotaract have given young New Zealanders the chance to experience poverty in the Pacific. Their assistance through fundraising and aid work has highlighted the role poverty plays in the everyday life of those in the Pacific.
Report – By Vivian Gan
Young New Zealanders live below the poverty line and visit Samoa to fix water pipes in an attempt to get a glimpse of hardship in the Pacific.
This year, Oxfam and P3 led an initiative called Live Below the Line to challenge people to live for five days with only $2.25 a day to spend on food and drinks – the New Zealand equivalent of the extreme poverty line.
These non-government organisations aim to raise awareness and fundraise for developing countries where poverty is rife.
“It changed the way I value my food and the way hunger is accompanied by headaches and sickness.”
He says setting up strong self-dependent communities is a start in combatting poverty in the Pacific.
“It’s all about giving others the tools not just pocket handouts. Throwing money at the problem never makes it go away. We need people to actually care to get their hands dirty.”
Similarly, graduate Chanelle Lim joined LBTL as a challenge that she saw as being extremely relevant today.
“While I hear and see images and stories of this happening all around the world, I have never experienced living in tough conditions myself.”
For her, LBTL was life changing.
“I ended up being tired all day from the lack of energy from the food I was eating which in turn decreased my daily performance,” she says.
“It was challenging to know that the way I was eating was still more luxurious than those starving in the slums of India. Having electricity and clean water available to cook and eat with are some things that may not be readily available as they are here in New Zealand.”
After having completed LBTL, she believes more than ever that poverty in the Pacific should not be overlooked.
“I don’t think New Zealanders realise that Pacific Island families live together in households – sometimes four generations large, LBTL and 40 hour famine are individual challenges but in reality, families are living below the poverty line together,” she says.
“We sometimes forget those closest to us, we should fight the causes of poverty together with them.”
To date, LBTL has raised $341,556, with a portion of these donations going to the Pacific to pay for much needed resources.
A group of eight individuals from Rotaract in Auckland teamed up to fundraise to replace the rusty and leaking water piping of Tuvao, a village in Samoa.
The team worked alongside the community to install a water filter.
Team leader and doctor, Aritra Ray says the results of poverty in the Pacific are evident within New Zealand society.
“We doubled the village water supply and cleaned the water so that it was drinkable,” he says.
Ray told Pacific Scoop that “money needs to be directly diverted to vital infrastructure (such as water supply issues and cleanliness of the water) as opposed to simply building more redundant buildings” in order to combat poverty in the Pacific.
Student Wes Xia says the experience was a fantastic opportunity to work with Rotaract Apia and Samoan villagers.
“It was eye-opening and rewarding. You underestimate the level of poverty that exists so close to our homeland. We associate places like Africa with poverty. But we often forget about the islands,” he says.
Obligation to help
For Xia, combatting poverty “is about prioritising”.
“A lot of Kiwis are first, second or multi-generational people who migrated from the islands. We have an obligation to help out our neighbors.
“While the nation is fast expanding, there is a need for development and help in the local communities. What I found was that a lot of people have the knowledge and manpower, but lack the equipment to carry out their needs.”
Both Ray and Xia emphasised the need to encourage Pacific workers from New Zealand and Australia to return home to contribute to their own communities and build them up.
Rotaract is a Rotary-sponsored service club for young people aged 18-30 that provides humanitarian aid to countries all over the world.
According to the participatory assessments of hardship (PAH), poverty in the Pacific isn’t associated with starvation or destitution, but rather hardship, due to the lack of poor services, such as transport, water, primary health care and education.
In this light, PAH argue that poverty and hardship highlight issues of sustainable human development as well as income.
PAH revealed that few communities in the 150 villages and communities in eight countries (mostly in the Pacific) acknowledged extreme poverty as an issue.
Only in Fiji and Papau New Guinea was this type of poverty accepted as a serious issue. However, all 150 communities recognised hardship as being a widely shared condition.
For these communities, better education is key in creating in greater opportunities. There is a general concern its governments are failing to deliver better education despite resources being allocated to the sector.
Similarly, health and nutrition plays an important role in promoting family wellbeing, services that Pacific peoples feel its governments have frequently failed to deliver.
The erosion of traditional values is commonly viewed as being a huge contributor to hardship within these communities.
These communities are losing their knowledge of traditional customs and value, respect of the authority of elders and chiefs are declining especially among the youth, which are a fundamental part of their culture.
It is this dimension of Pacific lifestyle that has traditionally provided social safety nets for the majority of the disadvantaged and vulnerable.
In 1994, Philippines President Tadao Chino announced that “fighting poverty and improving living standards of all the people in the region will be the overarching objective of the Asian Development Bank”.
Before this, poverty as a key issue in the Pacific was largely missed.
The differing definitions of poverty have been divided into three terms; absolute poverty, destitution, and relative poverty.
Absolute poverty is defined as individuals or families who are unable to meet basic needs for survival; food, clothing, shelter, healthcare or education, or those with an income of less than US$1 a person per day.
Destitution describes the poorest of the poor – or the most extreme form of absolute poverty.
Relative poverty however is those whose income is just sufficient to meet basic needs but are still below the national average or the norm.
ADB argues this definition of poverty isn’t the most appropriate for Pacific communities where their economies generally include high levels of subsistence production.
In 2004, poverty was recognised as a key problem in the Pacific and the ADB is working with Pacific governments to assess and address poverty as an emerging issue.
Oxfam has attributed poverty in the Pacific to the two decades of weak economic performance, population growth, urban migration and increasing inequalities.
It says the Pacific is even more vulnerable to sudden economic or environmental changes as a result of geographical spread, natural disasters and limited resources.
Oxfam’s Pacific Regional Strategic Plan hopes to combat these issues.
It has teamed up with locals in the region to achieve the five aims outlined in the plan; the right to a sustainable livelihood, the right to basic social services, the right to life and security, the right to be heard and the right to an identity.
The plan focuses on Melanesia, specifically Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji, as it believes these countries have suffered the most widespread poverty in the Pacific having had experienced conflict, civil unrest and difficulties in good governance in recent years.