Article by Ben McConkey (Laidlaw Scholar 2020, PPES)
My Summer 2 on the Laidlaw Programme was spent working with ThinkPacific, an NGO set up as a connecting body for a series of charities in Fiji. Typically, scholars would visit Fiji and help local communities on the ground, however this year the experience more too the form of a virtual internship.
I was placed on a work team with scholars from Durham University and together we were assigned a project from Child Benefit Fiji. At the height of the pandemic in Fiji, the nation was really struggling with its vaccine up take, in spite of very prevalent messaging. Child Benefit Fiji wanted us to devise a plan for them to use their resources to combat this issue. The project was very open ended. Instead of giving us set action items, we were presented with a problem and were required to invent the solutions ourselves. We worked closely with students in the University of the South Pacific and with leads on Child Benefit throughout the project, as well as the ThinkPacific team.
Fiji had gone almost a year without cases before the introduction of vaccines to the island. Unfortunately, the Delta variant came to prominence in the country around the same time which led to this misattribution. The Fijian Government, who took over in a coup in 2006, had implemented a ‘No Jab, No Job’ policy, which only served to increase the resistance against the vaccine. Importantly, there is a longstanding tradition of non-medical treatments and traditional medicine in Fiji, and it is an integral part of the island’s culture. This nuanced combination of factors created the conditions for vaccine hesitance in Fiji. Our task was to find a way that Child Benefit could combat these narratives.
Child Benefit were visiting schools and villages distributing resources to locals, typically food or household products. We devised a lesson plan for teachers, to teach child about vaccines in a fun and engaging way and created a pamphlet to be included in the packages distributed to households. There was no shortage of messaging about vaccines in Fiji, but it mostly took the form of asserting that vaccines exist and are good. There was little information about why one should take the vaccine or messaging particularly target to Fijians. This was something we focused on heavily in all our resources. It was important to highlight why Fijian cultural values encouraged vaccine uptake. In this spirit, we managed to get in touch with many religious leaders and traditional healers in Fiji who were pro-vaccine and collected testimonies from them about why the chose to get vaccinated. This became an incredibly powerful piece, which allowed us to make videos and infographics in light of the messages they put forward in combination with explaining the science behind the vaccine. We supplied Child Benefit both with those infographics and videos, and with a social media plan about to publicise them, based of data on Fijian social media usage.
What made ThinkPacific a unique and educational experience was the amount of autonomy and control we were given. We weren’t handed a to-do list, we had to make one ourselves. I learned a lot from the challenge of working and taking a lead in a new, multi-cultural environment.