The compounding impacts of COVID-19 restrictions, Tropical Cyclone Harold, and volcano ashfall in Vanuatu, spanning from March 2020 until today has resulted in a significant reduction in income and livelihoods across Vanuatu, particularly amongst households with pre-existing vulnerabilities.
The Oxfam UnBlocked Cash program supports people affected by the cyclone, COVID-19 job losses, and the ash fall, and has now launched its support program in Shefa province focusing on people living with disabilities. Despite the Oxfam approach being different in each province, there’s one thing that’s proven consistent: that the private sector engagement has been exceedingly strong.
Led by the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC) the engagement of the private sector focuses on the shops and stores who are referred to as ‘vendors’ and their support of the program has been impressive. Across the three provinces engaged in the program VBRC has registered and trained 339 vendors including 71 in the communities around Efate and its offshore islands.
The disability needs survey conducted by the Vanuatu Society for People Living with Disabilities demonstrated that there was a need for focus on hardware and food primarily in Shefa. In addition, there’s medical and specialist stores such as solar energy providers registered also. The VBRC team has worked closely with Shefa Provincial Council to identify and successfully register the right vendors in locations that are often close to where the beneficiaries live in the communities.
This program has introduced new technology and experiences to the vendors in the communities especially having the opportunity to access payments via a smart phone and receive electronic payments directly to their bank accounts for the very first time.
Recognising that strengthening the skills of the businesses also pays a part, VBRC also delivered Basic Financial Literacy Training to selected Port Vila fresh fruit and vegetable market vendors. These vendors were incredibly grateful and commented on this being the first time that they have been offered free training of this sort.
Some vendors have gone the extra mile including installing specialist disability ramp access into their stores, such as Traverso Bucherie. This demonstrates their commitment to the program and providing good quality produce to people living with a disability in Port Vila and its surrounds.
VBRC will also be providing a free shuttle service to its Shefa beneficiaries on two designated days every month that will last until end of the program in July 2021. On these days beneficiaries are provided bus transportation for a half day to travel around and do their shopping in Port Vila. VBRC has selected appropriate vendors who are already registered and contracted into the Unblocked Cash Program.
If anyone would like more information on the program please call the Oxfam Call Centre on 34888.