Rural communities access on the ground advice under REACH initiative

Youth at Samalaeulu village actively participating in the group discussions

APIA, SAMOA – WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2019: The legal advice Faiilagi Sofe received for her business was more than just a time-saving solution, it was also moral support for her as a young entrepreneur to pursue her business plan with confidence.

Faiilagi, a 31-year-old from Samalaeulu village, has been managing a shop with her father, and was preparing to start up her own business when she faced a problem. She bought a truck to transport bricks for construction but did not receive the proper ownership documents.

“I asked about the transfer of the ownership of the truck I recently bought when a team of officers from the government and non-governmental organizations came to our village. Since then the Police have been helping me to solve this issue. Now I know what steps to take thanks to their advice, which I would not have obtained otherwise,” said Faiilagi.

Faiilagi’s story is one of many from people who received information and services from government agencies and non-government organizations, delivered directly on site in their communities through the new Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) project.

For people living in remote communities in Samoa, like Faiilagi’s case, their access to services to deal with legal and social issues arising in their daily lives, would have been delayed, or proven impossible to access.

At REACH sessions, women, men and youth eagerly sought information, became more aware of their entitlements, and accessed services related to human rights, women’s services, legal rights and court services, civil registrations and other services provided on-site by government and NGO staff in communities through REACH.

Officers from the government and NGOs across many sectors came together as a team and visited communities, starting in March 2019, to deliver their services to the doorsteps of people living outside of urban centres in Samoa. This REACH pilot initiative is a mobile awareness raising and service delivery model that Samoa is adapting following its success in Fiji.

Faiilagi Sofe (left) and her fellow youth villagers obtained on the ground legal advice at their village Samalaeulu, Savaii,

The initiative in Samoa is led by the Government of Samoa with support from UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is also being piloted in Tonga.

Ms Shamila Leavai from the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration who was part of the REACH multi-sectoral team said the response from the communities was overwhelming.

“The majority of the people we spoke to had little or no knowledge at all of their legal and constitutional rights. The people lacked understanding of the laws of the country and didn’t know what constitutes an offence. They were unaware of the government justice related services available to them.”

“With the information and services we provided, people were grateful and very appreciative of the REACH initiative; a new government platform using the sector wide approach and taking the services to the communities. I am glad that people gained a great deal of knowledge and understanding on their rights and the services, and used the opportunity to make themselves heard,” said Ms Leavai.

For the pilot testing of the initiative, eight agencies under the Samoa Law and Justice sector visited 10 communities on the two main islands, Upolu and Savai’i.  REACH mobile awareness raising and service delivery benefitted 853 people (375 women, 463 men, 15 children) in their communities.

The service providers who were part of the mission included the Attorney General’s Office; Ombudsman Office; Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration; Ministry of Police; Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development; Samoa Law Reform Commission; Samoa Prisons and Corrections Services; and Samoa Umbrella for Non-Government Organizations (SUNGO). Officers from the Fiji Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation as well as UN Women and UNDP staff were part of the team to share their expert knowledge and experience from the respective focus areas.

UNDP Deputy Resident Representative a.i. in Samoa, Mr Sharad Neupane said: “The REACH initiative aims to empower citizens with increased awareness of their rights and access to services; and strengthen the capacity of the government institutions to provide more inclusive and responsive service delivery in partnership with other local service providers.”

“Through the REACH pilot initiative in Samoa, UNDP, with UN Women, is supporting Samoa’s sustainable development path through expanding access to justice and public services especially for women, youth, persons with disabilities, and marginalized groups reaching the furthest behind in society first,” he added. The initiative has been instrumental in bringing Government closer to the people.

UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office Deputy Representative, Sarah Boxall, said: “UN Women is excited to join the REACH project working together with UNDP, the Government of Samoa and local partners to help develop a Samoan designed and customised approach, building on the lessons learned and success of REACH in Fiji.”

“In particular, we’re keen to support ways for Samoa’s REACH pilot initiative to further strengthen access to information and services to meet the unique needs of women and families, and by doing so ensure that women, men and children living in remote communities can better access essential services,” Ms Boxall said.

The REACH pilot initiative supports Samoa and Tonga to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a focus on SDG 16 which is commitment to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies and SDG 5 which is to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.