Adi Vasulevu

A typical day looks like…

Transcend Oceania is a peacebuilding organisation and our work incorporates many interrelated issues including community engagement, peacebuilding education processes, gender masculinity and femininity and non-violence, climate change adaptation, trauma informed awareness and preparedness, effective leadership and good governance. My role as Executive Director means that I need to support effective approaches and initiatives of the organisation which respond to the needs of communities. Transcend Oceania works across Fiji and the Pacific engaging with relevant partners, peacebuilding networks and other stakeholders in issues of peacebuilding, justice and development.

I enjoy community peacebuilding but it can be challenging - especially when things like COVID-19 hit and you have to revise and make sense of new plans. We may have a clear plan of action for the year, but when a disastrous cyclone or violent conflict breaks out in a community, we cannot continue with the original plan and block our ears to the violence, crisis or disaster-affected communities. There is no typical day. For example, I could be filming for our YouTube channel, running a workshop on peacebuilding and masculinities, or facilitating dialogue in a community facing relocation due to climate change.

The issues affecting my work at the moment

The Pacific is facing many interrelated challenges. Visible violent conflicts may be few and communities may look peaceful, however, conflict exists and is threaded in life’s hardships: poverty of resources, accessibility of services, and exclusive decision making which gives rise to human insecurity, unequal power relations, and social disturbances within the strong relational contexts of the Pacific. These pre-existing issues are further escalating with the impacts of climate change, resource management, population growth, community relocation, migration and ongoing changes in community life, livelihood and settlements, governance structures, and culture.

Over the past five or six years, Fiji has experienced flooding, extreme weather changes and severe cyclones. Two of these cyclones were Category 5, and even many community elders were witnessing these events for the first time. These changes are severely affecting agriculture and food sources. People are having to replant on a regular basis with low harvest turnover due to regular extreme weather changes and disasters. People are exposed to further vulnerability and insecurity with the downscaling of food sources and resources. Having to start again and again from scratch, share limited resources and basic necessities can fuel conflict.

The COVID-19 restrictions have had a negative impact on traditional conflict resolution techniques. Key to conflict prevention is how we talk with each other which we call ‘talanoa’, a Fijian word denoting processes of inclusive and transparent dialogue and storytelling, talanoa is a communal way of sharing stories, that can also be a non-violent way of approaching difficult conversations at the pace of the storyteller. It is something we do all the time, everyone comes, we mix kava and we sit and talanoa. Around that kava bowl a lot of talanoa happens, people de-stress, views are shared, issues are addressed and if it becomes difficult, they can leave it there and pick it up again the next day or when we next meet. When COVID-19 happened, people were not allowed to go between households and participate in the daily rhythms which prevent conflict.

The moment I’ll always remember

Transcend Oceania have recently teamed up with Fiji Television Limited to broadcast a series of television shows focused on community engagement with peacebuilding initiatives speaking from and beyond the pandemic isolations. Now in its second season, the 30-minute episodes provided an interactive dialogue platform for discussions between a diverse range of people and organisations, including community leaders, women, youth, and people with disabilities in Suva, Fiji, the centre of the high-risk COVID zone during the pandemic. Discussion topics included climate change, preventing violence against women, and responses to and recommendations for the COVID-19 pandemic. The televised talanoa, was partly a response to the COVID-19 pandemic as people were closed down in isolation within their homes. We have gained a lot of followers on this channel telling us how they enjoy the televised talanoa.

The moment that made all this work seem so special for me was hearing from community representatives where we work, and where we filmed one episode. Their network doesn’t reach in certain places and when we called to inform that their episode is coming up this week, they started a generator at a house at the top of a hill where the network reaches and everyone from the village gathered to watch the episode. So, when they saw their community leader on the screen talking about their priorities and what they’re facing with climate change, they all cheered and clapped for him as they were so proud of their story now being shared across Fiji. They were really happy that it was the first time they saw and heard their leader speak about their issue to other platforms, and that made me proud of the work we do together.

One thing I wish I’d known when I started out

If I was to give advice to someone starting work as a peacebuilder in the Pacific, I would tell them that peacebuilding is not as easy as getting people to sit in the same room together. It is more about listening and understanding the different contexts that exist. In many of the places we work, the communities are experiencing more immediate crises like ensuring safe shelter and having enough for daily consumption. Most of the time we will find that disasters and climate change are just further aggravating already existing issues of conflicts, for example with structural violence and power relations that play a big role within the local traditional and political hierarchy system.

The other thing is about adapting. For example, two communities where we work in Fiji were recently hit by a cyclone that caused extensive damage. People would not come and sit in the room to undertake conflict analysis or dialogue around effective leadership when they have priorities like major damage and recovery issues. We find that women are the most distracted and are traumatised while stressed about where to get food from. So we had to do a new assessment of the situation and adapt our programming as we cannot go in and engage these same women and community members in the next phase of the program and expect them to sit in and engage wholeheartedly. We shifted the focus of some of the training to trauma informed healing and awareness as the community had been deeply affected and traumatised by the damages and impacts of the cyclone.

In five years time, I hope…

In five years time, I hope that there are better consultations, coordination and communication between those impacted by climate change, and the decision-makers. The people that are facing climate change not only feel the injustices, they see and live it every day. It affects all aspects of their lives, their food security, economic, environment, shelters and infrastructure. The trend is that this is further exacerbated by bad governance, supported and implemented by the rich decision makers and related industries that are not experiencing these effects directly. Transcend Oceania is working to open more talanoa spaces to allow discussions between the groups to ensure their voices and experiences inform decision-making.

All episodes of Justpeace Talanoa Bure can be viewed on the Transcend Oceania YouTube channel and activity updates and community projects can be viewed on their Facebook page.

Conciliation Resources gratefully receives funding support from the European Union for peacebuilding, climate change and relocation programming. The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of Conciliation Resources and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.