Savaira and Amani took each other’s hand and exchanged their marriage vows. Seven years in the wait, they were now declared married, in a bus.
Savaira and Amani had been together as partners for over seven years, living in Amani’s village in Namosi, in the interior of Fiji’s main island.
Every morning they would walk for over an hour up into the mountains, where they grow root crops and vegetables. Once a week they would go to town to sell their produce, a journey of three hours by bus, each way.
“I had no time at all to seek government assistance. Here, we face so many hardships in terms of earning money. It’s not that easy. And because of the hardships we faced, our marriage was delayed,” said Savaira.
Their civil wedding ceremony was no ordinary. It took place inside a bus, the REACH bus — a ‘mobile office,’ custom designed and equipped to provide social services for the general public, who cannot otherwise easily access it. The services include the registration of births, deaths and also marriage.
“All the officers from the different government departments were in the village hall. Everything that we needed was right there. So, we just got ready,” said Amani. She put her jaba (a traditional Fijian long dress) on and the couple headed down to the village hall.
Together with their fellow villagers, Savaira and Amani were received by a team of government officers at their village hall, delivered via the REACH bus. They first participated in an introductory presentation regarding the social, economic and legal rights enshrined in Fiji’s Constitution. The REACH bus staff was there to provide them with immediate access to the public services associated with these rights.
Amani and Savaira were among 18,432 Fijian who accessed the social services through the Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (REACH) for Rural and Urban Fijians Project. The REACH Project is coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and is supported by the Government of Japan.
“The evening we got married she felt so emotional because she finally knew deep down that she was now married to me,” said Amani.
“We got back home and prayed, thanking the Lord that it had finally happened,” added Savaira.
A formal marriage registration in Fiji gives the couple a legally recognized status, which is a key requirement when applying for probate — the legal and financial processes involved in dealing with the property, money and possessions in the event of a deceased partner or designating the partner as a nominee or beneficiary under Fiji’s National Provident Fund.
Along with securing her legal entitlement, the civil marriage registration boosted Savira’s confidence as a member of the community. “I now feel that I fully belong and have a stronger commitment to the vanua (land) and the church,” she said. Increasing confidence among people is a key to building inclusive societies.
The REACH initiative assists all Fijians to overcome various challenges in exercising their constitutional rights to public and social service. It supports the Fijian Government in increasing its accountability to the people by ensuring that no one if left behind in their public service delivery.
Text and photos by UNDP Fiji