Marlene Dutta. Picture: RNZ
08/07/2021 By: Ariela Zibiah
The Fiji Times
The impact of prolonged unemployment is beginning to show in how Fijians are utilising the social media platform-based Barter for a Better Fiji (BBF), group founder Marlene Dutta shared on a panel delving into the issue of self-reliance in an interconnected world at the three-day virtual Pacific Resilience Meeting on Tuesday.
“In the beginning, everything and anything was being traded, a lot of luxury items and people used it for all sorts of means whereas now people are using it really to get by.
You can tell money is tighter,” Dutta said on a panel she shared with Rev James Bhagwan (Fiji), Kathy Jetnil Kijner (Republic of the Marshall Islands) and Teea Tira (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat).
“You can tell the effects of sustained job losses, that people are suffering more and you see that coming through on one hand in terms of what they are asking for and what they are hoping to get for the things they can provide and exchange.
It has in fact become more of a space of sharing, of caring and of building that community.”
Dutta and a close group of friends are volunteer administrators of the group.
She speaks of the experience as being a learning curve for all of them. The membership of the BBF Facebook page is now just under 200,000.
COVID-19 precaution messages are now incorporated into the BBF posts including reminders of masking up, maintaining a safe distance and not entering people’s houses.
More recently, members were sent phone credits if they showed proof of vaccination.
Dutta said the concept was a result of self-reflection as ocean states watched the ravages of COVID-19 from distance in March 2020.
The nation as a whole was experiencing the first feels of uncertainty, Fiji had just closed its borders and thousands of people woke up jobless.
“I sat down and asked myself: what would happen when the money ran out. One of the answers for me was bartering. I immediately turned to an ancient concept that I thought could be useful or practical in today’s world,” Dutta said.
“I researched it and found that we had the ingredients to make it flourish – we had people who were familiar with it, we had the platform we could use to make barter easier to use in today’s world and all other components that would make bartering a solution to what we were going through in terms of job losses.”
Dutta had to develop her self-resilience first before aspect of her journey: having to deal with her fears and existing biases, recognising that while she had a solution on paper, she herself needed to be in the right space and mind frame.
The group operates on the philosophy that “this was going to be a space of nurturing, of kindness and of community-strengthening”.
The sustainability of the group Dutta said was unquestionably dependent on demand and its utility.
“The beauty about bartering, and the beauty about promoting it as a space of kindness, a space of caring for each other is it can easily be taken offline.
I would love to see it happening more often in neighbourhoods … barter doesn’t need to be organized, it can be done anywhere, it can be done across the Pacific, in any setting so in terms of its sustainability, it should be around forever.”
* Ariela Zibiah is a communications and media practitioner based in Suva (Fiji). The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of this newspaper