The Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development (FRIEND) is a home-grown community development NGO based in Lautoka on the west coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.
The hallmark of FRIEND’s work is the integrated approach it brings into community development, working with communities in rural and under-served regions of Fiji’s western, northern and central divisions formal and non-formal settlements. The NGO works with persons living with disabilities, widows, single parents, orphans and former prisoners.
Through its integrated social, health and economic interventions programs and activities, FRIEND empowers communities by imparting knowledge, skills and resources which in turn people capacity to improve their lives and break out of poverty. With the support of donor partners and through its own funding, FRIEND engages communities in programs such as Governance, Sustainable Livelihoods, Disaster Preparedness and Healthy Living.
Anguished about the prevailing poverty in rural Fiji and what she experienced as a waste of invaluable resources, journalist-turned community development worker Sashi Kiran registered FRIEND as a charitable organisation in December 2001 and in August 2002 FRIEND opened its first office.
In 2002, FRIEND started a savings scheme in 10 communities in the small town of Ba. Around the same time, a partnership was developed with the Senior Citizens Centre in Ba for the start-up of an income generation project making Tamarind Chutney. The chutney was officially launched on International Women’s Day 2003. More chutneys and pickles were added to the growing range now made by different groups of women in the FRIEND kitchen. Over the years, FRIEND has received funding from Prince Charles, the British High Commission, as well as from Canada and New Zealand. FRIEND has received national and international awards for its work.
Today, FRIEND has over 60 dedicated staff who works in offices in Lautoka and Labasa on Community Governance, Sustainable Livelihoods and SMILE Health. The FRIEND village sustained heavy damage during Tropical Cyclone Evan on 17 December 2012. The workshop, conference centre and roof of the main office was lost, however, this allowed an upgrading to state of the art Food Production Centre, funded by the European Union.
Saras Wati, 55, is a well-known community cook in Ba who volunteered her recipe for FRIEND’s original Tamarind Chutney in. Thirteen years later, Saras is still the one who plays a key role behind the pots of Tamarind Chutney that are prepared on a daily basis at the FRIEND quality controlled kitchen.
“I was a normal housewife. As part of the community I would get asked to help out at functions. That’s how I started cooking for events. My confidence grew and continues to grow with practice. My work at FRIEND has given me a greater identity and respect amongst my community along with a regular income that enables me to contribute towards my family expenses. I am also able to save for the future as well,” says Saras Wati. “I love cooking and hope to continue doing so as long as I can.”
Saras buys her tamarind, a wild fruit, from other women who prepare this for their income. Each year tonnes of tamarind make their way to the kitchen earning much needed income to hundreds of women and farmers from rural areas.