UNICEF Taps Church for COVID-19 Initiative

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. The deadly virus gravely impacted the lives of people regardless of race, social status, financial standing, and faith. People are advised to stay at home and follow the health protocols issued by the government. Mass gatherings, including church activities, are discouraged to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), together with Religions for Peace (RfP) and Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLI), released a set of new guidance documents to advise religious communities on how to adapt to the challenges brought by the pandemic.

Faith is already a key aspect of many people’s lives, and is all the more important as the public health emergency continues. —Deepika Singh, Director of Programs, Religions for Peace

“UNICEF has a long history of working with faith-based organizations and faith leaders to advance the cause of children and families,” said Dr. Kerida Mcdonald, UNICEF Senior Advisor for Communication for Development. She stressed the importance of the relationship between UNICEF and the church “to reimagine a better and safer world for every child.”

UNICEF aims to have a template guide that can be adapted for different faiths in different countries, reports Devex. “Faith is already a key aspect of many people’s lives, and is all the more important as the public health emergency continues,” said Deepika Singh, director of programs at Religions for Peace.

UNICEF released three sets of guidance so far.

1. Adapting how we gather, pray and practice rituals. This guide informs church leaders on how to practice faith safely. Many celebrations and religious rituals, including communion and burials, can pose public health risks. The document has recommendations on how faith leaders can worship and perform rituals while ensuring the safety of their members.

“Faith is all around a lot of contact: the rituals, the practices,” said Mcdonald. “In the trajectory of the transmission, we saw that in countries like in Pakistan, like in India — a lot of places where they were not stopping the mass gatherings…this was shown to be where the infection rates were much, much higher. It was scientific.”

In addition to hygiene and sanitization practices, the guide recommends social distancing during gatherings. Close contact rituals such as dipping hands into communal ceremonial water and eating religious foods from communal containers are discouraged. Churches are advised to maximize the use of technology whenever possible.

2. Communicating to end misinformation and discrimination and to instill hope. The guide informs religious leaders on how to deal with misinformation, rumors, fear, hopelessness, stigma and discrimination.

Mcdonald disclosed that some faith leaders were hesitant to adapt suggested changes for the protection of public health. “Faith leaders themselves are saying ‘trust in the Lord, trust in God, trust in Allah, he will take us through this. You can have your best scientists or whatever in the world, but it’s God that rules and decides our destiny.’ And so that’s where there has been a lot of challenge when you have this kind of approach,” she said.

3. Helping those who are at risk. The guide advises how to address the needs of the vulnerable population, including the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and children.

“As countries move towards lifting lockdowns, the pandemic poses crippling secondary effects especially for households hardest hit by loss of income and resulting strains,” said Professor Azza Karam, Secretary General of RfP. “The Guides provide faith leaders with advice on helping communities to deal with some of these effects.”

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