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Religious actors and COVID-19: Healing people’s anxiety

In our PaRD Geneva Peace Week Podcast, Ms. Wah Wah Yu, Program Manager at the Spirit in Education Movement based in Yangon, Myanmar, speaks about the support religious actors can give to people in COVID-19 times.

Religious communities and actors can and have shown to be sources of guidance and support, sharing the responsibilities of care and acting as a support network to vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many contexts, faith actors have played an important role through creative and practical approaches to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 measures and effects on vulnerable populations.

As Geneva Peace Week took place virtually this year, participants have been asked either to do live online sessions or produce digital products contributing to the theme: Rebuilding trust after disruption: Pathways to reset international cooperation. PaRD’s contribution to Geneva peace week 2020, is a dialogue with local and international religious actors who are each addressing the challenges COVID-19 has had on their community.

This podcast is a collaboration with Islamic Relief Worldwide, World Vision International, Side by Side and World Evangelical Alliance, who lead PaRD’s work-streams on Health, Gender, Environment, Water and Climate Action and Peace. It will take you to Delhi, Birmingham, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Thailand, to see what faith leaders and representatives of faith groups have done in the response to COVID-19… what were some of the successes and challenges that they faced, and what stories of hope emerged from their experiences.

Interview with Ms. Wah Wah Yu, Program Manager at the Spirits in Education Movement based in Yangon, Myanmar: 

In your experience what role are religious actors playing in the COVID-19 response?

Wah Wah: Generally, there is two points, two aspects for religious leaders who are engaging with the community in this time of COVID. So one is, they are rightly dealing with the community in terms of supporting and helping their needs, for example distributing masks, and other materials like hand soap or other things. In some areas [they distribute] food supplies for the people in their villages, in their communities, and facilitating the leadership role between the government officials and the community leaders and the villagers. Particularly the issues for the returnees, the migrant workers who come back to Myanmar and their own communities. So, they are targeted, and religious leaders are taking that role. Another aspect is the spiritualty and religiously engaging with the communities needs. They share, or they teach the Dharma talk, it is guidance meditation or sharing their Buddhist teaching, for example how meditate our daily struggles in this COVID time. How to be mindful with ourselves, how to be not violent to each other in terms of what we need or, negotiations among the communities based on their needs. So, these are the two aspects that I have been learning from the observation of religious leaders in this COVID time.

How have you seen religious actors communicating to their communities during this time?

Wah Wah: The religious literacy on the other hand it is a very challenging task for us, as the ones that are trying to facilitate between this religious literacy and the interpretation and the distribution sharing methodologies between those religious leaders and the communities. But ok from the perspective of engaging with the community in this COVID time this is really helpful. Sharing, caring, mindful actions, to be aware of ourselves not to be…. the non-violent actions. Or basic principles or rules and regulations like not to kill, not to steal, like that kind of basic principles are very helpful in this time. Especially to help healing and meditation with the people’s anxiety and the other basic needs to share with one another.

Do you think COVID-19 will be a catalyst for change?

Wah Wah: Particularly for me I really have to remind myself of balancing myself of that kind of expectations and the realities that we were dealing on a daily basis. In this COVID time, the religious leaders we have been working with, I think, and our observations indicate that they have more reflection for themselves, which is very supportive for the community. On the other hand, … because when they can really reflect on themselves like ‘oh well, why are these kinds of things are happening in this country, community or wherever the global pandemic is happening’. So, there is a lot to learn from COVID-19 in this time, because previously we all went urgent and rushed [with] each other, like ‘these are my priorities’ and [we] did not really pay attention to one another. But Now, we all have to stop or at least kind of pause, in this moment they really can reflect, it is not only them, it is also us what we want them to become, , and at the same time what they want themselves or what they want their own communities to be. So, this is a very good time for critical reflection for themselves and also for ourselves as well. So that is the ongoing process for all of us according to my observations in this time. And on the other hand, that is the hope to continue.

Kindly listen to the full Pocast via this link.