28.04.2020

World Vision counting on faith leaders and the use of technology to combat Covid-19

World Vision’s global network of faith leaders are using WhatsApp to stop misinformation and co-ordinate community-level, context-specific responses to COVID-19.

The aid and development agency works closely with faith leaders, as they are often the most trusted and authoritative voices in the communities it serves. But this is the first time the network has mobilised on this scale, and in this way.

“There are WhatsApp groups in countries right across Latin America, Asia, Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe. These are moderated by mentors to ensure accurate and up-to-date information is conveyed,” says World Vision’s Director of Faith and Development Esther Lehmann-Sow. “This approach has previously helped us increase awareness, improve uptake of recommended behaviour, and decrease stigma around HIV and AIDS, Zika and Ebola.”

The WhatsApp groups are made up of around 8,000 faith leaders who have attended World Vision’s behaviour change workshops.

“We work with faith leaders so they can use their influence on parents and local governments to adopt behaviours that protect and provide for children. In this case, faith leaders are playing a key role in our efforts to protect children from the potentially catastrophic secondary effects of COVID-19,” says Lehmann-Sow.

The groups operate much like a telephone tree, with each of those participants taking what they have learnt, and activating their own networks, helping the agency reach an estimated 80,000 faith leaders in total. Pastor Peter Kainwo from Bo in Sierra Leone is one of them. He believes the system enables him to directly and indirectly reach every community in his country.

Pastor Peter says the faith leaders, who come from a variety of religious backgrounds, are committed to working alongside each other. “Doctrine divides us, but service unites us.”

Pastor Peter and his district’s Chief Imam, Alhaji Mustapha Koker, began contingency planning before COVID-19 even arrived in Sierra Leone. “We began speaking to each other’s congregations and then moving our sermons to radio and television when we needed to isolate. But for many poor communities, they do not have access (to radio and television) so we bought megaphones and speakers, and with the blessing of authorities, started visiting villages, and educating them in this way. We have written jingles for the children so they can remember important messages”.

“World Vision’s long history of working with churches means the organisation has strong partnerships with local churches of diverse denominations, and leaders of other faiths, based on a shared commitment to improve the well-being of all children. It is at times like this that our joint work makes a real difference for children,” says Lehmann-Sow. 

Read the full article on World Vision's website.