By Kerida McDonald, Sonia Sakar, Johnny Hammer

NEW YORK, 22 October 2020 – With communities in every country of the world affected by COVID-19, the pandemic has disrupted decades of progress that has been made globally with households being pushed back into poverty and facing food shortages and loss of employment. Children, especially the most marginalized, are impacted severely. Millions are out of school with the majority unable to benefit from distance learning; Children’s health and protection at risk because of increased stress and mental health problems, incidence of child abuse in the home and disrupted services such as immunization and child welfare.
With the historic signing of the #FaithInAction global call to action by UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore with Religions for Peace and 13 of its senior-most diverse religious leaders at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and roll-out of the partnership initiative with the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities, there has been increasing interest amongst the development community to consider more strategic engagement with religious leaders and faith communities.

This influence has begun to create significant ripples even within global networks that have traditionally not focussed on the role of faith. As an indicator of this, last month ED Fore, alongside Religions for Peace’s Secretary General Azza Karam, was invited to speak with the world’s top business leaders at the opening panel of the first global event on Faith engagement convened virtually by the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact (WEF SDI) Summit (Please watch recording here).

In her address at the Summit, ED Fore highlighted that the #FaithlnAction initiative, (launched in April 2020 by the Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families and Communities partnership – FPCC), has been working closely with a number of faith-based groups and gathering the unique strengths of each network so that all can be more effective.

ED Fore explained that the partnership is actively working with faith-based organizations and congregational religious leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide distance learning to millions of children through radio, television and mobile phones; on countering misinformation; and mobilizing people for routine immunization. “Our routine immunization rates are just about 40 to 60 per cent (during the COVID-19 pandemic) in many countries, and faith-based organizations will make the difference in convincing people why they need to come in and why this (immunization) is important for children,” she added (ref Virtual event, 22 September 2020).

Azza Karam highlighted the vast capacity and resources of religious institutions and leaders across the world. “The religions are service providers, first responders, key protagonists in social and behaviour change, and cultural gatekeepers in many parts of the world,” she noted. “Religions for Peace prioritizes partnership because when we serve together, we establish more knowledgeable, inclusive, and effective institutions to meet the challenges of our time.”

To address the issues highlighted by ED Fore, the FPCC partners have jointly prepared a set of global guidelines – “Adapting How We Gather Together, Pray and Practise Rituals,” “Communicating to End Misinformation, Discrimination and to Instill Hope,” “Helping Those At Risk” and is finalizing another guidance document on “Supporting the Recovery of Social Services” – to assist faith actors in how to address these issues. Theologians from different countries convened by the Religions for Peace African Council of Religious Leaders (ACRL) are currently reviewing the guidance documents towards customizing them for maximum uptake at the community level.

As part of her briefing on the World Economic Forum panel, ED Fore explained, “We’ve also had a global emergency appeal for COVID and as we speak, the global #FaithlnAction Initiative is now rolling out across all regions.”

UNICEF, Religions for Peace and FBO regional teams of the consortium are engaging with faith communities, in ways that address their local contexts. Eastern and Southern Africa Region (ESAR) is preparing to roll-out a series of virtual workshops to assist multi-religious leaders and faith communities in carrying out the above-mentioned global guidelines with special focus on prevention of Violence against Children and Women. The Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region (ECAR) team is preparing for a coordinated multi-religious initiative to support Children on the Move and communities hosting migrant and refugee children and will convene a kick-start consultation event in December, later this year. The Western and Central Africa Region (WCAR) is identifying ways to improve the quality of education and child protection through Koranic education programmes as part of their wider Child-Friendly Community Initiative, while the Regional Office of South Asia (ROSA) are re-purposing their long-standing Religious Leadership platform to address the specific issues surrounding COVID-19.

The FPCC partnership initiative is well-positioned to play a lead convening role at the community level to help coordinate child and family-focused efforts for multiple religious groups alongside governments and other civil society actors. To this end, the tri-partite Partnership (UNICEF, RfP and Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities-JLI) is promoting the establishment of inter-faith coordination committees for children that will provide sustainable mechanisms for consolidating the work amongst faith actors as well as the support to their work by other global development partners.

UNICEF has a long history of convening and coordinating inter-religious faith-based organizations, needed to advance the cause of children and families. ED Fore appealed to the business community to join forces in supporting faith engagement for children, families and communities. “My call to you all, businesses and partners, is those who have not partnered with faith-based organizations, jump right in. They are the best partners you will ever have. We have done it for 70 years successfully. So please join in,”

With the financial support of businesses, institutions and private donors, the #FaithlnAction partnership can continue to work with religious leaders and organizations to bring critical concrete support as well as social and behavioural change for children and provide leadership in this growing field of strategic multi-religious engagement.

Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families and Communities (FPCC), is a partnership consortium of UNICEF, Religions for Peace (RfP) and Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLI). The platform works through Rf P’s national inter-faith councils, Women-of-Faith networks and interfaith youth Councils, in collaboration with a wide range of local faith-based organizations.

 

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