Why faith? Part 2

A previous post addressed the religious imperative against malaria from the standpoint of those of us in the US, UK, and Canada. So why is the Faiths Act campaign so explicit about the work of churches and mosques on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa? As it turns out, religious communities in the developing world are in a unique position to affect change, especially on the issue of malaria.

Health systems in sub-Saharan Africa are, to sound like a generalizing imperialist, stressed. Doctor shortages, drug shortages, political graft, distribution issues in remote areas (geography + the previous problems), and other bits, combined with the overwhelming numbers of people who need help, have stretched some systems to the breaking point.

Whereas health systems simply can’t be everywhere, religious communities are almost ubiquitous. Even very small villages will have a church or mosque. Imagine faith communities as an extension, not a parallel, of the health infrastructure in a given country. Consider this example of the role of religious groups in a village in Zambia:

…”[the village] may have no permanent structures but it does have a functioning Christian congregation and a traditional healer. Christian relief organizations are providing food, and a Muslim organization has dug the first well for the community. This is not unique…various church health associations in Africa are outstanding examples of community-level, or intermediary, organizations; they have some degree of central structure and organization so that they can pool disparate resources and provide some administrative and logistical support to programs on the ground; they have member congregations in most communities, both urban and rural. They are large enough to secure funding from large relief organizations, but decentralized so that such resources can flow to far-flung locations. They share common goals, but do not require uniformity in regard to doctrine or practice.” [emphasis mine]

The United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) is also no stranger to the intersection of aid and religion. UNAIDS “prioritizes work at the global level with large networks of FBOs [faith-based organizations], religious leaders, and networks of religious leaders living with HIV.” They partner with Caritas Internationalis, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, Islamic Relief, and the Sangha Metta Project, to name only a few. We should all recognize the great place of faith as a driver for international development work.

What remains to be done is to connect faith communities in the “West” or, for the purposes of my work with the Faiths Act Fellowship, the US, UK, and Canada, to their co-religionists in sub-Saharan Africa. Religious communities “over there” can bridge the health services gap while religious communities “over here” bridge the resource and advocacy gap.

Key to this work, and to the mission of the Faiths Act campaign, is that we do so from an explicitly interfaith standpoint, e.g. churches, mosques, synagogues, temples working together. Management consultants used to call it synergy. We call it common sense. Mosquitoes don’t care who you pray to.

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