On Thursday last week, Gombe State in Nigeria imposed a state-wide curfew. They have identified 39 people with the Covid-19 virus. As Rev. Abare Kallah, our National Coordinator in Nigeria said, “This is a ‘stitch in time.’ We did our Community Awareness and Preparation project at the right time.”

Gombe College of Nursing partnered with our Interfaith Peacemaker Team leaders in this project. Nursing students paired up with IP Team leaders and visited 24 villages. With the blessing of the Traditional Rulers they convened religious leaders (imams and pastors) and taught them how to use their public voice to teach people the best practices of Covid-19 hygiene, like washing hands and keeping 6 feet away. A global interreligious organization, KAICIID (King Abdullah International Center for Interreigious and Intercultural Dialogue) based in Vienna, Austria sought our partnership in the project. Abare also reported to me the words of one Traditional Ruler, who said that none of the government’s appeals for community awareness were nearly as effective as the OMNIA training.

Click here for the document we prepared to take out to the religious leaders

Click here for Rev. Abare Kallah’s video response

In Sri Lanka, our Interfaith Peacemaker Team leaders used our donations to leverage help from the massive grocery store chain, Cargills – Food City. Together they made bags of dry rations and through the 20 IP Teams distributed to needy families. This took a significant effort since our Sri Lankan IP Teams are located in three geographically distant areas, and right now because of the curfew, travel between those is almost impossible.

Recognizing that giving dry rations is not a sustainable solution, particularly since curfew might last a long time, the IP Teams are promoting home gardens. Most IP Teams are located in villages, and therefore, most people have a small back yard, or a plot of land. A US based organization, Sustainable Harvest International has begun conversations with us about how to take their techniques for producing quick yield in small plots.

Our work in Bangladesh is still in process. The curfew is most strict there. So our colleagues have a very difficult time communicating with IP Teams. However, they were discussing strategies over the weekend, and I know, will come up with good options. The IP Teams in Bangladesh (some in the slums of Dhaka) are the most marginalized of all our IP Teams. This is what makes our work there the most challenging. I will keep you informed of their progress.

This is the value of IP Teams. These are clergy and lay religious leaders who are trained to collaborate, build power and think strategically. They are prepared to take on issues that arises from the ground, and are trained to undertake only those that are urgent, relevant and winnable. Both Nigerian and Sri Lankan IP Team leaders have assured me that these projects are winnable. Small victories enable them to gain greater credibility and greater power, leading them to bigger victories.

Two critical question have arisen:

  1. Can the Covid-19 pause be an opportunity to find ways to begin a dialogue with those with extremist views, since now we are all facing a common enemy in the virus?
  2. Can governments, businesses or entrepreneurial leaders work together to create new opportunities for internet access in places where it is difficult, such as Northeastern Nigeria. The social distancing required by Covid-19 makes the digital divide intolerable.

We will continue to work on these questions. Thank you for you engagement.

Shanta Premawardhana

President

Shanta Premawardhana is president of OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership. Prior to OMNIA, he served as the Director for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He was also the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches, USA. While serving as pastor of Ellis Avenue Church in Chicago, he engaged in community organizing work in the Southside of Chicago. He is an emeritus trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, National Council of Churches, USA, and Common Cause Illinois. He earned his Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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