Faith and Development Work

Faith, Fragility and COVID-19


by Andrea Kaufmann,  Senior Advisor, Faith and External Engagement , World Vision International    

COVID-19 accelerated crippling trends already at play in the world. 

In some instances, the threat of the virus has been used as a mechanism to shut borders, to justify xenophobia, and to reinforce a lack of trust between governments, health systems and communities. The response has, at times, been politicised and nationalised. This poses increased challenges especially in fragile contexts, where social cohesion and mediating institutions are weak or non-existent. And yet, we also see another narrative emerging. A narrative that is explored and celebrated in the recent World Bank Fragility Forum panel: Religion at the Nexus of Development, Humanitarian Crisis Response and Peacebuilding in the time of COVID-19.

I have personally seen tremendous transformation when faith leaders came together across faith lines to improve their communities, putting children front and centre in decision-making. This resonates in World Vision’s Channels of Hope work—first in response to HIV, then in addressing gender equality, child protection, and healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. Faith leaders—Christian and Muslim—working side by side have contributed to decreased child marriage and increased HIV testing, support and care for vulnerable children, as well as improved reporting and referral mechanisms for children. We have seen these circles of trust move beyond faith leaders and those they represent, extending to the broader community. This approach has increased the number of faith communities partnering with governments, health clinics and child protection groups, playing a unique and essential role in strengthening systems and supporting children.

Faith leaders have repeatedly proven to be trusted community leaders with vital social, access and spiritual capital.[i] During the West Africa Ebola crisis, faith leaders played an essential role in sharing fact-based health messages, combatting myths, and addressing harmful or unhealthy practices.[ii] Recent experiences during the COVID-19 response have also demonstrated their engagement, with more than 94,000 faith leaders sharing health messages and supporting parents and caregivers, many through creative virtual means like Whatsapp, radio programmes or calls to prayer.

Just as in the Ebola crisis, faith leaders today are continuing to play a vital role in combatting fear, reducing stigma and encouraging social cohesion during this time. They are active in identifying the most vulnerable children, strengthening referral mechanisms, and challenging underlying beliefs to address violence. As trusted guides, faith leaders provide spiritual support for children, caregivers and communities—an essential resource for healing and resilience.[iii] This spiritual support can also build solidarity, helping entire nations come together in unity through national days of prayer, interreligious statements and interfaith collaboration.

Examples of cooperation that drive unity and solidarity, especially supporting children in fragile contexts, abound. For example,

  • In crisis-affected Venezuela, World Vision is working with the Hope Network, a church network, which ensures safe and consistent access to deliver food aid and psychological first aid to the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children and families;
  • In South Sudan, World Vision reached over 1.4 million people with a COVID-19 awareness campaign, working in collaboration with various partners, including 420 faith leaders; and
  • In Afghanistan, World Vision partnered with the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Haji and Religious Affairs to train 60 faith leaders who passed on prevention messaging to 1,300 people.

In fragile contexts, the emerging narrative of hope for the world’s children is, in large part, characterised by governments, multilaterals, NGOs and faith actors coming together with solutions and support in the face of COVID-19. Let’s go forward and tell these stories, encouraging each other to strengthen these creative partnerships in and beyond this pandemic, truly building a platform of transformational change for the world’s most vulnerable children. 

Read more:   Faith Actors in the COVID-19 Response  Policy Brief 

[i] Joint Learning Initiative, “A Mixed Blessing: Roles of Faith Communities in Ending Violence Against Children,” September 2019.

[ii] Smith, Sally, et al., “Religion and Ebola-Learning from Experience.” The Lancet, 6 July 2015, pE24.

[iii] Joint Learning Initiative, “Faith Action for Children on the Move Learning Brief: Spiritual Support,” p1.