Faith leaders on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus

Abbe' Michel, a Catholic priest, holds a service in DR Congo before the pandemic. Image: CAFOD

During the coronavirus pandemic, faith and community leaders have been crucial: acting as a trusted voice to speak out against misinformation and fear, to support the world’s most vulnerable communities. UK faith charities, who are supporting the DEC Coronavirus Appeal, are working alongside faith leaders, equipping them with the knowledge and understanding to promote the right messages on how families can best protect themselves against the virus. Here are the stories of their work in five of the fragile places targeted by the DEC appeal. 

Women making soap at Olame Centre in DRC. Image: Jean Claude Wenga/CAFOD

Democratic Republic of Congo

“When we talk, people listen," explained Abbe' Michel, a priest. “The Church has the opportunity to unite people every day, and people listen to the Church. They trust us.”

In DRC, faith leaders are taking the lessons learned from the recent Ebola outbreak to spread coronavirus messages - and it is making a big difference.

“Faith is very important to the women here,” explained Therese Mema Mapenzi, who runs the Olame Centre, supported by charity CAFOD. At the centre, women, affected by physical and sexual violence, can go to receive counselling and learn new skills such as soapmaking, which now, is helping combat the spread of coronavirus. “The women pray and respect the hygienic signs, ​following the church leaders. They are now invited to wear masks, and to clean, each time, doors and other devices used commonly in their families.”

Aid workers distributing aid in Syria. Image: Jean Claude Wenga/CAFOD


The first cases of coronavirus have been reported in Idlib, Syria. When the virus spreads, it is feared it will be catastrophic.

“Regardless of their religion, the war affected everyone,” explained Firaz, a member of a local Syrian charity that is working alongside faith leaders and church organisations to provide basic emergency aid and medical assistance, including clean water and hygiene kits.

According to the UN, since December 2019, nearly one million Syrians have had to flee their homes. Healthcare facilities in North West Syria have come under attack, and many have had to suspend many services.

“Harm, pain, and death do not differentiate between Muslims and Christians. It strikes everyone,” explained Firaz, who himself is a practising Christian. “What matters is the human being. We work on principles of solidarity, equality, dignity. We help everyone.” 

Aid workers in South Sudan learn about social distancing. Image: Dada Luke/Tearfund

South Sudan

In South Sudan, faith leaders have come up with innovative ways to help spread the messages of coronavirus and implement social distancing.

In the Malual Kon district, faith leaders ran hygiene training for local community members. While, at food distribution sites, charity Tearfund worked alongside faith leaders to ensure people could socially distance while queuing. They decided to label points on ground with ash to indicate to people where to stand. “Churches and people of all faiths live in the communities they serve before, during and after times of crisis,” explained Anthony Rama, Tearfund’s Country Director in South Sudan. “They can offer long term sustainability and are uniquely placed to understand the needs and possible solutions for the communities that they serve and belong to.”

Dr Mohammad Aowfee Khan consulting with a patient while wearing protective clothing. Image: Christian Aid

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

In the world’s largest refugee camp - home to more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees on Bangladesh's border with Myanmar - faith leaders are urging their followers to pray at home to help slow the spread of coronavirus.  

“We know the coronavirus is very dangerous,” says Nur, the imam of Camp 8 in Cox’s Bazar, who was trained on coronavirus prevention. Convincing people to avoid gatherings, especially Friday prayers at the mosque, is a challenge. “I urge them to maintain social distance,” explained Nur. “People are listening and obeying me.”

As the camps have been on lockdown, rumours are spreading quickly, as Dr Mohammad Aowfee Khan, a consultant at Dhaka Ahsania Mission Static Health-post, has seen first-hand. “There is a rumour that the virus won’t affect Rohingya refugees,” Nur continued. “But that’s nonsense. A disease can spread and infect anyone, anywhere.”

14 leading UK aid charities have come together for the DEC Coronavirus Appeal to help people in the world’s most fragile states face Covid-19. Please give what you can.