Interfaith leaders belonging to various religions – from Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram – took part in a webinar on July 27 and discussed various stigma related to COVID-19 and vaccination.
The webinar, organized by Sphere India, in partnership with UNICEF, WHO, World Vision India, and HCL Foundation, called for credible information sharing related to the pandemic and prevent stigma and discrimination.
The faith leaders addressed the need of the hour – to gather more knowledge about the pandemic, dispel rumours about vaccinations and continue following COVID appropriate behaviour. They also underlined the importance of keeping a positive outlook, leading to positive mental and physical health.
Jennifer Kishan, program manager, collaborative advocacy vertical at Sphere India, in her welcome address, stressed the important role faith leaders play as changemakers that can impact the community by making it more COVID prepared.
Manish Lall, manager, faith & development at World Vision India, in his keynote address, spoke of the critical role of faith leaders to promote COVID-appropriate behaviours as they are “guides to society”. He urged the faith leaders to promote safety protocols during worship, provide psychosocial care to the aggrieved and care for the marginalised and vulnerable sections of society.
Antaryami Krishna Dasa from ISKCON-Shillong, emphasized the importance of “taking proper care of the body and spreading a positive outlook in others to mitigate suffering.” He encouraged keeping the body and mind healthy and following the COVID safety protocols.
Haji Arafat Ali, president of Muslim Council of Manipur looked at how false information and unverified news contributes to mistrust in the community. The faith leaders can play an important role in changing that, he said. He also suggested a collaboration between faith leaders and the local administration for conducting awareness drives that can help fight the onslaught of misinformation related to COVID-19.
K Lalbiakenga, secretary of youth affair with Baptist Church of Mizoram addressed the need for patience while getting the vaccination and to follow the police and government guidelines. He also highlighted how faith establishment can help in COVID prevention. “Baptist Church of Mizoram has separated one church building for COVID patients and we are detailing 2-3 doctors and 10 nurses to remote areas for prevention of COVID infections. Other faith organizations can take similar measures,” he said.
Sister Memita from Brahma Kumaris, Manipur, focused on the need for meditation to foster positive thoughts. “To be a completely healthy person, mental health is as important as physical health. We should keep our minds busy and our energies focussed on constructive things so that we are able to derive mental strength at this time of greatest need,” she said.
Swami Anuragananda, secretary at Ramakrishna Mission, Sohra, spoke on the grief in the community. He said that we should remember our dead and grieve them but also know that the soul transcends death itself. “We need to take care of ourselves and the ones facing loss in the community and reaching out through psychosocial care,” he said.
Jangkholam Haokip, director of Bethesda Khankho Foundation emphasized the importance of volunteering and how volunteers can help in easing the process of registration, transporting the vulnerable from their location to vaccine centres and extending volunteer help even after the vaccination process is complete.
Mc Donald Pyngrope from Mawkhar Presbyterian Church, Shillong highlighted that the pandemic is not an issue of a particular region or religion but it is an issue of humanity. He suggested creating a database of communities that are more vulnerable and using out networks to reach out to them. He suggested creating food and medicine banks as resources for the community.