How do Faith Communities Save the Lives of Children?

June 14, 2012 by

“Remember the incredible resources within communities,” Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, told an international gathering in Washington, D.C. seeking ways to improve childhood survival around the world. “The family unit is very powerful in terms of bringing about a better quality of life and health.”

Woo was part of a panel on The Critical Role of the Faith Community and Civil Society at Child Survival Call to Action, a two-day look at the health and well-being of children under the age of 5 convened by the governments of the United States, India and Ethiopia, in conjunction with UNICEF.

She told of a CRS project in Nicaragua, funded by the US Agency for International Development, which sought to improve the health of pregnant women and their newborn babies, getting them to better utilize government health clinics.

“This is a very rural area,” Woo said. “It had no transportation, and the child mortality rate was about four times as high as it should have been. Think about that.”

Woo explained that the crucial part of the program was getting into these communities and talking to people. “We found that the most underutilized resource in terms of child survival was men. We had to engage men, to understand their perspectives, to design interventions and programs involving them that would bring about dramatic change.”

Starting with the village elders, the program got men involved in their wives’ pregnancies, from planning where deliveries should take place to identifying the stronger men in the community who could help transport women to clinics if emergencies arose.

“We found the solutions at the household level, at the community level,” Woo said.

Among others on the panel, Kay Warren, co-founder of the Saddleback Church, the well-known megachurch in Orange County, Calif., said that it made sense to harness the power of faith communities. “There’s a church in every corner of the world,” she said. There might not be a post office or a school, but there is going to be a church, even if it’s just a stick hut. The faith community is a powerful resource for children.”

And Bishop Sunday N. Onuoha, a Protestant minister from Nigeria, told of the Christian and Muslim communities working together to deliver sermons on preventing malaria.

“Every Friday, the mosquitoes would go to the mosques and bite people,” he said. “And every Sunday, they would go to the church and bite people. So we decided it was best to attack this in an interfaith way.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the NY Board of Rabbis, echoed the importance of partnership when working to eradicate childhood mortality in his closing remarks. “The call for survival is not a Christian, Jewish or Muslim issue,” he said. “It’s ‘our’ issue.”



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