• ADRA created BRAVE (Building Resilience And Vaccine Awareness), a program to be run in collaboration with interfaith groups in Sri Lanka to fight COVID with factual information.
  • The agency also initiated Know Your Reality, an effort in which faith groups, including the Adventist Church, establish an interfaith pandemic relief team (IPRT) to share COVID-related training sessions with target groups.
  • The IPRTs will work with faith leaders to set up forums that promote COVID-19 preventative measures, debunk vaccine myths, and provide accessible resources about vaccines.

8 July 2021 | From an ADRA press release – The pear-shaped island nation of Sri Lanka is on the verge of a health crisis, and with a population of more than 21 million people, hope in the country for the COVID-19 pandemic to recede remains neutral.

The impact of the virus has resulted in the closing of businesses, workers’ being laid off, and an increase in patient numbers at hospitals, spiking a shortage of intensive care unit beds.

According to a study by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, most communities are taking measures to prevent the virus, namely by wearing face masks, washing or sanitizing their hands, keeping six feet apart, and being vaccinated. However, the study also revealed that with the wide spread of misinformation through WhatsApp, Facebook and the like, people are being misled, and there has been a gap in disseminating factual information. As a result, the health ministry’s study reported that the virus won’t go away anytime soon.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), which is stationed in seven districts of Sri Lanka, is teaming up with local authorities, the Adventist Church, and interfaith partners to address the most challenging preventative issues arising on the island. ADRA came up with a program entitled BRAVE, which is short for Building Resilience And Vaccine Awareness, and will be in collaboration with interfaith groups.

“Our team has been organizing and providing water, sanitation and hygiene efforts to meet the needs of people since the first wave of the pandemic,” says Matthew Whitty, ADRA’s country director in Sri Lanka. “Our efforts have recently shifted toward helping the most vulnerable communities get through this health crisis. We realize that in the likelihood of varying disasters such as this pandemic to occur in the future, forming relationships and being prepared are key to minimizing severe impacts.”

Bridging the Gap Through Inter-Faith Groups

It is commonly known on the island that places of worship, religious organizations, congregations, and spiritual leaders provide the best means of support for their communities. Additionally, places of faith are often seen as safe havens or shelters in times of trouble.

“Sri Lanka is predominantly a Buddhist nation, and spiritual leaders in the communities are often revered as people who can be trusted because they support the communities in times of recovery and have the people’s best interest at heart, whether it is by ways of physical, psychological or spiritual support. Many communities are actually built around places of faith, most commonly Buddhist temples,” says Whitty.

He says that ADRA has not worked with interfaith groups in Sri Lanka on a disaster effort but needed to win the people’s trust for its COVID-19 relief efforts.

“To get the communities to see that we are there to help them, we came up with a framework called Know Your Reality, where faith groups, including the Adventist Church, will establish an interfaith pandemic relief team (IPRT) to coordinate forums that will help facilitate informative trainings among targeted districts,” Whitty says.

The IPRT would work with and increase the capacity of faith leaders to head the forums, then identify families with the most vulnerable members that would be prioritized for vaccination, which would include the elderly (ages 60 and above), frontline healthcare workers, and law enforcement officials. Each forum would focus their efforts to address COVID-19 preventative measures, debunk vaccine myths, and provide accessible resources about vaccines.

Support for the People

Faith leaders who will lead out in forums will also undergo psychological first aid training.

“While faith leaders are well equipped to handle the spiritual needs of their fellowships, sometimes they are not equipped to address and respond to meet the psychological needs that arise in a crisis: in this case, situations involving COVID-19,” Whitty says.

The online training, according to Whitty, will include the basic responses needed when responding to any psychological need and will only be applicable until such time when an individual is referred to a professional for support.

Another group in Sri Lanka who will be supported are people who are deaf. ADRA will be working with the country’s Ministry of Health to develop video messages that use sign language interpretation to address COVID-19 prevention awareness.

“People who are deaf are often not included in communication methods, and in Sri Lanka, we are putting in place strategies to help them make informed decisions about available prevention measures,” says Whitty.

Whitty shared that ADRA will be working with an Adventist youth group known locally as the Youth Inspire Team to offer support.

“Several young people in this group are fluent in sign language, and they have willingly obliged to help us put these video messages together for people who cannot hear. We are also working with a professional sign language interpreter to ensure the messages are accurate,” he says.

Serving Amid Natural Disasters

ADRA had to switch gears from its BRAVE program planning a few days ago to respond to recent flooding and landslides in the southern region.

Several districts were flooded due to heavy rains that affected more than 270,000 people, with some 27,000 survivors staying in safety centers. Local authorities additionally report there have been small structural damages and 20 deaths.

“The water has not receded and there’s a chance for water levels to rise. With a partner in the region, we conducted a rapid needs assessment to determine locations best suited for our emergency response,” says Whitty. “There are also reports of families returning to their homes for fear of contracting COVID-19 in evacuation centers. While the flooding may delay the BRAVE project, our team has been prioritizing efforts to keep survivors in safety centers safe.”

Whitty says his team will be at the forefront to continue spreading awareness about COVID-19 prevention and target people at risk of contracting the virus.

“We’ve formed wonderful relationships in Sri Lanka to be seen as a trusted source of help. For now, we must be strategic, plan accordingly, and keep vigilant as the rains subside,” he says.

About ADRA

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency is the international humanitarian arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, serving in 118 countries. Its work empowers communities and changes lives around the globe by providing sustainable community development and disaster relief. ADRA’s purpose is to serve humanity so all may live as God intended. For more information, visit ADRA.org.

Image: The interfaith effort gets under way. Credit: Dr. Novil Wijesekara and ADRA in Sri Lanka

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