The COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed the world over the past four months spreading across 177 countries worldwide. As we prepare to face the unprecedented challenges, it is important to acknowledge the emotional weight and multiple realities faced by many communities as a result of this pandemic. It is almost difficult to comprehend some of the experiences individuals, families, children and their communities face during this crisis. While some may worry about adapting to new routines within a confined space, there are others who worry about access to basic needs such as food and healthcare during periods of lockdowns/curfews.
Those mostly affected by this virus are underprivileged families, especially those who depend on their daily wages to provide for themselves and their families. While many individuals value this time spent at home with their loved ones, there are thousands of women and children who continue to live in fear and risk being abused while they remain confined at home with their perpetrators.
Furthermore, governments and frontline workers continue to face challenges to combat COVID-19 due to limited resources and are working tirelessly around the clock to prevent further fatalities. The pandemic continues to amplify human suffering and economic instability. However, we must not lose hope, it is important that we extend our support and cooperation by adhering to Government and WHO health guidelines and by abiding to the laws of our countries. Those who are able to, can engage in humanitarian work to support underprivileged communities to obtain their basic needs and also support frontline workers where necessary.
On the other hand, religious leaders and their institutions can play an important role during this period. Religious leaders can educate the public on COVID-19 risk prevention and request the public to follow health guidelines. We have seen many examples around the world of Religious leaders engaging in humanitarian work during this crisis, for example, in Sri Lanka Religious leaders from diverse faiths distributed dry rations to underprivileged communities and used social media to pass positive messages. While engaging in humanitarian work, it is crucial to take necessary precautions and adhere to health and safety guidelines in order to avoid posing a threat to ourselves and those around us.
As the current context continues to evolve, the role of faith leaders will keep changing as they give importance to various aspects in relation to COVID-19. For instance, faith leaders can advise against the discrimination of COVID-19 patients their families, and be the moral voice to promote ethical ways to communicate COVID-19 related new coverage in media and social media. We are now concerned about the growing hate speech against certain religious and ethnic groups in the most unethical manner.
This is a time for religious leaders to reflect on their own teachings and share positive messages of hope and compassion. For example, the Buddha once said “He who attends on the sick attends on me”. Likewise, with the use of technology faith leaders can collectively share positive messages and guide the public on mutual concerns they may have on health.
This pandemic is an existential threat to humanity, the virus sees no religion, race, gender, class, caste or age; it affects all of us. We must therefore work in solidarity to combat this virus while being guided by the virtues of, kindness, compassion, love and most importantly hope. We must also use this opportunity to reflect on how our world can be rebuilt in the aftermath of the pandemic while realizing the damage we have caused to fellow humans, animals, and the environment. We need to contemplate more on creating a sustainable world as we prioritize human life and planet earth. As we work together, we must hope for a better tomorrow, and I hope our unity in combating this virus will continue even after the virus.
By Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne
President, Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, Sri Lanka, and Member of Arigatou International Advisory Group