Reverend Emack Jackson pastors a church of 500 people in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania. Rev. Jackson, a Congolese refugee himself who’s lived in this camp for more than 20 years, has seen firsthand the heartache and brokenness suffered by people not only in his congregation but in the entire community. He frequently looked to the United Nations and organizations like Medical Teams International to solve the community’s problems. Apathetic, he felt powerless and helpless to make a difference.

Other faith leaders in the camp, believing prayer to be the only answer for the sick, struggled with health messages encouraging women and children to go to the health facility. These faith leaders saw the health facility as a place to go when you no longer believe in the power of prayer. Both apathy and misinformation from the faith community sabotage the goals of improving the health of women and children around the world.

Empowering Faith Communities

Faith leaders are the biggest influencers in a community and serve as crucial gatekeepers to what information a community hears. They can either allow health messages to be distributed or they can block them, especially if they feel the messages are in opposition to their faith. To address apathy and misinformation, Medical Teams is implementing a program called Channels of Hope. Created to help faith leaders break down the stigma of HIV/AIDS, Channels of Hope has since been adapted with different modules to equip faith congregations to address many issues, including the health of women and children. There is now even a Channels of Hope module for COVID-19.

Maternal and Child Health in Tanzania 2019

Channels of Hope addresses 3 key elements:

  1. It provides faith leaders with basic health information based on data and science so they can best support the health of women and children.
  2. It addresses cultural and religious practices that create barriers to health by re-aligning faith leaders to the truth of scripture-based guiding principles; forcing faith leaders to examine whether they are living according to the teachings of their sacred texts.
  3. It equips faith congregations to go out into the community to promote and advocate for the health of women and children – their physical, emotional and spiritual health. The faith leaders no longer see themselves as powerless victims, but rather influential leaders with incredible resource to make positive, godly changes in the community.

To date, Medical Teams has trained over 200 faith leaders and their spouses in Channels of Hope. The faith leaders are now working with the local community and Ministry of Health to combat COVID-19.

Equipped and Empowered by Channels of Hope, Reverend Emack Jackson Now:

  1. Has created a task force of women who visit households in his congregation, providing education on maternal, newborn and child health.
  2. Provided sewing machines and training to young mothers for income generation.
  3. Provides health information for mothers and children at every Sunday church service and at mid-week church meetings.
  4. Held a joint meeting with other faith leaders to evaluate progress in implementing Channels of Hope.
  5. Conducted an informal survey on the impact of Channels of Hope with results showing a decrease in malaria and gender-based violence in his community.
  6. Attended training on COVID-19 from the Camp Settlement Officer. Health information on COVID-19 is now shared at each church meeting along with the installation of handwashing stations and the implementation of social distancing in his church.
  7. Post-COVID, Rev. Jackson plans to continue working in the community on maternal, newborn and child health issues by visiting schools to educate students on two key health issues: underage pregnancies and malaria.

Channels of Hope is making a significant difference in changing cultural and religious attitudes of faith leaders in Nyarugusu Refugee Settlement. Faith leaders, like Reverend Emack Jackson, are now working side-by-side with Medical Teams International. These same faith leaders who unknowingly sabotaged the health of those in need are now active allies in addressing the holistic health needs of the most vulnerable in the community – women and children.

Learn more about our programs in Tanzania.