Channels of Hope is a proven methodology for engaging and mobilizing faith leaders, the primary influencers in many communities. The process creates a safe space for faith leaders and faith communities to respond to core health-related issues affecting their communities. The program aims to address root causes of poor health by examining attitudes, norms, values, and practices. The process helps pastors examine cultural and religious barriers to health, particularly for women and children. Channels of Hope was pioneered by the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa and further developed by World Vision International.

The three pillars of Channels of Hope

The Channels of Hope process is structured around three pillars: engaging the head, touching the heart, and equipping the hands.

Engage the head

We engage the head through basic medical training. We do not turn pastors and faith leaders into doctors or nurses — we provide them with basic technical and scientific health information to help create greater awareness.

Touch the heart

The second pillar of Channels of Hope is touching the heart. We start with guiding principles that come from the Bible. We examine and try to understand the impact that our culture and religious practices can have on people in the community and ask, does our culture and religious practice align with the guiding principles of Scripture?

Equip the hands

Equipping the hands is the third pillar. The faith leaders select two or three members from their congregations to serve as Congregational Health Action Teams (CHATs) to make practical connections with other community members to address health issues in their community. The CHATs break down cultural barriers to health by going into the community to promote the health of women and children.

Four women in Guatemala walk down a trail
These volunteers are on their way to visit vulnerable families as part of the Channels of Hope program.

Why Channels of Hope matters

Channels of Hope engages the head, touches the heart, and equips the hands. Why is this important, and why is it essential to work with church leaders and pastors?

The 2012 Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life proved that religion and faith are very influential. The Pew survey indicated that 85% of the people in the world associate themselves with a particular religion. And in Africa, 74% of the people trust their religious leaders more than anyone else in society; this is especially true for faith leaders leading a congregation in a refugee camp. The survey highlighted that faith leaders are the gatekeepers in the community. They have unparalleled influence. They can put up barriers to health messaging that directly impacts the health of women and children.

In October 2021, USAID hosted a summit on Strategic Religious Engagement. The summit discussed the pros and cons about religious engagement in USAID-funded programs. In the end, the summit concluded: “To include the faith community in our programming is a best practice.”

These studies suggest churches and faith communities have important roles in solving very complex problems in our world and communities.

Hurting people need to know they are not alone, and in ministering to refugees, faith leaders are saying: “We see you. We value you. We love you.”

Channels of Hope at Medical Teams

Our initial launch of the Channels of Hope methodology took place in January 2020 at our Guatemala office. And even though we’ve since transitioned out of Guatemala, Channels of Hope continues today because the methodology is designed to be for the faith community (and not organization-dependent).

A group of men (standing) and women (sitting) pose for a photo.
Guatemala Channels of Hope leaders in 2021.

After Guatemala, the Tanzanian government asked us to begin the program in one of its communities. Today, at Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, more than 10,000 people are directly impacted by the program, and more than 5,000 in Kibondo community, and we have plans to extend the Channels of Hope project to Nduta Refugee Camp in 2023.

Most recently in January 2023, we initiated Channels of Hope in the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement in western Uganda. With over 125,000 refugees in this settlement, we had 35 faith leaders present for the week-long training event. We hope to expand to other locations throughout Uganda in the future.

A large group of people pose for a photo
This group in Uganda completed Channels of Hope training in January 2023.

Although we use the Channels of Hope model in our programming, there are plenty of other methods to engage communities of faith and promote health. What’s important to understand is that the role of the faith leaders is crucial, and it is central to finding sustainable solutions to challenges in our communities.

“Our community was missing the information, but now there is hope for maternal, newborn, and child health in our community!”
—Pastor Hakim James