UNICEF and the Regional Buddhist Leadership Initiative Sangha Metta
Through its Regional Buddhist Leadership Initiative Sangha Metta (‘compassionate monks’), UNICEF has worked with governments and Buddhist leadership on HIV and AIDS prevention and care efforts in Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. Specific programmes vary from country to country and include prevention programmes with young people, spiritual counselling and healing, community education in temples and supporting vulnerable families and children affected by HIV and AIDS. UNICEF supported a process in which Buddhist leaders developed a training approach that related key learning about HIV responses with their own religious beliefs about the Four Noble Truths. This approach was central to mobilizing the wider Buddhist leadership to engage with this initiative.
UNAIDS, UNICEF and Religions for Peace
UNICEF, together with UNAIDS and Religions for Peace, produced a guide for religious leaders from various faith communities on how to use their influence, moral leadership and resources to support children affected by HIV and AIDS.
In 2007 UNICEF Iran and religious academics from Imam Sadeq University addressed practical challenges for children's rights and well-being in a book: What Can We, Religious Leaders, Do in Response to HIV/AIDS?, providing recommendations based on Quranic and Shia religious references. The following year the text was distributed among leading national religious organizations. High-level advocacy events for selected key religious leaders raised their awareness concerning the fight against HIV and AIDS.
In 2009 UNICEF Chad’s advocacy with civil society organizations such as the Alliance of Religious Bodies against HIV/AIDS and other Pandemics helped create a think-tank and action unit that included a formal commitment by religious leaders to actively address HIV and AIDS as well as education, child protection and child survival and development.
In Nicaragua in 2010 UNICEF partnered with the Theological and Social Research Centre and Acción Medica Cristiana to promote theological-pastoral reflection on the HIV epidemic. This has succeeded in mobilizing churches, mainly on the Caribbean Coast, regarding the rights of people living with HIV. Prominent Nicaraguan theologians produced a book on the theological foundation for church participation in the national response to the epidemic. Educators from 10 biblical institutes and religious leaders from 200 churches have been trained on the theological approach to the HIV epidemic.
Namibia: Reaching the unreached through church networks
Namibia is one of the countries most highly affected by HIV and AIDS, and in a context of food insecurity and high levels of poverty it has an increasing number of orphans and vulnerable children. The Church Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) was established in 2002 with start-up funding from UNICEF and the Ford Foundation as an interfaith networking organization to provide these children with care and support.
CAFO was established under the auspices of the Council of Churches in Namibia and has an ecumenical approach that builds on the widespread influence of the country's churches. It has strengthened the capacity of religious communities to rally their members to provide protection, care and support for vulnerable children.
By 2010 CAFO was distributing and administering grants to the value of US$600,000 annually to over 539 congregations that joined the alliance. In return they received training and technical assistance to equip them to manage projects and monitor and report on results. Over 20,000 vulnerable children benefited from support channelled through local congregations.
CAFO has continued to play a valuable advocacy role, linking communities through churches to service providers including civil society and government, and has been central to policy debates. As a member of the Cabinet-mandated Orphans and Vulnerable Children Permanent Task Force, CAFO has been involved in developing standards for service delivery as well as national related policies, plans and legislation. A high profile ‘Walk for Children‘ raised awareness of the situation of vulnerable children.
Through its community-based grants, training and projects, linked to civil society and government partners, CAFO demonstrates how religious communities can meaningfully fulfil their obligations to reach vulnerable children.