LUSAKA, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- As the COVID-19 continues to rip through countries, community leaders in Zambia are playing a crucial role in communities most affected by the pandemic by ensuring that individuals adhere to health guidelines to curb the pandemic and providing support mechanisms.
In places such as rural and remote areas and unplanned settlements, community and religious establishments working in Zambia have been instrumental in ensuring that goods and services are delivered to vulnerable and marginalized communities.
In the rural and remote places of the country, traditional leaders cross Zambia have taken a strong stand and joined the fight to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their chiefdoms.
This is particularly true for Zambia's Luapula province where chiefs have been carrying out mass sensitization programs with their headmen to educate rural communities on social distancing and other preventative measures.
These influential community leaders have also been working in partnership Zambian Financial Sector Deepening Limited (FSD Zambia) to raise awareness around COVID-19 prevention and encouraging rural people in the province to use contactless transactions through mobile money solutions.
In urban areas, religious authorities and ward development committee leaders have been using their minimal resources to conduct sensitization and other outreach activities in densely populated areas and slums.
"It is important to foster good working relations with community leaders if a program is to yield desired results because these individuals serve as a bridge between the local government and the community," said Charles Musonda, a Ward Development Committee Secretary for Nkoloma Ward One in Lusaka's Chawama Constituency.
According to Musonda, community leaders are often the most effective messengers because they carry the credibility to help populations and can easily influence populations to buy into an idea including adopting healthier behaviours.
He asserts that for this reason well established nonprofit organizations and entities looking to have programs in particularly poorer communities would first seek to establish sound working relations with community leaders.
"Communities have great regard for religious and traditional leaders as well as leaders of community-based establishments such as Ward Development Committees. Therefore, building capacities of community leaders to respond to COVID-19 challenges would go a long way in enhancing community responses to COVID-19 interventions," Musonda said.
Samuel Banda, who is chairperson for a Pastor's Fellowship, a body concerned with the welfare of Christian Preachers in Lusaka echoed Musonda's sentiments and added that the role of community leaders in development cannot be emphasized more so during this period.
"Community leaders have on several occasions been engaged in public health communication campaigns and a range of development projects long before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are better placed to ensure community ownership of an even a COVID-19 response program because they know communities they serve," Banda asserted.
He however bemoaned the underutilization of community-based leadership in COVID-19 interventions, stating many community leaders stand ready to provide humanitarian services to and to been fully engaged in COVID-19 community response strategies.
Banda also adds that there is a need for governments in developing countries to design strategies that focus on effective engagement of community leaders in post-COVID-19 programs given the crucial role that these leaders play in development processes.
He said for its part, the Preachers Fellowship has conducted a series of programs aimed at empowering church leaders with tools for them to effectively communicate COVID-19 prevention measures and as well copying mechanisms to their members.
He also mentioned that the fellowship is working on coming up with a series of financial literacy and empowerment trainings aimed at empowering church leaders with skills and knowledge to invest in ventures that promote financial sustainability.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for religious institutions to seriously consider investing in sustainable income-generating programs and the building of resilient communities," Banda said.
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