Church gatherings are an effective channel to promote hygiene as their members cut across age, tribe, sex and race with church leaders having strong influence in terms of cascading information to the mixed multitude. In an emergency scenario, such as a cholera outbreack, churches can become an effective tool for hygiene promotion as they interface with religious sects that have been previous considered hard to reach. Working through churches may provide a panacea to these ‘medieval diseases’ that have been a menace to most developing nations.
When many people meet and shake hands at these church gatherings they can spread disease outbreaks such as diarrhoea and cholera. Public health facilities are almost always lacking, with few latrines at the venues and handwashing is seldom practiced. Therefore the faithful have been lagging behind in terms of health programs.
Evangelical believers are often considered a hard to reach group by public health practitioners as factual medical information is often ignored. Issues of faith within the Apostolic faithful sometimes hinder pursuance in health and hygiene practices with the belief that good health is a sign of God protection of his children and thereforthe presence of any infirmity is associated with the devil, and nothing can be done about it, as it is deserved. Having noted this constraint, with sensitive hygiene promotion based on the well known biblical concept that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, changing the faithful is entirely possible. It is a question of working within the existing beliefs to find a path that can be accepted by such believers, that does not challenge their evangelical belief. Emphasizing preventative hygiene rather than cure of disesase seems to have worked wonders in introducing the handwashing concept into such churches.
The engagement process with individual church leaders proved to be a difficult challenge so Church umbrella bodies were engaged, such as the Evangelical Fellowship in Zimbabwe (EFZ) and the Zimbabwe Apostolic Council of Churches (ZACC) through their area chairman Bishop Kasirai helped the mobilization of the apostolic sect churches.
The target was to work with 50 churches in the Glenora area of the captial Harare. To select a representative group, all Churches were categorised into 4 strata: the Main line, Pentecostal, Apostolic and the Muslim. In each strata churches were randomly selected with every church having an equal chance to participate in the program. EFZ leadership lead by secretary Apostle Sibanda, Mrs Bishop Bungu and Mr Dapi of Harare City Council helped in the mobilization of 22 main line, 18 Pentecostal, and the ZACC area chairman also helping in mobilizing the 10 Apostolic sect churches. Mainline church leaders based in Glenora and leaders of the Mosque in Glenora B were also mobilized for the program.
After orientation meets with the representatives of the selcted churches it was clear that churches have been neglected in terms of health related programs. This was identified in a surprise confession from the ZACC area chairman that, “people believe that the apostolic sect do not want sanitation and hygiene facilities when in fact it is that we do not have the facilities. We do want them, and if we are given we are going to use them. We also do not want our congregants to die with the diarrheal diseases”
With church gatherings not spared by the water woes affecting the captial city, boreholes at church venues has become an option for most communities, being faced with water challenges. Maintaining as many boreholes that have been drilled in the community, churches can be a panacea to the problem. Churches may prove to be an effective way to reach out to many people in the community who may have been neglected as they come for divine intervention at various churches.