Building resilience within and beyond our Covid world: Thoughts from the Karoo FLEAT community

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We hosted our second Karoo Faith Leaders Environmental Training (Karoo FLEAT) workshop on 23rd and 24th June. This time around, the group of faith leaders gathered virtually for their two-day workshop.

On the first day of the workshop, the group of faith leaders discussed what it means to build community resilience. Read the report by Kate Davies below.

On the second day of the workshop, the group engaged on the topic of Food and Climate Change, explored their Green Action Week actions, and looked at what steps should be taken going forward.

Building resilience within and beyond our COVID world: Thoughts from the Karoo FLEAT community

By Kate Davies

We have long talked about the need to develop more sustainable lifestyles. With no warning, Covid-19 pushed the reset button and found most of us unprepared for life in a totally different world.   No-one could have predicted what 2020 had in store for us.

What makes a resilient faith community?

A virtual meeting of the Karoo FLEAT community shared thoughts and ideas on how to build our capacity to recover from shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic. Together the group imagined and co-constructed a faith-based pathway to resilience as an alternative to our current business as usual trajectory.

Foundations of faith and inner peace

The foundations of our religious and spiritual traditions underpin the way we live in the world. Our faiths, that are founded on justice, peace and love, give our lives purpose and meaning.  In order to build external resilience, we need first to heal our own internal fears and trauma. Many of our theologies have promoted human separation from the world around us. We know now that we are intricately connected with the web of life and totally dependent on the earth community. We establish inner equilibrium and peace through our practice of prayer, meditation or mindfulness. Thus equipped, we can go forth into this sometimes frightening and uncertain world with greater courage and hope.

Re-establish the tradition of the Sabbath rest

We have been seeing fascinating images of nature reclaiming herself as humans have been locked down in their homes. Many religions have a tradition of a Sabbath rest. This is meant to be a time of abstinence, of withdrawal, a time for restoration. When land lies fallow, nature and the soil are replenished. We need to be reminded to take time out of our frenetic daily schedules for prayer, meditation and rest. Reclaiming the Sabbath also means restoring relationships with family, friends, the community and the world around us. In doing so, we reclaim what we truly value in life.

Supportive and trusting community networks

Individualism has isolated us from our communities and the wearing of masks further increases our anonymity. If we are to build resilience, we must get to know each other and build trusting relationships. Faith leaders have the opportunity and privilege to meet and draw together the wonderful diversity of people in congregations and neighbourhoods. Engaged and active faith-based congregations are embedded in local communities and are well-placed to offer support. Through these networks, urgent or unexpected needs can quickly be identified and responded to.  As members of familiar and trusting local communities, we can do so much more than we can as individuals.

Building individual and community agency

The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly exacerbated the widening gap between rich and poor. Hunger has become a lived reality and disabling poverty breeds dependency.  There are desperate cries for food parcels from millions who are destitute with no work or income. We must hear and respond to these appeals but we also need longer term structural change. In the present context, people need knowledge and skills and must be encouraged to build individual and collective agency. Local faith communities are well positioned to affirm and support members of the community so that they are able to take control of their lives, discover their gifts and make decisions for themselves.

Resilience requires us to be prepared for the unexpected

The reality of this twenty-first century pandemic has caught us by surprise. There have always been plagues, droughts, floods and famines, but as life becomes more precarious, it is crucial that we are better prepared to deal with future shocks. Food parcels can be an immediate and short term response, but these can institutionalise dependency.

In the words of Petrus Gysman from the UCCSA in Graaff Reinet:

“In the old days we used to share everything, we must re-discover and affirm our gifts so that we can be the best we can be. We must change our culture of possessiveness. We need social solidarity and trust. We must value localisation, not globalisation.”

To build resilience, we need to maintain our infrastructure and develop longer term opportunities. In doing so, we will ensure greater security of water, food, energy and other life sustaining systems. Water tanks, food gardens and recycling are high on the list of priorities amongst the less well-endowed congregations which don’t have the benefit of urban municipal services.

How can faith leaders start the process of resilience building?

While every congregation has its own contextual peculiarities, the FLEAT participants agreed on a framework for action.

  • Steeped in prayer, faith leaders must listen to community needs, support champions and build collaborative teams without taking on all the work themselves.
  • They should be encouragers and enablers, recognising and affirming everyone’s special gifts and skills.
  • Start small, so that the community can take responsibility without there being too many overheads or obstacles.
  • Meet regularly, not only to report on progress but to build and affirm everyone’s agency.
  • Seek supportive partnerships, not only for funding and resources, but to learn from other communities of practice.

Thank you Karoo FLEATers for sharing your rich experiences, thoughts, and insights. We look forward to partnering with you and your communities in your resilience building journey. We all need to be awake to possibilities and be the best we can be in responding to what is happening in the world around us.