Safer & Healthier Places of Worship graduation ceremony

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Wednesday 18 May was a landmark day for SAFCEI as we celebrated the graduation ceremony of 11 faith leaders in a world-first – the Safer & Healthier Places of Worship training presented in collaboration with the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management, SAPS Explosives Unit, and the HAWKS.

The faith leaders who participated in the two-phase training represented mosques, temples, and churches. During Phase 1 of the course, they learned about emergency coordination and evacuation procedures, safety plans and incident awareness, as well as first aid and sustainability practices.

Phase 2 moves into sustainability and will cover resource management issues related to water, waste, and energy.

This community building, resilience pilot training project was created in response to a growing global trend noted in recent years which sees places of worship becoming soft targets for religiously motivated violent extremism as well as criminals. Coupled with this came the realisation that faith communities are also uniquely placed to become bastions of sustainability and stability in the face of increasing climate change challenges, such as the extreme floods witnessed recently in Durban.

The City Council Speaker, Alderman Felicity Purchase, hosted the Graduation at the Council Chambers and spoke about the importance of building community resilience and being prepared for any eventuality in a world that is changing rapidly and presents many unknown challenges. Alderman Purchase congratulated the group on their achievement and presented certificates to the participants.

Alderman JP Smith, the Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, also attended the Graduation. He spoke about the Africa-wide network of Strong Cities, and the increasing global concern for the safety of “soft targets” such as houses of worship. Alderman Smith expressed the desire to see the Safer & Healthier Places of Worship rolled out country wide, and pledged his support for the expansion of the programme.

Shariefa Wydeman of Claremont Main Road Mosque told the gathering how the course had changed the way they run the Mosque, and what an eye-opening exercise it had been to create a safety plan. Shariefa and her colleague Farieda Diergal attended the course together, and explained that this shared experience enhanced their ability to think together and to implement their new skills and understanding. She encouraged all future participating places of worship to send two delegates, as the teamwork inspired by the programme was an important part of the CMRM experience.

Here are some more quotes from the delegates:

Guru Krishna, Siva Alayam Hindu Temple, Rylands: “This was an important and enlightening course, very much needed on the Cape Flats and indeed everywhere. We need to be aware to keep our communities safe.”

Shariefa Wydeman, Claremont Main Road Mosque: “I truly look at our Mosque now with new eyes, we have learned so much where previously we had very little idea of what a safety plan would look like. This changes everything for us, and we will most definitely be focusing on keeping our community safe in the future.”

Marlon Petersen, Revival Ministries, Mitchell’s Plain: “I can only commend the foresight of the Disaster Risk Management team and other partners in identifying the need to be proactive and share their knowledge with faith leaders, thereby building relationships and social cohesion where formerly there was isolation and lack of cooperation.”

We are deeply grateful to the City of Cape Town for hosting our Graduation Ceremony at the Council Chambers.

By Rev Berry Behr

Related blog post: Safer & Healthier Places of Worship blog