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Confronted with the possibility of food shortages because of the global effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, some individuals engaged in a Baha’i-inspired educational program called Preparation for Social Action (PSA) have taken steps to protect their communities.
“My group is constantly thinking of ways it can serve our community, and now that the coronavirus is coming, what should we do?” says one participant from Tanna, Vanuatu. “We cannot sit idly and do nothing about it. We need to actively arise and serve our society.”
The PSA program, which has been implemented in 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, raises capacity in young people to apply knowledge drawn from both science and religion for the development of their communities.
Although Vanuatu has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far, the effects on international travel and trade have caused economic hardship and reduced food imports. Measures taken by the government to prevent the disease from spreading have required the usual activities of the PSA programs to cease, but groups of participants are taking steps to not only maintain food supplies for their fellow citizens, but also to encourage others in their countries to do the same.
Many participants are now expanding personal gardens and planting crops that can be harvested quickly, so as to create reliable sources of food over the coming months of uncertainty.
Recent natural disasters in Vanuatu have only exacerbated the current crisis. The northern islands of the country were struck last week by a devastating storm, Cyclone Harold, while Tanna has experienced volcanic ash-fall that has damaged crops. Nevertheless, the degree of unity and collective action fostered through the educational activities of the Baha’i community, including PSA, have enabled many people to respond swiftly and to begin rebuilding and replanting.
“I feel it is our responsibility to share our knowledge and experiences,” says Anika Naiu, a PSA student in Tanna. “You know, it is easy to lose hope, for example, during a cyclone or because of the coronavirus. We need to be a source of courage and hope to the other members of our community so that they do not focus too much on these challenges, but think of what they can do to move forward. It brings me a lot of joy to serve my fellow brothers and sisters.”
The capacities developed through the PSA program are proving essential in other countries where it is offered. A group of participants in Uganda, with support from the Kimanya-Ngeyo Foundation, which implements the program in the country, is making use of local radio to promote awareness about food production.
This organization, inspired by the initiative of the youth, is now using its resources to ensure that food production continues and stores of food maintained over time. It is, for example, offering its own land for planting and making funds available to purchase seeds.
“There is a direct relationship between hope, an attitude of service to others, and constructive action,” says a representative of the Foundation for the Betterment of Society, another organization that offers PSA in Vanuatu. “When we put the needs of others above our own, this brings hope. And, when we remember our spiritual reality, our sense of hope is strengthened, regardless of our physical condition.”