The Touch Anti-Leprosy Campaign of the Alliance Development Trust(ADT) recently embarked towards the second phase of its campaign. The team that worked with the Church in Sri Lanka to fight against the spread of leprosy and the societal stigma formed against Persons Affected by Leprosy (PALs) for 2 years, met with religious leaders of all faiths in order to learn about the religious teachings on the importance of health and care for the sick. They gathered at Sanctuary Houseon 14 July 2016 to listen to the teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam as presented by teachers of these faiths.

Badalkumbure Gunawansha Thero who is the co-chairperson of an interreligious peace foundation, shared the teachings of the Buddha on how to live a healthy life. The thero said that Buddhism teaches its followers to eliminate the causes of sickness and he explained how Buddhism thereby stresses on the importance of leading a healthy life. “We must show maithri (benevolence) to all living beings” expressed Gunawansha Thero and he went on to explain how one should care for other beings. He also stated that the Buddha taught his followers to be clean, to eat right and the manner in which to dress in order to lead a healthy life. “Lord Buddha spoke of diseases and even on leprosy, calling us to eliminate the cause of sickness” he explained. He commended the work of the community leaders, “You too are eliminating the disease and its spread.”

Umar Moulavi of Enderamulla spoke on a Muslim’s responsibility to care for the sick and to lead healthy lives. “The Quran teaches that the cause for contracting an illness is the state of being unaware of the illness” said the moulavi, who went on to explain the Islamic teachings of illnesses and the way in which Muslims are called to tend to the sick. He also quoted sacred scripture to stress on the duties of Muslims towards the sick and those in need. The moulavi too appreciated the services of these leaders in creating awareness on leprosy and reaching out to those afflicted by the disease.

Pathma Niroja Sharma of Kaluwanchikudy, Batticaloa, is a kurukkal (Hindu priest), delved into expounding the Vedic teachings on health as per the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of health as physical, mental and social well-being. He quoted the Rigveda to explain how important health to live a fulfilling life. “We must live so that we won’t contract a disease or spread it to another” he said. The kurukkal went on to explain how Hindu teachings encourage healthy living and how religious practices such as incensing homes contribute to healthy lifestyles.       

Pastor Thilakaratne of the Presbyterian Church who also co-chairs the inter-religious peace foundation with Gunawansha Thero used the time given to him to expound on the similarities existing between the four faiths represented. He spoke on the importance of knowing the teachings of other religious faiths in order to coexist. “Working with other religious leaders for the sake of the nation’s health is the bridge to bringing about peace” said Ps. Thilakaratne. As the co-chairperson of an inter-religious peace foundation, he offered the assistance of the foundation to the Touch Anti-Leprosy Campaign. “We have a presence in 12 districts” explained Ps. Thilakaratne. “We can join with you to take the awareness of leprosy to others.”

The participants found this inter-faith dialogue very useful. As most of them had worked through church groups to spread the message of leprosy awareness, it was encouraging for them to receive this promise of support from leaders of other faiths. Several others found inspiration in this programme to formulate anti-leprosy campaigns of their own. The ADT entrusted the anti-leprosy awareness campaign for the Kalutara District to Ayoma Fonseka from Malamulla in Panadura. At the moment, she is focused on mobilising selected volunteers from her church to actively create awareness among other groups. “I have planned on distributing leaflets on leprosy so as to create greater awareness” said Fonseka who went on express how the inter-religious discussion has inspire to take her campaign to those of other faiths too. “I believe that this programme has laid the foundation towards working with those of other faiths” she explained. “I didn’t have much knowledge on working with other faith groups. Today, I received the knowledge on how to conduct my campaign on an interfaith basis. I now want to do my leaflet campaign with other religious groups in my village. I believe that I can now raise awareness on leprosy in the area entrusted to me.”