Developmental Bible and Days of Dialogue: Integrating HIV and Other RH Information in the Teachings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
The Council is working with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) to train religious leaders in incorporating health and development messages into the daily teachings of the church. The Developmental Bible project integrates the teachings into training institutions of the EOC, while Days of Dialogue work with priests who already are serving communities.
Religion is a powerful force in Ethiopia, and religious leaders have considerable influence within Ethiopian communities. Approximately half of the population of Ethiopia is Orthodox Christian, making the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) the largest religious denomination in the country. For many rural Ethiopian communities, religious structures may be the only sustained institutional contact they know, especially where there are few roads, few schools, and where medical facilities are sparsely distributed. Incorporating developmental issues such as HIV and AIDS, reproductive health (RH), and gender equity into the daily teachings of the EOC could radically improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
The Developmental Bible is a resource that complements the Metsihafe Gitsawie ("glossary of the day-to-day teachings of the Church" or "lexicon"), a calendar of spiritual and secular messages used by the EOC. Written in Amharic and consisting of two volumes (365 daily messages and 52 Sunday readings), the Developmental Bible covers approximately 45 development issues. His Holiness, Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the EOC, designated six senior scholars of the Church to formulate these new curriculums based on the lexicon of the Church. The Population Council provided the scholars with an orientation session to strengthen their understanding of HIV and AIDS, RH, harmful traditional practices, adolescent and youth development, and gender issues.
This five-year project (with a two-year pilot phase) involves two regions in Ethiopia, Amhara and Tigray. A total of eight EOC training institutions were selected to participate in the pilot phase, and the project was expanded to 20 training sites in the second phase. Activities included:
- Working with appointed EOC scholars to formulate the Developmental Bible;
- Conducting baseline and endline surveys to measure the impact and integration of the Developmental Bible into the training curriculums of EOC institutions; and
- Organizing a series of training sessions for high-level members of the EOC, teachers from the EOC's training institutions, priests, Sunday school instructors, and female Church association members.
A baseline survey was conducted in December 2008 at the beginning of the project to measure knowledge of HIV prevention methods and attitudes toward stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence (GBV), gender roles, early marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). More than 1,400 church leaders (including priests, deacons, and Sunday school instructors), church-attending youth, and female Church association members in 42 churches in Amhara and Tigray were interviewed. During the endline survey three years later, 1,624 respondents were interviewed.
The baseline results suggested that members of the EOC community in these locations had generally low levels of knowledge about HIV and AIDS prevention, reproductive health, and the rights of women. However, there also appeared to be low levels of stigma and discrimination within the Church, which suggested that messages concerning HIV would not be opposed. When asked about GBV, over one-fifth of the female respondents agreed with the statement "Husband is justified to beat his wife if she comes late in the evening."
Endline survey results indicated that after the Developmental Bible project was implemented there was positive change in HIV knowledge and stigma reduction in intervention churches to levels even lower than were originally noted. There was also positive change in attitudes toward FGM/C.
The Developmental Bible is an innovative and promising approach to reaching large populations with information and messages related to health and development, particularly those in isolated rural areas. The EOC's willingness and engagement was critical in proving this approach's feasibility, and is a factor that increases both this project's impact and sustainability. As demonstrated by the improved statistics observed in the endline surveys, the Developmental Bible is capable of encouraging individuals and communities to abandon practices that are harmful and to adopt healthy lifestyles supported by church teachings.
Furthermore, when fully institutionalized, the Developmental Bible project has the ability to bring about large-scale, sustainable social change and development to one of the largest communities in Ethiopia.
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Location: Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, Amhara, Tigray, Southern Peoples)
Duration: 5/2008 - 12/2013
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
United Nations Population Fund