In a landmark moment in the history of India, some of the most renowned leaders and greatest minds across the globe came together and joined hands in the “Worship to WASH” Summit of Leaders.
The Summit, held by the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, with the technical support of UNICEF, was a historic first to address vital issues surrounding the lack of healthy water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), which results in the deaths of 1,200 boys and girls in India every day.
The Summit was inaugurated by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Shri Harish Rawat, and was attended by hundreds of renowned leaders of all faiths, who came together from across India, the United States, England, Europe, Australia and Africa.
Welcoming the assembled delegates, Hon’ble Shri Harish Rawat lauded GIWA Co-Founder and President of Parmarth Niketan, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, for the work of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) and committed the full support of his administration to GIWA’s life-saving mission.
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati said, “it is great that we can send shuttles to space, but let us also create space here for WASH. While government can make bills, interfaith leaders can change dills (hearts). Today, let us begin a WASH Revolution by joining forces to ensure that no children are ever again left behind without the clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene they need to survive and thrive. The time has come that we serve the Creator by serving His creation.”
Calling upon faith leaders to come forward to charter innovative ways of spirituality, Pujya Swamiji said, “the togetherness that we see today, of so many great souls from across India and the world represents a collective force powerful enough to change the world forever.”
Louis George Arsenault, UNICEF Representative to India said that UNICEF was extremely happy to partner with GIWA. Underlining the immense transformative powers of faith, he said he hoped that GIWA would set a new example of global faith leadership for social transformation. He added, “this is an extraordinary day, in that we have leaders working together for children and sustainable outcomes for WASH. Faith leaders give us the unparalleled opportunity to influence mind-sets on WASH. We are so grateful to religious leaders for coming together. The challenges are huge, but we can do it together.”
Maulana Luqman Tarapuri, Regional President of the Global Imam Council, congratulated Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati for GIWA and its “From Worship to WASH” Summit. He said, “every religion lays such great stress on internal and external cleanliness, purity and respect for nature, including water and soil. I pledge to bring all Imams together to spread and share the vital message of WASH with our communities and in our homes. We must end open defecation, save and purify our water sources, and teach our children to wash hands with soap before every meal.”
Prof. Manjit Singh, former Chief Jathedar, Akal Takht said: “Today is the day that we all must take the pledge. When people don’t take inspiration from their spiritual gurus, their minds go in the wrong direction. I appeal to everyone to fulfill and support the program initiated by Pujya Swamiji. The message should be spread to all Gurudwaras.”
Dr. Kalbe Sadiq Sahib, world renowned Islamic scholar and leader, said, “the message must go out from every mosque to observe individual and community cleanliness.” He eloquently cited the example of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) who maintained such high standards of cleanliness that no fly could be seen around him. He also expressed his personal sadness in seeing the rivers of India in their current, overly-polluted condition, whereas the rivers in Europe and US are comparatively clean.
Imam Umar Ilyasi, President of All India Imam Organisation, said, “all of India’s mosques, temples, churches and gurudwaras must join forces in GIWA’s WASH Revolution.” He also lauded the mission of GIWA through the efforts of Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji and praised Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, for spearheading the Swachh Bharat movement for a cleaner, greener India.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town, South Africa expressed deep anguish at the human suffering caused by poor WASH and said it was the duty of faith leaders to strive for the social upliftment of their communities through ensuring access to healthy water, sanitation and hygiene for all. He cited examples of great social movements, saying now is the time for all faith leaders to similarly join forces for a WA SH Revolution.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Secretary General of GIWA, said, “Can you imagine if someone held up 40 busloads of kindergartners on their way to school and shot them dead? Then can you imagine if the killer did the same thing EVERY DAY? The entire world community would come together to find and stop the ruthless killer. That ruthless killer is lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, which kills approximately 1200 children under the age of five, in India, every day! We must join hands and work together
to stop this, just as if someone were shooting these children on their way to school.” The call going out from this Summit’s platform was for the leaders of the world’s faiths who have so far been focusing on prayers, peace, moksha, salvation and meditation, to now also focus on saving lives through WASH, she said. “India leads the world in information technology, but sadly also in the number of children dying every day of preventable diseases due to lack of sanitation. It leads the world in open defecation and of under-five mortality rate among rates. Faith leaders have come together to bridge this gap,” she added.
UNICEF India WASH Chief, Sue Coates said, “The engagement of faith leaders opens the way for millions of people to hear about good WASH practices as part of their accepted way of living through belief and religion.”
In addition to renowned faith leaders from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain, Sikh, Jewish, Farsi and Baha’i faiths, the Summit also featured the presence of the heads of several renowned interfaith organizations based in the US, including the head of the Parliament of World Religions (where Swami Vivekanandaji spoke in 1893 in Chicago).
Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid, the Chicago-based Chairman of the Parliament of World Religions, expressed great joy at seeing the unprecedented gathering of faith leaders from across the globe for active spiritual action on the crucial cause of WASH. He called it the opening of a new path of collective social leadership on the part of faith leaders, saying, “Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji’s initiative and message are for every human in the world.”
Ms. Kiran Bali, Global Chair of United Religions Initiative said: “I am so glad to see that the religious leaders gathered here today are pledging to lead by example. Now, we must
all translate words into actions, beginning with the cleaning and provision of clean water and toilets at their places of worship. This will create a domino effect of good.”
Dr. Deepika Singh, Director of Programmes, Religions for Peace said the “now is time for faith leaders to not only talk about WASH, but also to give a platform to make it even more important. At Religions for Peace, we know that peace-building comes not only from transforming conflicts, but also from enabling a more just and humane society and protecting the Earth. Together, I am confident we can work together, united.”
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