By Matambura Ismael, SJ

By 2020, according to SOS, over 400 million children are currently living on the African continent. A child refers to every human being below the age of 18 years (The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990 Article 2). At the center of Africa’s political upheavals, economic meltdowns, and social disintegration is the child who receives a disproportionate huge share of the deleterious consequences. Resultantly, Africa experience significantly high rates of infant and child mortality, severe under-nutrition and HIV infection cases, low school enrolment, limited or no child social protection, child marriages, teenage pregnancies and child labour among many.

Where AJAN meets the child in its ministry

AJAN is a faith-based organization established in June 2002 by the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) to coordinate the existing initiatives by the Jesuits to respond to HIV and AIDS by developing appropriate ministries that are deeply rooted amongst those who suffer and accompany those who care for them. The network is made up over 15 across 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In these centres, Jesuits and their collaborators mitigate the impact of the AIDS epidemic, stem its progress, and promote life to the full. The package of services offered includes:

  • Pastoral and psychosocial care, Nutritional support, livelihood enhancement, Medical care, Income-generating activities, Support groups, and Home-based care, scholarship to children, voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT), Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and Advocacy
  • HIV Prevention among adolescents and youth through the youth development program of AJAN, namely AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Programme for the Youth (AHAPPY).

Although most of these interventions are targeted to adults, youth and families then trickles to the child, there are those initiatives whose focus are directed to the child, as highlighted.

  1. AJAN HIV Prevention Program for the Youth (AHAPPY)

AHAPPY is a regional programme implemented in African countries in which Jesuits have ministries for young people. The major sites are all Jesuit educational institutions and HIV/AIDS projects. The program has an overarching, two-part pedagogy. First, the child receives the education and tools for living enriching lives and making mature life choices. Then, they get skills to be peer educators who are attractive witnesses of their message. We can then realize empowered youth who have the skills and attitudes to practise what they have experienced and affect others.

The program offers the following.

  • provide accurate information and knowledge about topics related to human development, sexuality, HIV/AIDS and other areas young people may be curious about;
  • educate young people and provide them with life skills, abilities in critical thinking and correct values.
  • empower young people to resist negative peer-pressure and assume the responsibility of promoting a healthy environment for themselves and others; 
  • encourage and assist youth in reducing their vulnerability to HIV infection, alcohol, drugs, teen pregnancies, etc., and in developing their talents for better living;
  • To empower them to lead successful lives and to support their communities.

AHAPPY has been introduced and present in 11 countries where AJAN centres are. Primary target group of the program is young people aged 10 to 24, divided into three main groups:

  • Ages 10 to 14,
  • Ages 15 to 18,
  • Ages 19 to 24

Our focus in this report is in the first two categories, children between 10-18 years. AJAN engages this category through sensitization programs/activities conducted in Jesuit and non-Jesuit educational institutions across the network. A few of the achievements of the AHAPPY are tabulated below;

NoDescriptionAJAN centre/country
1.Reduction of teenage pregnancies from 13 girls per year in 2013 to 1 by 2018St. Aloysius Gonzaga-KenyaSisters of Mercy schools- Kenya
2.Reduced discrimination and stigma among children (students) living with HIVSt. Aloysius-Kenya
3.Increased number of adolescents adhering to ARVsSt. Aloysius-Kenya, Ocer Campion- Uganda
4.Self-Knowledge and responsible behaviourOcer Campion- UgandaRwanda
5.Youth reaching out to Peers Youth sensitisation through radio Radio programme by AHAPPY influencers club – Ocer Campion Uganda
6.Improved discipline and performanceGroupe Scolaire Kabuye Catholique- Rwanda St. Aloysius-Kenya, Ocer Campion- Uganda
  1. HIV Prevention from mother to child

Service Yezu Mwiza is one of the AJAN affiliate centres that offer a mix of services targeting people living with HIV, Leprosy, TB, Hepatitis, and other communicable and non-communicable diseases. The centres run mobile clinic services in 3 municipalities of Bujumbura City Council and 8 municipalities in the rural province of Bujumbura. Key component here is Prevention from mother to child (PMTCT) infection of HIV that protects the child from contracting HIV at birth thus living free of HIV virus. According to 2021 reports from the centre, “99% of children born to HIV-positive mothers are HIV-free after testing at 18 months of life.” It is worth noting that the centre, as of February 2021, has an active list of 1,074 people living with HIV & AIDS, under its care.

  1. Orphaned and Vulnerable children 

A number of AJAN centre provided support for children under their care; from education, nutrition, medical and psychosocial care;

  • Service Yezu Mwiza- Burundi– In 2008, there were 654 orphans and other vulnerable children supported by the centre. Currently, the Yezu Mwiza Service provides multidisciplinary care for 3,028 OVC
  • Association Les Bénévoles de L’Espérance (ABE)Burkina Faso– For more than 11 years, ABE has worked to provide basic needs to OVC particularly in nutrition and education. In 2017 for example, 126 Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) and 09 children infected with HIV were under the care of ABE. By 2021, the centre was accompanying 488 girls and 512 boys supporting them directly or indirectly through the families the centre supports. Of these 70 teenagers that ABE has helped with schooling have obtained their diplomas (BEPC, BAC, Diplomes Professionnel Universaire) and others have found employment. 15 young people trained have become community intermediaries in their living and school environments.
  • Centres Sociaux Loyola- Togo. Part of the centre’s comprehensive approach to HIV beyond the adults is the nutritional and educational support provided to vulnerable children. On top of that, the centre’s entrepreneurial skills training targets adolescent girls and boys out of school to offer them a way of earning income. They are trained in skills including soap making and farming.
  • St. Joseph’s Jesuit development program
  • – Kenya- St. Joseph Kangemi runs diverse initiatives targeting people living with HIV, victims of gender-based violence and extremely poor families living in the slums of kangemi. Unique about this program is attention given to child-headed families, by way of provision of food and enrolling them back to school. Upendo (meaning love in English) program was started to give education to children, who because of their family situation are out of school. Most of the beneficiaries are heads of their families (because their parents are terminally ill, or orphaned), are exposed to violence both sexual and physical, or living with HIV. Every year the centre takes in 50-100 for education as well as feeding programs.

4. Supporting the children through families

HIV is not only a healthy issue. It bears economic and social undercurrents that equally affect the value of life of the families where the children ought to live and thrive. Most AJAN affiliated centres invest a lot of effort and resources to provide a mix of services to address the challenges in an integral way. It will be noted that most of the centres that are not educational strive to empower families economically through livelihood initiatives. So that when families are self-reliant economically, the vulnerability level is reduced and this profoundly touches on the quality of life of the child. This is observed in Centres; Centres Sociaux Loyola- Togo, St. Joseph’s Parish Development program- Kenya, Chikuni Home-based care- Zambia, Service Yezu Mwiza -Burundi, Centre Maisha- DRC and St. Teresa reconciliation Parish- South Sudan. 

5. Child safe-guarding

All AJAN centres come into contact with children or parents/guardians of the children; either in their institutions or as part of their ministry to the families. Some centres, specifically the Chikuni Home-based care, Centres sociaux Loyola, ABE, Service Yezu Mwiza, St. Joseph Parish Kangemi have sensitization programs on child safe-guarding. Those running AHAPPY programs in schools, within the mandate of the institutions, uphold the practice of protecting the child.

Matambura Ismael, SJ is the Director, African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN)

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