Justin Hagabimana SJ
On 7 August 2011, a young Jesuit regent* burning with enthusiasm, I turned up at the office of the rector of the Lycée du Saint Esprit (Holy Spirit High School) in Bujumbura to find out what kind of work had been entrusted to me. I was given two tasks: a course in biology and strengthening the team of the Stop-SIDA club.
When the academic year started, I approached the head of the club to get information about its way of working and about how frequently meetings were held. I immediately sensed discouragement, which had effectively translated in a drop in the number of club members. The students had the impression that, where HIV/AIDS was concerned, the same things came up again and again: they discussed, they did nothing, to what end?
A new way of raising awareness was needed and, especially, new commitments. The AHAPPY (AJAN HIV&AIDS Prevention Programme for Youth) program of AJAN came to my mind. AJAN had selected a list of Jesuit schools and centres to pilot AHAPPY, including our high school. We set to work in close collaboration with the students as well as people directly impacted by AIDS. We needed to feel once again that men and women really needed us, to realise that we were capable of doing something for them. The regeneration worked: new members turned up to enrol in the club.
The re-launching of the club was based primarily on diversifying its awareness and prevention activities. Certain aspects were essential: the AHAPPY program, visiting hospitals and orphanages and collecting different items donated by the students to distribute among HIV-positive people living in poverty.
The activity I found the most touching in the two years I spent at the school was, without a doubt, a competition that called for texts, banners, poems and drama skits to depict two specific themes: An evening in a night club can expose young people to sexually transmitted infections including HIV and Bad company and the spread of HIV/AIDS. The competition was a huge success, culminating in a finale held on 17 May that was broadcast on national television and many radio stations. The uniqueness of the competition lay in the fact that the young people themselves produced the material for awareness campaigns, material that is especially useful because one of the challenges of raising awareness is that words and talks are nowhere near enough to make an impact.
Drawing on the renewed enthusiasm among the students, we implemented the AHAPPY program. I even dreamed of organising holiday camps to help the students assimilate the program better. And little by little the school started to look very well upon the club, to the extent that the AHAPPY program was integrated in the curriculum of studies, particularly in the courses of civic studies, religion and biology. One day, perhaps, the school will envisage making the program a fully-fledged course in its own right.
My experience of raising awareness among young people about the dangers AIDS poses for them was very profitable for me, for the students and for the school. Certainly the battle is not won yet. We must continue to fight until we see the emergence of a society without a single case of HIV.
* Regency is a period of practical fieldwork that young Jesuits in formation undertake between studies.