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Kenya: Changing the reality of AIDS in Africa

30 April 2013 – Kevin Kelly, a Jesuit novice from Canada, left AJAN House in April after a four-month placement. Just before leaving, he reflected on lessons learned…

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” – Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

I am so encouraged each time I work with the women of Mirror of Hope and see their self-esteem, pride and commitment grow week after week. I have been assisting Mirror of Hope, an NGO in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, in an income-generating activity where HIV-positive women create and sell hand-woven baskets.

The focus of activities like this one is to support people in changing their own reality. While addressing their financial needs, the program helps them to develop confidence and trust in their own abilities – essential components at the heart of nurturing human dignity.

Programs like these change Africa from the inside… creating marketable skills at home in order to move away from international support towards an independent, sustainable approach.

AJAN supports Mirror of Hope, using its staff’s experience to guide new organizations like this one. To realize positive change in the African HIV pandemic, AJAN is challenged to function at many levels. At one end of the spectrum, a “big picture” vision is needed to lead changes at the system level, through regional programs like advocacy and youth prevention-education. At the other end, direct support and care to help those affected and suffering today remain critically important.

Two experiences stand out as foundational in helping me to appreciate these distinct levels as well as the dedication, patience and perseverance needed to make positive changes in the lives of those living with HIV and to prevent others from becoming infected. One is Mirror of Hope and the other is AJAN’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Program for Youth (AHAPPY).

Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” AHAPPY is one such weapon to help arrest the pandemic in Africa, using an integrated approach to address the challenges that young people face today: confusion in identity, peer pressure, the portrayal of sexuality in today’s world and their image of God.

Comprehensive prevention-education, where adolescents and young adults are respected, encouraged to share their ideas, opinions and the many challenges they face, takes time to implement. But its constructive impacts are boundless. Programs like AHAPPY are the backbone of the approach needed to create change.

Prior to AJAN, my understanding of AIDS had come primarily from a textbook and during my work at a pharmaceutical company that discovered and marketed anti-retroviral medications. I knew the science behind the virus, its infection cycle, how it was transmitted and how it could be treated.

What I have received at AJAN is very different: a hands-on education that has helped me to understand the realities of AIDS in a more hope-filled and inspiring approach. I am so thankful for my time here and to have directly experienced the work that AJAN is doing in supporting those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. I look forward to expanding on these experiences in the future.

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