“What are you going to Kenya to do? To discuss with people there about the lack of resources to support people living with HIV, like me? Tell them this: if I am alive today, it is because I was lucky to be brought from a distant village to this town, and to get help from you, Parlons SIDA. How many more are out there, where no one imagines of ever reaching out to them. So many get sick, suffer, and die without anyone knowing about them. Those people need you, Parlons SIDA, they need hope. So, do not go to Kenya to discuss whether there are resources. Tell them to talk about how we, people living with HIV, can be helped.”
Fr Kubananbantu heard these words from a boy in Kisangani, a huge city in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Jesuits run a parish that has an AIDS program called Parlons-SIDA. Fr Kubananbantu faithfully reported the message at the events he went to attend in Nairobi in Junw, which were held to mark the 15th anniversary of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN).
The essence of the boy’s urgent message was nothing new for the directors of other Jesuit AIDS programs who converged in Nairobi for this joyous occasion. So many times, they’d heard the people they serve say words to the same effect: ‘If not for you, we’d be dead.’
From different corners of Africa, from Togo to Zambia to Madagascar to Burundi, each one explained how their services make a concrete difference in the daily lives of people affected by HIV and AIDS, in many cases as the only accessible service provider. At Hekima University College, the venue of the 23 June celebration, the diverse projects had stands that gave a glimpse of the vibrancy of their mission.
Fr Orobator Agbonkhianmeghe SJ is President of the Jesuit Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (JESAM), which is the ‘parent’ of AJAN. He assured guests invited to the celebration that AJAN was there to stay, to respond to the needs of people affected by HIV and AIDS, and that the network “will be the last to quit the scene.”
Fr Orobator gave further reassurance that JESAM will put in place all mechanisms to support this noble work, to ensure that it delivers on its mandate, to continue “supporting the Church in living fully the long term kairos which is AIDS,” in the words of the former Jesuit Superior General, Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ.
Cardinal John Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi, presided over the Thanksgiving Mass together with many concelebrants, including Fr Orobator, Fr Elphège, Fr Joseph Afulo SJ, Provincial of the Jesuit Eastern African Province, and the directors of AJAN field projects. The Cardinal encouraged participants to uphold the value of love, saying we must do everything with love, because it is only in this way that we will be able to express the presence of God among His people.
The testimonies shared through the days of celebration of AJAN’s anniversary reveal that those involved have done their utmost to be signs of God’s love to others who are brought low by AIDS. The guest of honour epitomised this love: Sr Mary Owen, who runs the Children of God Relief Institute (Nyumbani) in Kenya. Nyumbani was founded by the late Fr Angelo D’Agostino SJ in 1992 as a hospice for abandoned orphans who were dying of AIDS. Sr Mary, his faithful collaborator, recalled the joy of Fr “D’Ag” when JESAM resolved to start AJAN back in 2002.
Sr Mary said there had been plenty of hope and expectations back then. She echoed the words of other speakers when she claimed that AJAN had done much, that it represented hope for many people, but that it still had a long way to go.
The boy back in Congo who shared his concern with Fr Kubabantu will be heartened by what he hears back when the Parlons SIDA Director returns to base. His last words to Fr Kuba had been: “Come back with the good news that you will be there tomorrow for us.”
Tomorrow, and for as long as it is needed, AJAN will be there.