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AJAN CELEBRATES 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF SERVICE TO THE VULNERABLE

God wants people to live with hope and joy, not bitterness and to dream with Him of a better world, “God wants us to be able to dream like He does and, with Him as we journey, to be quite attentive to reality, dreaming of a different world,” Pope Francis said.

When the African Jesuit AIDS Network began 20 years ago, it wasn’t born ex-nihilo; rather, it benefited from the several AIDS-ministries that had been established during the previous decade. To help develop appropriate Jesuit AIDS ministries, to weave together a continental network, and to promote respectful and fruitful cooperation: this was the mandate, and the 20th anniversary is the moment to look back with gratitude. It’s for others to testify that “orders have been followed” and “mission accomplished”.

In his message during the 20th AJAN Anniversary celebration Cardinal Michael CzernyS.J., in his card he said, “My desire as founding director is to focus on gratitude: to God for the good orientation received from JESAM; for the enthusiasm, involvement and generosity of young Jesuits from all corners of Africa; and eventually for generous support from abroad. AJAN has continued developing in response to the continuous evolution of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the African reality. This is crucial: AJAN’s roots in and fidelity to Africa are important because, outside the continent, both perceptions and priorities change without asking what is really happening in Africa. What strikes me is the growing awareness, over the years, of AIDS in the context of other endemic diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis, leprosy and ebola — all of them definable as illnesses of poverty and structural injustices — and now COVID-19 with its particular impact upon Africa. Accompanying all this, AJAN is rediscovering its mission within the broader context of public health at every level, from rural and urban settlements to each country’s responsibility for the health of its population. This is a development which the founding director did not foresee, but for which I now give thanks; may it be fully realized.”

In line with advocating for VCT, Halt to HIV, Hapatitis B, and Gender based violence (GBV) among the youth. AJAN celebrates the 20 years and milestones achieved through, The AHAPPY program, that has spoken to various beneficiaries directly, it has brought to light smiles and given hope of a better future.

God has worked miraculously through AJAN over the last two decades in the lives of countless beneficiaries. But we know without us telling their stories, we couldn’t have been told and millions of lives couldn’t have been impacted, if it weren’t for the supporters and visionaries God has used for 20 years to build this remarkable organization we would not have been where we are today.

We’re looking ahead with great anticipation and vision to the next 10-20 years, but first we take time to celebrate all that God has done for African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN). The event was attended by two special guests Rev. Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, SJ President of the Jesuit conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) and Rev. Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj, General curia Secretary of Justice and Ecology in Rome.

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ JCAM President

In his speech during the celebration, Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ JCAM President, he said “AJAN was founded to serve as a platform for collaboration and networking in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Today, as we mark its 20th anniversary, we give thanks for AJAN remarkable successes and accomplishments in the area of education, awareness and prevention; research, advocacy and justice; care, accompaniment and promotion of the dignity of people living with or touched by HIV/AIDS. As we know, today’s context is no longer that of two decades ago. The landscape of HIV/AIDS has undergone transformation. In the minds of many people, the fight against AIDS is over; AIDS is now simply a chronic disease and it is no longer a global public health threat. Yet, we know that HIV/AIDS is still with us, especially in Africa. The statistics are still alarming; they show that HIV continues to be a major global public health issue. The vast majority of those infected and affected live in low- and middle-income countries. Besides carrying the burden of this disease, many people live with co-morbidities and a variety of aggravating factors. Today, HIV/AIDS has many faces, including poverty, poor healthcare systems and infrastructure, hunger, stigma, discrimination and limited access to treatment.”

Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ JCAM President finished his speech by stating that, “We are proud of what AJAN has achieved over the last twenty years. I can say with certainty and confidence that AJAN has a promising future as an apostolic work of the Society of Jesus in Africa and Madagascar.

As we look to the future, we seek to do better – not just to do more – even when our resources are limited. We will seek to improve what AJAN is good at, we will build on its strengths and consolidate its success in promoting and providing facilitation, capacity building, networking, advocacy, research and resource mobilisation.

On this historic occasion, in the name of the major superiors of Africa and Madagascar, I would like to thank the founding director of AJAN, Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ, his successor, Fr. Patern Mombe SJ, and the immediate past director, Fr. Elphege Quenum SJ, for their hard work, diligence and commitment in leading AJAN from its foundational years to its maturity.”

Rev. Xavier Jeyaraj, SJ General curia Secretary, Social Justice and Ecology, Rome

Also in attendace was special guest, Rev. Xavier Jeyaraj, SJ General curia Secretary, Social Justice and Ecology, Rome, in his speech he said, “First of all, on behalf of Fr. General I want to thank each one of you who has planned this celebration.  It is a moment to thank God for all the graces you received, and the way you have been able to reach out. I remember your AHAPPY Programs, training conducted to build integral peace and human dignity.

During this time of health pandemic, covid19 that has shaken the world with fears and anxieties, it is good to remember what happened 3 decades ago. We know how the world responded as soon as Covid hit Europe or US or the so-called developing nations. It reminds us how the entire world watched when African peopled died of HIV AIDS. Silence at that time was deafening. But the amount raised to face the present crisis shows that the world wakes up only when the western ship is rocked not when Africa, Latin America or Asia is hit by any calamity. This celebration is an invitation that we need to work together to shake up the world to show our solidarity with any crisis, whether it happens in Africa or anywhere in the world.”

One of the beneficiaries of AJAN’s Mission in Burundi.
Cake Cutting session to mark AJAN’s 20th anniversary led by Rev Ismael Matambura, AJAN Director

Cardinal Michael CzernyS.J., gave thanks for AJAN’s two decades of history by acknowledging the efforts and dedication of Ted Rogers who led the efforts that preceded AJAN, and of his three successors to date:  Paterne Mombé, Elphège Quenum and Ismael Matambura. This is also to thank the Provincials who made them available, and the Eastern African Province for hosting AJAN House and making each director a welcome “applicatus”. “Accompanying the struggle to overcome HIV and AIDS throughout the continent, the Society of Jesus in Africa and Madagascar, guided by the Universal Apostolic Preferences for young people, outcasts and the poor, carries on its ministry of healing, justice and reconciliation. May God continue to bless AJAN abundantly, and let’s all join in wishing a very happy 20th birthday!” he said.

The African Jesuit AIDS Network twentieth anniversary celebration took place in Bujumbura, Burundi on June 5th and 6th. The events included a banquet  with the beneficiaries and people of Bujumbura. Leaders who attended the event spoke candidly about the spread of message of hope and bringing about change among the youths in Africa, the fight against HIV/AIDs, better health care in developing countries and, of course, the vision of Pope Francis and the importance of the organization founded. Both events were full of enthusiastic beneficiaries and sponsors that believe in the mission of AJAN.

Dennis Owuoche

Communication and Research Officer, AJAN

Ismael Matambura

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