On 16th February 2022, the African Jesuit AIDS Network, and the Catholic Chaplaincy in Nairobi -Kenya held a meeting to review their collaboration thus far and plan for the year. AJAN has been undertaking training of catechist officers, juvenile prisoners, and prison officers since the beginning of 2018. About 30 catechist officers attended.
Fred Ekamuran, chaplain at Kamiti Maximum prison led prayer and introductions session to kick off the meeting after participants had gathered at 900am. Fr. Matambura Ismael followed with an introduction titled “AJAN Ministry to Prisons- motivation and purpose”.
Fr. Matambura fervently revisited the vision and mission of AJAN. “AJAN has vision to empower families, individuals and communities. We want to see them free of HIV, crime, working for the good of others, and an improved African continent. Our Mission is to empower the young to live responsible and purposeful lives free of HIV/AIDS”, he explained the reason for collaboration with the prisons to reach the young in prisons.
He revealed to the team and explained other AJAN motivation from the Jesuit Universal apostolic preferences. He explained that all Jesuit and their works are trying to show the way to God using spiritual exercises, walking with the vulnerable and excluded and the disadvantaged in the society, and journeying with the young people to create a future filled with hope.
He explained about the Ignatian year where Jesuits are celebrating the 500th year since the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He therefore presented and explained the call to conversion where Jesuits seeks to help people to ‘see all things new in Christ’. In this Ignatian year, Jesuits are also keen for collaboration so that new ways of tackling challenges can also be adopted.
He emphasized that AJAN pays attention to the young people who are right at the centre of the global AIDS pandemic yet are not mainstreamed in the fight against it. AJAN fights inequalities, stigma and discrimination. The desire of AJAN is to see the young people productive and therefore promotes integral growth of youth people. Fr. Matambura explained that AJAN seeks to have young people change behaviour and perspective about life e.g., change from a criminal life to virtuous life.
In accompanying young people, AJAN encourages the participation of young people and other players so that the impact can be sustained. We put young people at the centre of decision making and search for answers/solution to their challenges. In this case, AJAN seeks to espouse creativity and innovation in tackling challenges that the young face.
Fr. Matambura explained that the care for the planet cannot happen without the involvement of the young. However, he explained the need to have them understand the advantages of taking care of the environment so that they can get involved in protecting it. He presented the need for young people to understand the need to take care of their own health and that of the surrounding environment. He said that AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Program that AJAN uses in this ministry to prisons is value-based which gives the young opportunity to participate in providing solutions using their talents and capabilities. It also helps young people to discover and develop their potential/capability for the greater good.
The Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026 seeks to have investment made in young people, and that is something AJAN is cognizant about. AJAN therefore seeks to reach all young people wherever they are, informing them about their capacity to make change in society and giving them necessary support. This enables the young to adopt constructive and life-giving behaviour.
Pascalia Sergon led the next critical session of the day where she helped the team to review the collaboration so far between AJAN and the Kenya Catholic Prison Chaplaincy. She recalled that the first activity in the partnership between AJAN and the chaplaincy where youth in the Kamiti parishes were trained in 2018. An exchange programme between these youth and St. Aloysius Gonzaga followed.
More collaboration efforts resulted especially in 2021 where chaplains, prisoners and juveniles have been trained. These have happened at the Youth Correctional and Training Centre (Kamiti) and Kamae Girls Borstal Institution. Here, weekly Training of Learners sessions were held. At Lang’ata Women’s prison, youth of the community (children of prison staff) were carried out. Additionally, AJAN visited prisons in Nairobi region during Christmas of 2021 to share a few items as an act of love and care. “For Jesuits and Christians love need to be put into action”, said Fr. Matambura.
“Your pastoral ministry is not neutral. It either liberates the people you serve or domesticates/oppresses them”, Pascalia delved deeper. She encouraged them to make directed and careful efforts to ensure prisoners leave reformed and better rather than worse than they came. “It is important to help people see the meaning of life and find purpose. This opens the door to celebration of milestones”, she said.
Jesuit spirituality entails the examen, an exercise which helps to see where one started, where they are and what to do next. Therefore, in this session a few evaluation questions were mooted for the chaplain officers as beneficiaries of the AHAPPY training to answer. These included looking at competencies created, skills gained and how the experience helped the catechist officers in ministry.
The beneficiaries explained that they had enhanced their use of social skills for the benefit of prisoners. Learning the need for empathy -since prisoners are wounded people, how to help heal the wounds, creation of awareness on HIV and AIDS, self-awareness, how to induce behaviour change, problem solving, which is participatory, counselling, encouraging young people to take responsibility for their own lives, and having own AHAPPY programmes for youth the chaplains with, were the various things mentioned as benefits.
“We have become sensitive not only to prisoner needs, but also to our colleagues who may appear to be okay”, weighed in Fred Ekamuran. “The philosophy of AJAN is very active within our formations now. The youths have become more active in prison parishes”, said Christopher Wambua.
Moreover, programmes where AJAN will be involved have been planned for the first quarter of 2022. The industrial area prison has planned training slated for 15th March 2022. Jamhuri medium prisons is reviewing and planning and will unveil a programme and invite AJAN, but already running their programme on their own weekly at the prison involving pair educator prisoners. Other prison centres requested more training for prison staff and taking the programme to other prisons across Kenya.
The catechist officers mentioned the need for materials such as flipcharts, books, and others. “Chaplaincy works on a zero budget, AJAN intervention will be useful.” Basic items like soap, toiletries etc. were requested for provision to prisoners. The catechists also requested certificates for those who happen to be trained. Pascalia revealed that materials such youth movies will be availed to the chaplains for use in their training work with the youth. She also encouraged the catechists to join the AJAN community of trainers to reach more people not only in prison.
Fr. Matambura Ismael thanked the group for their involvement in the AHAPPY programme and encouraged them to share ideas on how the work can be strengthened to be more effective. He explained that even though AJAN does not have a budget to avail some of these items, he could approach, whenever it is possible, well-wishers for support. He said that over 2022 more trainings are planned. He explained that in the process of scaling up this partnership with the prison chaplaincy, AJAN will, if all goes well, reach out to prisons outside of Nairobi region such as Nyahururu and others.
The catholic chaplaincy coordinator Fr. Peter Kimani expressed his gratitude for the collaboration. He thanked prison stations who had implemented the AHAPPY Programme thus far. However, Fr. Kimani asked for a template for reporting on AHAPPY programme to enable the measurement of achievements. “AHAPPY is good, let us embrace it. It is ours” he said.
An encouraging news of the day was when the team was informed that one of the schools that collaborates with AJAN on AHAPPY program, St. Aloysius of Gonzaga High school in Nairobi received an award for “best integral development of youth” programme from the Catholic diocese of Nairobi.
It was wonderful day indeed as AJAN sought to use the feedback to augment plans for 2022.