There were a dozen or so people, mostly women and children, crammed into the rundown room in Pissy, a neighbourhood of Ouagadougou. They were in a poor state; the room didn’t even have a door or windows to keep out bad weather. They desperately needed help, but their families had rejected them because they had HIV. When Félicienne Zongo stumbled upon this sorry situation in 2006, she knew she had to act… fast. But she realized she was faced with enormous unmet needs and couldn’t make it alone. So she turned to Fr Augustin Goytisolo SJ, who went to see the place. Together they decided to act. “We mobilized with friends to respond in solidarity,” recalls Félicienne.
The result of their mobilization was the Association les Bénévoles de l’Espérance (ABE – Association of the Volunteers of Hope), a modest organization that aims to contribute to improving the conditions of poor people living with HIV in Ouagadougou.
Since the discovery of the abandoned people in Pissy eight years ago, the ABE has grown, welcoming 120 people with HIV and 65 orphans and vulnerable children in 2013. And on 8 March this year, the ABE launched a centre to house their activities in Boassa, a village on the outskirts of Ouagadougou.
“We are very happy this morning to see the realization of a dream we have had since 2006, when we saw misery and despair in the eyes of the people with HIV and the conditions in which they were living,” said Félicienne, ABE co-founder and chairperson, at the launch.
“It is important for us to tell you that this beautiful work has been realised thanks to the goodwill of those who believed in us and especially thanks to the dynamism and devotion of Fr Augustin, who did his utmost to get funding from Spain.”
Addressing the ceremony to launch the Centre Espérance de Boassa (CEB), Fr Augustin expressed his happiness at all that had been achieved. He thanked the circa 50 guests present, including beneficiaries of the ABE, who turned out in great numbers; government officials; partners of the ABE; members of religious congregations; and neighbours of the CEB. AJAN was represented by Fr Philippe Habada SJ.
The ABE offers comprehensive support to its beneficiaries: psychosocial care, home and hospital visits, support groups, income-generating activities, food and help to meet basic needs, and payment of schools fees of orphans and vulnerable children.
At the new centre, the ABE plans to focus especially on helping its beneficiaries to adhere to their antiretroviral treatment (ART). Since HIV requires lifelong treatment, many people get tired of taking their medication. In fact, said Félicienne, some people stopped taking ART and this led to the emergence of viral resistance and even death. “Three of our beneficiaries died in 2013 and one in early 2014. One was a 22-year-old girl and another a 24-year-old boy. They were infected by mother-to-child transmission and they died because they deliberately stopped their medication or did not follow their treatment regimen properly. They became very sick and suffered a lot.”
Félicienne added: “The need to help people with HIV to keep taking their medication, so that they may prolong their lives and realise their dreams, is a priority. This is why the ABE wanted to build a centre to encourage people with HIV to adhere to their ART regimen and other treatments.”