By Caleb Mwamisi- Communication and Research Officer
- You are only a few months into your work as director of AJAN, how has your experience been?
So far, I have had a great experience- as a Jesuit, whenever I am assigned to a new mission, experience, environment or culture, I take time to learn and reflect more about my task ahead. At AJAN Secretariat as new Director I have done the same. I have been listening, reading, learning, planning, contacting, and meeting new people regarding this common work of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar.
- What challenges does the organization face currently?
Today, the world is facing a huge public health challenge -the COVID-19 pandemic. All sectors of life are affected, and about two million lives have been taken away by it. My special thoughts for their souls!. Additionally, millions of people have lost their jobs, others their livelihoods. AJAN is also negatively affected by this deadly pandemic so that there is difficulty in acquiring resources direly needed for the alleviation of the sufferings of beneficiaries. Thank God vaccines have now been made and more are on the way. It is a good reason to hope and dream for a definitive solution, with God’s help of course. On top of COVID-19, HIV and AIDS remains a big issue in sub-Saharan Africa, although important medical progress in testing and treatment has been made over the years. In this region, tens of thousands are still dying leaving behind thousands of orphans, with an uncertain future. Young women and men are still contracting HIV, and increasing poverty levels continue to expose people to all kinds of risks and suffering.
- What is your approach in leading AJAN and what do you aim at achieving?
AJAN is a network, and so my approach will be that of further networking and to bring all the members and partners together and to make more impact on the ground. Young people are important in the growth and development of every society; AJAN will invest in young people on the continent and make them REAL and TRUE agents of change, both at personal and at the community level.
- Are there some changes that you consider that AJAN should undertake now and in the long-term?
There are many areas, but I think AJAN needs to improve on communication within and outside the network to share our resources and experience. Also, the area of health and wellbeing which means going beyond the sole question of HIV, but invest also in other health public issues that constitute obstacles to personal and community growth. Further, we will invest more in research and advocacy for more impact in Africa and beyond.
- What is your perspective about the work of AJAN centres across Africa, and what do you see as their most urgent needs those for the long-term?
The perspective is that all the centres come together, strengthen their collaboration, and make more impact on lives, in each and every sector they target. Their needs are of various orders depending on where the centre is and what it is doing. But in general, there is need for sustainable resources, Trainer of Trainers through our youth integral development programs like AHAPPY (AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Program for the Youth), Income generating activities (IGAs), Facilities to offer a more comprehensive HIV package (Testing and Treatment), improved communication facilities, and so on.
- How excited are you about the upcoming AJAN assembly, and what do you aim to achieve through convening it?
This Assembly was to be held in May 2020, but due to travel restrictions because of COVID-19, it did not happen. I am happy that we are now able to organize it even though the situation is deteriorating again is in some countries, especially in the southern part of Africa. We are aiming at enhancing the management, evaluation, monitoring, and impact measurement capacity of the Centres and projects. We shall do this through capacity building training which we are offering to directors of field centres and project coordinators. We wish to work to reshape the future of AJAN’s vision, and mission considering the signs of the time, Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Global Public Health priorities. The youth will be at the centre of our mission.
- How are you and the secretariat getting ready for the assembly? The secretariat is ready for the Assembly. We have been holding virtual meetings with the various people involved in this process, planning in collaborating with field centres for the past two months. We have made sure that all the needs are taken care of in respect of government protocols regarding COVID-19 prevention. Relevant tools for immediate preparation were been sent to the centres and the secretariat is happy with their participation.
- Having interacted with young people through AHAPPY, what do you consider to be their most urgent needs?
Yes, last year I interacted mostly with youth who were completing secondary school, and who were then preparing to proceed to university. The feeling I have is that they needed true and comprehensive information and preparation as they held fear being uncertainty about the future. You know, we are in a world controlled by profiteering- people want to take undue advantage of others almost at all levels. The youth are exposed to a lot of information, some of it not life-giving. They need love and good guidance. They also need to be more open to those who can or who are willing to help them navigate the ocean of life. I urge them to trust in God, in themselves, and their God-given talents because there is no limit to what one can achieve in life by using our intelligence and conscience. God has provided them with potential and capabilities which they need to explore and must develop them.
- What are some of the challenges you see that Jesuits and their collaborators face that limit their effectiveness in the fight against HIV and AIDS?
The fight against HIV and other pandemics should be systematic and continuous. In some areas where Jesuits are working that continuous fight is lacking; the other drawback factor is the dependence on external funds. Also, African governments seem to overlook the promotion of values although with that, we promote a more sustainable change in behaviour. Poverty and behaviour have an intrinsic link with HIV. Growing poverty in Africa is a big challenge of the fight against HIV.
- Is funding a challenge for AJAN and how do you plan to work around it? Yes, it is a challenge. Needs are increasing every day, but funds do not follow. One of the ways to deal with this is to extend our circle of partners: go beyond Jesuits and church structures. It is important that every centre have the capacity to measure the impact of its work in society. I intend to initiate more income generating activities. We could also use the findings of our various surveys for effective advocacy fundraising.