Starting 27th through 30th June 2021, I am glad to have managed to pay the Service Yezu Mwiza (SYM) in Burundi a visit. Seven months after becoming director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN), this was my first trip to a member social centre because of travel restrictions owed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I first thank God, without whom this visit would not have happened. I wish to express special gratitude to Father Vedaste Nkeshimana SJ. and his collaborators for the warm welcome I received in SYM.
This year 2021, the Society of Jesus is in full celebration of the Ignatian year, 500 years since the conversion of St Ignatius of Loyola. All Jesuits are mobilized as one around the theme “see all things new in Christ”. Jesuits, individually and collectively, are called to reflect on their life and work and, to help through Christ, to take a new look, a look of conversion. Since 2019 the society has set itself four apostolic preferences to guide its action over the next ten years. It is about: (1) showing the way to God, (2) walking with the vulnerable and those whose dignity has been violated, (3) walking with young people to build a hope filled future, and finally (4) caring for the planet, our common home.
SYM has been on this path of transforming men crushed by the realities of life and diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, etc. for 13 years. This work does a lot of good to Burundian society in Bujumbura, rural Bujumbura, and the rural provinces in the country. The work is diversified according to ages of beneficiaries. It ranges from unborn children (PMTCTs) to the old, babies to young people. It offers a comprehensive or holistic health service to its beneficiaries inspired by compassionate and good Jesus as his name (Yezu Mwiza) suggests. Likewise, it works in prevention, care, and socio-economic empowerment, making people agents of their own development. SYM is motivated by its slogan “A people who want to live” and its vision of “a person who flourishes and enjoys the physical, mental, psychological, social and spiritual well-being for all strata of Burundian society.”
The SYM understands that man (human being) must be put at the centre of its action to give him life -whatever his situation or his living conditions. It is on the ground, at the service of the vulnerable, with about 70 employees each bringing in their expertise. Each morning all staff members gather for a community prayer which a designated member lead. This prayer arms them all and each of the spiritual, emotional, and moral energies to face the challenges of the day. It is a way of offering everything to God, the master of everything. “If the Lord does not build the house, the builders work in vain; if the Lord does not keep the house, in vain watch the guards” Psalm 26, reminds us.
The SYM does not work in a vacuum. It collaborates with other diverse partners including the Burundian State because it believes that “together we are strong”.
SYM’s work in Burundi gives hope, courage and joy. Unity is said to be strength. I visited one of the distribution points (PODI) where I saw a team of three people who, having started out selling avocados, bought a pig with the profit generated which now has three piglets. Their joy at this success, and the care and accompaniment SYM gives, encouraged me a lot. SYM started in 2018 with 13 staff members. Today, they are about 70, and it reaches more than 30600 people -including nearly 130 HIV-positive adolescents. The Global COVID-19 crisis has strongly impacted the work of SYM and his beneficiaries in various ways, especially economic empowerment activities, but the flame of hope is still alive.
One staff member expressed his delight; “I feel great joy when I accompany HIV-positive pregnant mothers up until the birth of HIV-negative babies. Seeing their joy and consolation it gives me confidence and calms me enormously. My joy is further increased when she comes to see me accompanied by these children. I even forget the difficulties we went through together.” This, among many other moving testimonies I have received at SYM, console and encourage me.
I would ask all well-wishers to support AJAN so that we can continue to transform our world, especially to reach out to the most disadvantaged in our society and to young people.
I commend and encourage all SYM staff members for the faith and trust placed in this work of the Society of Jesus in Burundi. May God make love, compassion and perseverance grow in you more and more!
“All together for dignified life and well-being !”
SYM understands that man (human being) must be put at the centre of its action to give him life -whatever his situation or his living conditions. It is on the field, at the service of the vulnerable, with about 70 employees each bringing in his or her expertise. Each morning, all staff members gather for a community prayer led by a designated member of staff. This prayer arms them all and each of the spiritual, emotional, and moral energies to face the challenges of the day. It is a way of offering everything to God, the master of everything. “If the Lord does not build the house, the builders work in vain ; if the Lord does not keep the house, in vain watch the guards” Psalm 26, reminds us.