Operating from Christ the King Parish in Kisangani, Parlons-SIDA is one of the only organisations in the area to offer comprehensive care to people with HIV and to organise systematic prevention activities. The outgoing coordinator, Fr Jean-Pierre Luzolo SJ shares some reflections:
HIV began to take on importance in my life during my reflections at Hekima College of Theology in Nairobi, into the second cycle of studies at Berkeley. When I finished my studies, I passed from theological reflection to pastoral action with people with HIV at Parlons-SIDA in Kisangani.
I was coordinator of Parlons-SIDA for three years. The time has now come to hand over to Fr Jean-Charles Kubanabantu SJ. These years were a time during which I devoted myself to the coordination of Parlons-SIDA with responsibility, passion and a spirit of creativity, for the greater good of people with HIV and of the project. It was a rich experience where I was entirely at the service of our beneficiaries. They taught me many things about life and its fragility. I am very happy to see that some who were vulnerable, rejected, humiliated and abandoned have regained hope and the will to live, because they found an environment of love rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. What’s more, I learned that when people with AIDS are well taken care of, they have every chance of being not only happy but also useful to their family, society and country.
If the walls of the Parlons-SIDA office could talk, you would doubtless hear a multitude of names, feelings and testimonies that make Parlons-SIDA a place of welcome, an approach that takes into account the physical, spiritual and emotional aspects of our beneficiaries, that is to say, the totality of their body and soul.
At Parlons-SIDA, young people found a meeting place to discuss their worries, their future and especially their health, breaking the wall of silence around sexuality and HIV, still taboo subjects in our families and society. There is some awareness among young people; even if slow to gain ground, the concern to steer clear of risk behaviours can be discerned among many.
My regret on leaving Parlons-SIDA is that despite our efforts to fight HIV on the ground, the infection rate remains worryingly high in Eastern Province and especially in Kisangani, while the prevalence rate in other provinces of DRC appears to be going down. One may well wonder whether the provincial authorities and NGOs involved in the struggle against AIDS are sincerely doing their work of care and support with a view to reversing the trend. Kisangani needs special attention in this struggle.
Ceding my place to my companion, I think a lot about all those I accompanied and others who fought with great hope but who are no longer here. Each time I heard that so-and-so had died, after so much effort on our part to help her recover her smile and hope, the temptation to succumb to discouragement and despair was strong. But at the same time, an inner strength animated me to do my best to lead the ruthless struggle against our common enemies, HIV and opportunistic infections. Ultimately, as a priest, I felt like a true minister of God, a sign and an instrument of the compassion of Christ.
As my time at Parlons-SIDA comes to a close, my profound gratitude goes especially to AJAN and to Jesuit Mission Australia, Selavip and many others who supported this important work of mercy and hope and who continue to do so with devotion and generosity. It is thanks to all of you that Parlons-SIDA, come what may, can continue to sow hope through its approach of holistic quality. I will always be available for AJAN and will remain involved in the struggle against AIDS.