By Matambura Ismael, SJ

By 2020, according to SOS, over 400 million children are currently living on the African continent. A child refers to every human being below the age of 18 years (The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, 1990 Article 2). At the center of Africa’s political upheavals, economic meltdowns, and social disintegration is the child who receives a disproportionate huge share of the deleterious consequences. Resultantly, Africa experience significantly high rates of infant and child mortality, severe under-nutrition and HIV infection cases, low school enrolment, limited or no child social protection, child marriages, teenage pregnancies and child labour among many.

Where AJAN meets the child in its ministry

AJAN is a faith-based organization established in June 2002 by the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) to coordinate the existing initiatives by the Jesuits to respond to HIV and AIDS by developing appropriate ministries that are deeply rooted amongst those who suffer and accompany those who care for them. The network is made up over 15 across 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In these centres, Jesuits and their collaborators mitigate the impact of the AIDS epidemic, stem its progress, and promote life to the full. The package of services offered includes:

Although most of these interventions are targeted to adults, youth and families then trickles to the child, there are those initiatives whose focus are directed to the child, as highlighted.

  1. AJAN HIV Prevention Program for the Youth (AHAPPY)

AHAPPY is a regional programme implemented in African countries in which Jesuits have ministries for young people. The major sites are all Jesuit educational institutions and HIV/AIDS projects. The program has an overarching, two-part pedagogy. First, the child receives the education and tools for living enriching lives and making mature life choices. Then, they get skills to be peer educators who are attractive witnesses of their message. We can then realize empowered youth who have the skills and attitudes to practise what they have experienced and affect others.

The program offers the following.

AHAPPY has been introduced and present in 11 countries where AJAN centres are. Primary target group of the program is young people aged 10 to 24, divided into three main groups:

Our focus in this report is in the first two categories, children between 10-18 years. AJAN engages this category through sensitization programs/activities conducted in Jesuit and non-Jesuit educational institutions across the network. A few of the achievements of the AHAPPY are tabulated below;

NoDescriptionAJAN centre/country
1.Reduction of teenage pregnancies from 13 girls per year in 2013 to 1 by 2018St. Aloysius Gonzaga-KenyaSisters of Mercy schools- Kenya
2.Reduced discrimination and stigma among children (students) living with HIVSt. Aloysius-Kenya
3.Increased number of adolescents adhering to ARVsSt. Aloysius-Kenya, Ocer Campion- Uganda
4.Self-Knowledge and responsible behaviourOcer Campion- UgandaRwanda
5.Youth reaching out to Peers Youth sensitisation through radio Radio programme by AHAPPY influencers club – Ocer Campion Uganda
6.Improved discipline and performanceGroupe Scolaire Kabuye Catholique- Rwanda St. Aloysius-Kenya, Ocer Campion- Uganda
  1. HIV Prevention from mother to child

Service Yezu Mwiza is one of the AJAN affiliate centres that offer a mix of services targeting people living with HIV, Leprosy, TB, Hepatitis, and other communicable and non-communicable diseases. The centres run mobile clinic services in 3 municipalities of Bujumbura City Council and 8 municipalities in the rural province of Bujumbura. Key component here is Prevention from mother to child (PMTCT) infection of HIV that protects the child from contracting HIV at birth thus living free of HIV virus. According to 2021 reports from the centre, “99% of children born to HIV-positive mothers are HIV-free after testing at 18 months of life.” It is worth noting that the centre, as of February 2021, has an active list of 1,074 people living with HIV & AIDS, under its care.

  1. Orphaned and Vulnerable children 

A number of AJAN centre provided support for children under their care; from education, nutrition, medical and psychosocial care;

4. Supporting the children through families

HIV is not only a healthy issue. It bears economic and social undercurrents that equally affect the value of life of the families where the children ought to live and thrive. Most AJAN affiliated centres invest a lot of effort and resources to provide a mix of services to address the challenges in an integral way. It will be noted that most of the centres that are not educational strive to empower families economically through livelihood initiatives. So that when families are self-reliant economically, the vulnerability level is reduced and this profoundly touches on the quality of life of the child. This is observed in Centres; Centres Sociaux Loyola- Togo, St. Joseph’s Parish Development program- Kenya, Chikuni Home-based care- Zambia, Service Yezu Mwiza -Burundi, Centre Maisha- DRC and St. Teresa reconciliation Parish- South Sudan. 

5. Child safe-guarding

All AJAN centres come into contact with children or parents/guardians of the children; either in their institutions or as part of their ministry to the families. Some centres, specifically the Chikuni Home-based care, Centres sociaux Loyola, ABE, Service Yezu Mwiza, St. Joseph Parish Kangemi have sensitization programs on child safe-guarding. Those running AHAPPY programs in schools, within the mandate of the institutions, uphold the practice of protecting the child.

Matambura Ismael, SJ is the Director, African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN)

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