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The first African Jesuit AIDS internship took place
for one month, June 15 to July 15, in Nairobi at the AJAN
Documentation Centre. Four of us African scholastics were invited to
participate: Paterne A.
Mombe and Serge
Lorougnon
of the West African Province, Brian Banda from
Zambia-Malawi Province and Michel S. Kamanzi
from the Rwanda-Burundi Region. Fr. Michael Czerny, SJ, AJAN
Coordinator, supervised our many activities — reflection, research,
discernment, accompaniment and insertion with respect to HIV/AIDS.


The AJAN Documentation Centre is housed in flat 8,

Riara

Lane. It consists of a single large room equipped for research
(library, computers and video equipment). This is where Brian,
Paterne and Michel spent most of their
day, sitting at their desks. By contrast, Serge engaged largely in
field work. All of us gathered every evening with Father Michael and
often with Fr. Masawe too (Provincial of
East Africa) to celebrate and share the Eucharist. After this
central moment of our day, we continued our fraternal sharing with a
community supper in flat 6, where Father Provincial, his
socius and Fr. Victor
Odhiambo live. After a long day of work,
we filled these evenings with long and lively discussion. In
addition, every Tuesday and Thursday, after cleaning up from the
meal, we gathered with Fr. Michael in flat 8 to share ideas about
the work that each of us was doing during the internship. These
gatherings were filled with communal discernment and with mutual
support and encouragement that helped each of us in our pursuits.


Inspired by the words of the Prophet Hosea — My
people are dying for lack of knowledge
(Ho 4, 6),
Paterne, who is going into third year
theology at Hekima College (Nairobi),
pursued research in virology and anti-viral therapies. His purpose
was to gather basic information on HIV, anti-retrovirals
and the pharmaceuticals used to control the virus that causes AIDS.
He was also interested in how so-called “opportunistic” infections
can be treated, as well as in proper nutrition for persons with HIV
and in the role of alternative (natural and traditional) medicine.
The overall objective of Paterne’s work
is to create a basic information guide on HIV, its characteristics
and how it progresses, and the different pharmaceutical products
used to control it.


Brian is preparing for his regency after philosophy
at

Arrupe

College (Harare). He did research into how his Province might
respond to the problems of orphans and of children affected by
HIV/AIDS in
Malawi

and Zambia. Accordingly, Brian studied and also visited several
initiatives and projects dedicated to these challenges. He learned
that the problems of children vulnerable to HIV/AIDS have not been
ignored in the two countries making up his Jesuit Province, and that
numerous initiatives are already in place for them — the majority
initiated by the Catholic Church. Thus, the issues to be determined
were how the Jesuits of the Province would be able to get involved
in these initiatives or start others; what the specific nature of
their contribution would be; and how they would conduct their
activities in response to the HIV/AIDS challenge in the two
countries.


A student going into

second
year theology at Hekima, Serge did much
of his daily internship work in Karen at
Nyumbani
Orphanage founded by Fr.
D’Agostino
SJ. He spent part of his time in the laboratory at
this orphanage where trials of HIV treatments are underway. Serge’s
pastoral experience contributed substantially to our reflections and
discussions. We all had the opportunity to visit
Nyumbani where we had an unforgettable
experience with these “Watoto
wa Mungu”
(children of God).


The last to join the team, Michel recently

finished his licentiate in social science at the Gregorian
University in Rome. In the course of his internship, he looked for
ways to take the key points of his academic work on the economic and
social impact of the AIDS pandemic in Rwanda and communicate them to
a wider public. Starting with the demographic impact, Michel
explored the HIV/AIDS situation as a challenge for development in
Africa. He also looked into the effects of conflict on the spread of
HIV/AIDS, especially the conflicts in the Great Lakes region.


One of our community meetings featured Fr. Elias
Omondi SJ of the East African Province
who was just ordained to the priesthood. Elias presented his most
interesting research paper, “Silent Desperation of AIDS Orphans in
Africa: A Looming Disaster on the Continent,” which will hopefully
soon be available on the AJAN web-site along with the fruits of our
labours.


While the research and team-work were taking place,
Sister Marie Noëlle, who performs
secretarial duties for AJAN, helped enormously with documentation.
As our companion throughout the internship, Fr. Michael Czerny kept
a close eye on how our work evolved and, from time to time, over a
cup of Kenyan tea, helped each intern to review his progress.


This month was truly a time of grace for us and for
AJAN. A tradition has been launched; we sincerely hope that it will
continue. We consider this internship to be a way to make the
African Jesuit AIDS Network more effective; indeed, it is a way to
achieve a more concrete and communal response by the Society of
Jesus to this third-millennium challenge that calls all of us forth
in our respective apostolates to the
greater glory of God.


This experiment of team work in the area of AIDS has
been for me a favourable time to grow in awareness of this scourge
which menaces both the present and the future of our families, our
communities, our Church and our societies. It was a key moment in
understanding AIDS, which seems to have become the focus of moral,
economic and social marginalization in this age of globalization. I
believe we four interns have grown especially in our love for those
persons who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, joining to some
extent in the struggle against the stigma and the marginalization
which are inflicted on them. The challenge is immense and one may
rightly wonder what good this kind of experiment can achieve. In my
opinion an experiment like this one — which I hope will continue
with other Jesuits — can awaken a greater consciousness of this
reality which is shrouded in shame and fear; it also allows us to
make real the desire of Jesuits to struggle against AIDS — as AJAN
wishes to do — and it shows that everyone, whether a student or in
the mission field, can contribute to the raising of consciousness,
to prevention, to the mobilization and support of our societies
faced with this pandemic.


This experiment has been, I would venture to say, a
kind of “Contemplation to Attain Love,” an experience of the truth
that love is expressed more in deeds than in words and that true
love consists in giving of oneself or of what one has, to help
souls. This experiment has shown us the need to work as a team to
confront a reality as complex as AIDS; the need to come to a new,
obligatory form of solidarity. This solidarity is not, as Pope John
Paul II reminded us in his encyclical SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS, “a
vague sense of compassion or shallow distress at the evils suffered
by so many people, near or far. On the contrary, it is a firm and
persevering resolve to work for the common good; that is, for the
good of all and of each individual, because we are all truly
responsible for all” (n. 38).

AJANews no. 20 - July 2004
AIDS IN UGANDA

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