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Burundi: What is the most important thing?

The Service Yezu Mwiza (SYM) came as an offshoot of a former AIDS project of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Burundi. Now, as a project of the Jesuit Region of Rwanda-Burundi, we are celebrating 10 years of service, accompaniment, and life in the midst of people living with HIV.

Our activities rank from raising awareness to taking care of people living with HIV in a comprehensive way: economically, socially, and spiritually as well as medically. We have more than 1300 people living with HIV, with whom we work, advocate, and live. And we have more than 4,000 orphans and other vulnerable people whom we serve.

Our hope is to eventually cover the whole country as we do what Jesuits are good at: being close and living with those people who are considered the least and lowest in our community.

If I may focus on one of the activities we are doing today, I will talk of the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission programme (PMTCT), through which we are accompanying more than 200 women and couples so that their children will be born without HIV.

The second thing I’d like to mention is that, as we know, the youth are the future of our countries. We are doing networking services for kids in schools and health centres in three provinces of Burundi, where we have more than 1000 youth. We also help youth in religious circles. Sometimes we may think those youths, who are always there at the church, in the parish and choir, will surely not get HIV. Yet perhaps those are the kids who are more vulnerable than others. Why? Because they can be forgotten in prevention activities. So, SYM is intervening in those areas too.

We don’t need to be alone, others are doing this work too, so we should partner with both public and private organisations that have the same goal as we do. SYM offers its community response as part of the government’s solution to end HIV and AIDS in the country, and together with other civil society organisations implementing the Global Fund Project in Burundi. 

I can talk of figures, I can talk of funds, but what is the most important thing that I take from this work? It is this: our legacy as Jesuits is not so much to have money, it is not to have so many people, but to really touch and profoundly change those people we come in touch with. Our legacy is to transform, to reintegrate those who feel excluded. This should be my legacy as part of Yezu Mwiza, and of all Jesuits working in the field of HIV.

I want to conclude by thanking AJAN for supporting our activity on a daily basis because without their moral and financial support and their coordinating activity, we wouldn’t go far.