The Service Yezu Mwiza (SYM – ‘Good Jesus’ in Kirundi) accompanies some 4,000 people with HIV, orphans and vulnerable children, giving them the support needed to live life “to the full”. SYM is a project of the Jesuit Region of Rwanda-Burundi and is run by Fr Désiré Yamuremye SJ. From its well-equipped base in downtown Bujumbura, the SYM team reaches out to the rural areas around the capital and neighbouring provinces and tirelessly seeks to prevent the spread of AIDS as well as to alleviate the suffering of those affected.
As a recognised centre for ART and testing for HIV as well as TB, SYM runs a clinic and laboratory with a staff of doctors, nurses, psychologists and a laboratory technician. No less than 5,520 tests were carried out in the lab in 2011. However the beneficiaries of SYM receive far more than medical support. The wide-ranging services of SYM covers nutritional care, formation and opportunities for income-generation, pastoral and psychosocial support, education support for orphans and, for some, the repair of their homes.
The income-generation project deserves mention. In the firm belief that poverty is a determining factor in the spread of HIV, SYM has set about improving the quality of life of those it serves. After vocational training, people receive micro-credit to start a modest farming or other enterprise, or to return to their work as bricklayers, cobblers, tailors and other trades.
Determined to stem the spread of HIV and to encourage people to seek treatment immediately if positive, SYM has carried out voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) campaigns that reached thousands of people. This campaign is part of a wider prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) drive that SYM realises in health centres.
Other prevention activities reach tens of thousands of people, including youth, engaged couples, sex workers and others. SYM opts for a participatory approach implemented together with community animators, peer educators and pastoral workers.
Problems faced by SYM include shortage or disruption of ARVs and medication for opportunistic infections; the pervasiveness of stigma and discrimination; and the weak participation of men in PMTCT.