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“It’s time to take action” – “Let’s make this virus powerless”

“It’s time to take action” – “Let’s make this virus powerless”

Kenyan youth pastor Felix Mutiso leads the march through Nairobi. © Albin Hillert/WCC

19 June 2017

By Albin Hillert*

Marching through the streets of Nairobi on the Day of the African Child 2017, religious leaders from a range of faith communities in Kenya spoke up publicly for the rights of children and adolescents living with HIV, accompanied by hundreds of people, among them school children from six Nairobi-based schools, as well as dozens of youth volunteers.

On the day, the religious leaders committed themselves to taking action, to use their congregational platforms for outreach to community members in response to a global call to action entitled “Act now for children and adolescents living with HIV”, articulated by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA).

“This event is part of a broader, global call to action, to mobilize faith communities around the target of providing 1.6 million children and 1.2 million adolescents living with HIV with antiretroviral therapy by 2018, and the ultimate goal of ending AIDS in children by 2020,” explains Francesca Merico, WCC-EAA HIV campaign coordinator.

Following the march through Nairobi, the 16 June event saw an interactive session between religious leaders and local school children, where open dialogue addressed issues concerning access to testing and treatment for children, as well as the stigma and discrimination still surrounding the virus.

Through a theatrical performance, a group of school children articulated a message and a request to the religious leaders: “Let’s make this virus powerless, so that there can be life even after.”

Christian youth pastor Felix Mutiso from the Nairobi Calvari Temple picked up on the message. “It is clear that our children have specific concerns about HIV and AIDS, and I am sure that what we have seen here is only an inch of the elephant.”

“So I want to pose a challenge to all religious leaders. Go back to your churches, to the mosque, to the temple, and find time for the children, to get to know what they want. Let’s give them our full attention, and I am sure God will bless us.”

“We know that the rights of our children do not begin here,” reflected Sheikh Abdalla Kamwana, chair of the Kenya chapter of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+ Kenya). “The minute your mother expects you, you have rights. And as you grow, you receive more and stronger rights. As religious leaders, we pray for our children, that they may become our future leaders.”

“But this is not my day, and it is not any day,” Sheikh Kamwana continued. “This is the day of our children. And I am proud, because they have sent a powerful message, to Kenya, to Africa, and to the world. And as religious leaders we are going to fight for you, for your rights, your education, and your health.”

Local ripple effects emerge, other countries must follow

As religious leaders in Kenya commit to take action, ripple effects are already emerging in the country.

Nairobi-based drama group Starling Pound, which engages in providing a healthy, drug and violence-free space to young people struggling in life, will help organize, encourage and facilitate HIV testing for children and youth in the weeks to come.

In congregations around Nairobi, hundreds of children and adolescents have been tested for HIV with support from INERELA+ Kenya, as a drive during the lead-up to the Day of the African Child.

“The religious leaders here in Kenya are pioneering in this movement,” Francesca Merico adds, “by speaking up, but also by creating change and taking action in their own faith communities. Our hope is that many others from different parts of the world will follow their leadership, because we need to be many, working together, to reach our goal.”

“We have all committed ourselves to work to resolve the challenges that children face,” said Jantine Jacobi, country director, UNAIDS Kenya. ”We know that religious leaders have a reach in the communities, and offer a kind of support and care at the local level, that we cannot provide as the United Nations. We know resolving issues around HIV is not easy, and so we need our religious leaders to help.”

“Leadership is always a calling,” concluded Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit from the Anglican Church of Kenya. “And true leadership is not to work for one’s own benefit, but for the benefit of others.”

“We know it from the Bible, that the one who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, is the one who is a servant of all.”

The Live the Promise Campaign of the WCC-EAA is mobilizing faith leaders around the world in a movement to support the Start Free Stay Free and AIDS Free Framework, a super-fast track framework launched in 2016 by UNAIDS and PEPFAR for ending AIDS in children, adolescents and young women by 2020.

High-resolution photos from the Day of the African Child, for download free of charge

‘Day of the African Child’ an opportunity to raise awareness on pediatric AIDS (WCC press release of 14 June 2017)

Call to Action: Act now for children and adolescents living with HIV

Children, Adolescents and HIV

Live the Promise: HIV Campaign

*Albin Hillert is communication officer at the World Council of Churches.