Jean Chrysostome Kiyala, SVD
Fr. Jean Chrysostome Kiyala, SVD, was born in Kenge, Republic of the Congo and professed perpetual vows as a Divine Word Missionary in 1999 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2000. He is currently pastor of St. Benedict Catholic Church in Malamulele, South Africa. The country has been devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Estimates suggest that 5.7 million people (eighteen percent of the adult population) are living with HIV/AIDS. The life expectancy of a child born today is only forty-nine years, compared to seventy-eight years in the United States.
As a missionary, a pastor, and just a human being, I wish I could help every child in South Africa who has lost parents from the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I wish our poor parish could take in, educate, clothe, and feed every child we encounter in our community. I know we cannot, and it breaks my heart. But we are doing what we can.
We have identified 357 children in our parish whom we describe as orphans and vulnerable children. All
of the children have lost their parents from HIV/AIDS. Most of them are now living with grandparents or other relatives, but thirty-six of them are living in “child-headed” families, meaning a non-adult sibling is raising them.
Two years ago, we tried to build a residence for the children who were in child-headed families and for the children who were in abusive or unhealthy situations, but our grant request for land was denied. What we can do, however, is provide a day program, an after-school program, and family visitations to provide support, services and, if necessary, intervention.
In many cases, our contact with the children and families can result in additional services through other agencies. For example, the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference has a program to provide some building materials (e.g. cement, windows, glass, and doors) to households run by children or elderly relatives who are caring for orphaned children. Some limited government assistance is also available.
Our day care and after-school programs provide counseling to help children deal with the traumatizing losses they have experienced. Parishioners provide tutoring for students who have fallen behind in
school and we provide a nutritious meal. We can also help children get school uniforms.
One of our parishioners, Mrs. Agnes Mashila, visits the homes of persons who are living with HIV/AIDS. She assists them with their medications, reports side effects to the local clinic, and looks in on the children who are living in the household.
A team of ten volunteer caregivers does home visits to encourage the children to attend school. The volunteers will help family members fill out paperwork for assistance. These ambassadors of St. Benedict Parish assure everyone they meet that someone cares.
All of us wish we could do more for the hundreds of children who have been robbed of their childhood. We continue to fight the good fight, doing what we can.