Since 2010, the Children’s HIV Association (CHIVA) has hosted a summer residential support camp for around 100 HIV positive young people aged 13-17.
The camp lasts five days and four nights. It includes workshops on issues related to growing up and living well with HIV; creative and outdoor activities which encourage expression and opportunities to share the experience of growing up with HIV. There is also free time to build all important friendships.
There is a camp leader training programme for older HIV positive young people (18-24 year olds), most of whom attended the camp as younger teenagers, and a policy for recruiting HIV positive key workers to meet the pastoral care needs of attendees.
An evaluation of the camp in 2013 showed it to be an extremely positive experience for participants, enabling them to increase their knowledge and understanding of HIV and thus enhance their ability to live well with HIV. Importantly, the camp also contributed to the formation and continuation of significant peer relationships that for some positive young people are akin to family. These relationships, and the wider camp experience, help young people to look at HIV status as one part of their lives, rather than a limitation to their aspirations for the future.
Much of the feedback from young people attending the camp relates to having a sense of belonging and not feeling alone: “being part of a family that are in your shoes”. Others said: “I learnt how to talk to people and I felt free”, “I have got to meet new people I can be honest with and talk about HIV with”, “making friends for life who know who you really are”, and “it’s awesome to accept my status”.
The camp is also a very positive experience for camp leaders and volunteers:
“For me the most thrilling part is taking a small step back and allowing the more experienced young people to take the newbies under their wings. By nurturing and peer supporting one another the young people will become empowered and blossom into adults who own their HIV status.” – Volunteer, Camp 2013.