This year 81 young people with HIV attended the CHIVA summer camp.  One of the most common reflections we hear from young people who attend camp is ‘I realized that I am not alone’.

The CHIVA team and 25 volunteers have returned from the annual residential ‘Freedom 2 Be’ Camp in Hertfordshire. This year there were 81 young people with HIV attending our support camp, aged between 11 and 16. From Tuesday 2nd afternoon to Saturday 6th August they spent time talking and learning about HIV, and sharing experiences with each other. They took part in workshops themed around HIV called ‘Knowledge is Power’ and ‘Live Well, Love Life’, and also explored these themes through the mediums of Art, Drama and Music. We held an evening of TED-style talks delivered by their older peers living with HIV who shared their experiences of growing up with HIV and dealing with particular issues such as telling your sexual partner you have HIV. Understanding how the stigma around HIV can have a personal impact and shape how you feel about having HIV, and how to begin to address and overcome this. One older peer talked about her experience of having a baby (who is HIV negative). Many young people arrive at camp with a lot of misinformation about what they cannot do due to having HIV, and thinking they cannot have a family is often part of their misconception.

The young people also had a day trip out to an outward bounds centre where they took part in climbing, kayaking, high ropes climbing courses, raft building and other activities which as well as being a lot of fun also serves to support confidence, self esteem, and working together as a team.

The CHIVA Youth Committee also held a meeting at camp and recruited new members to their committee. Camp finished with a ‘Return of the Super Heroes’ party and further activities around the theme of ‘Living well with HIV’.

Camp is an intense and demanding experience for all, but the journey we see many of the young people take from their arrival day - where it is often the case that young people find even hearing the word HIV very difficult and upsetting - to the departure day when friendships have been formed and fears and anxieties shared and clearer knowledge and understanding of HIV gained, is powerful to witness. One of the most common reflections we hear from young people who attend camp is ‘I realized that I am not alone’.