My name is Mina and I am a teenager who was born with HIV. I am happy to be a new blogger for A Girl Like Me. This week is National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (#NYHAAD) and I want to talk about something that is really helpful for youth with HIV. HIV camps really help kids and teens with HIV or who have someone in their family with HIV. I have been going to HIV summer camps for nine years, since I was a little girl. I go to one camp that is for kids who are HIV positive like me and I go to another one for kids who have a family member with HIV. Both are great. I think every kid who has HIV or someone with HIV in their family should think about going to camp.
At both camps we have fun doing all the camp things that people do at "regular" camps. But since everyone there has HIV in their life it's a little different how we all bond. Like when we are all about to go to bed we usually talk about something that has been a problem in our life that involves HIV. At those moments everyone is speaking up and being brave with each other. We are all there for each other and get really close in a short period of time.
One of my camps is for kids that have HIV or have a family member that has it. It is in another state and my brothers and I fly there every summer for a week. Camp teaches us to not be afraid and to not get scared about either telling people or about not being able to say anything about HIV. Because every kid and family is different. The camp is at a place where there are other people who don't have HIV there at the same time you are there. Those other kids all have some kind of disease or disability because the camp is made so that it is easy for people with and without disabilities to come and have fun. I think that it is good that we are there with other people who have HIV and other diseases too. We learn about each other's diseases. It's like being in school because you learn about other diseases and disabilities, but it's not in a boring way. The kids that have other diseases are not usually afraid of us because everyone there is taking meds at the same time and we talk about our meds together and have conversation with each other.
I love the counselors at camp. They are really great and they are kind to all of the kids and some of the counselors have been going there since they were young as well and wanted to become counselors when they grow up. I think that is so cool. I want to be a camp counselor when I am older too. The counselors make sure all the kids act nice to each other and friendly with one another. I always am thankful to have such nice, kind and fun counselors.
The activities there are good for people without disabilities, people that have HIV and people that have diseases other than HIV. Like having fun morning announcements! That usually gets me really hyped up. We have this thing called campfire which is nice too. That's when everyone comes to sit outside where there's a little theatre area and the counselors show us fun things and we also learn things. It is entertaining and educational too. Another thing I like is that we get to pick 3 things (camp activities) that we want do over the week which I love. I usually pick stuff like dance, theatre, and cooking, but other people might pick rock wall climbing, sports, water sports, crochet, art, music, hiking, horseback riding, or animal caretaking. The counselors always remind us about our meds if we need to take them. We sing camp songs and eat great food in the mess hall!!! At the end of the day we have a group chat in our cabin (or sometimes outside while roosting s'mores) about our life. Usually near the end of the week we have a big party outside and it's fun! We usually have a talent show too, and a competition to see who can have the cleanest cabin. I can't believe my messy brother's cabin won that one once!
The second HIV camp that I go to is also really good. All of the kids there are HIV positive but nobody is worried about it there because we all care for each other. This one is near my hometown and isn't far so I don't have to fly. I take the bus there with other campers as well. At this camp everything is really awesome, the counselors you become close friends with really quickly even if you're new. Once you go you want to come again the next year. This camp is also great because your doctors and nurses come to camp with you and volunteer, so they are also there in case something bad happens and they can help and you will be even more comfortable. The activities there are good for people that have other diseases other than HIV because some of the kids at camp have both HIV and other diseases or disabilities too like CP (I forget what it stands for, but some kids there have it) or arthritis like me. The camp has wheelchair basketball, lots of smooth ramps, and other stuff like that. Some of the activities are unique. Like every year we get to have a makeover! With cute clothes and even makeup because they told us that each one of the girls there are all pretty inside and out. Then they have a photographer take professional pictures of us. We also do a dress up day - even for guys too - and it's extremely fun! Another cool activity is going to the pool and their pool is awesome. It's big, it has 2 beach sides for a big pool ramp that people with wheelchairs can get into without having to get out of their chair. They can just sit and still play with the water and there is also a hot tub that you can get in with or without a wheelchair. Both kids and counselors can use the pool.
For this camp they don't let us pick our own activities. The counselors choose for us our cabin activities that we will be doing for the week and they are all fun. We get to do some things on our own with a buddy but we also have to do a lot of things together as a cabin. Doing all that stuff together makes you get closer to each other. You also get to talk with each other about like what has been the most trouble that you had while having HIV or if you are worried they can help you talk through it. Our counselors always help us to prank the boys' cabins and they prank us girls too. I have made very good friends at camp. Some older (high school) kids even get boyfriends and girlfriends. At the end of camp there is always a big dance with a DJ and a closing ceremony.
From what I realize, the older you get the more options there will be for you to able to do. Older kids get more pool time, more sports time, longer lunches, small group time called "teen talk" about healthy relationships and self-esteem, nighttime bonfires, and nighttime zip line! But even if you are younger, these camps are great for young kids and teens to show us that HIV is not the worst thing, you can still live your life the way you want to without having HIV being your problem. If you are a kid with HIV you should think about going. If you are a parent and you have a kid with HIV you should talk to them about it and see if they want to go. It helps you to know you're not alone and it is SO MUCH FUN!