This post is a little behind, but it’s time to report on our end of term program, Camp YEAH. Camp YEAH stands for Youth Exploring and Achieving in Health. The focus of the camp this year was HIV/AIDS awareness and safe sex practices. The kids received a lot of information about these topics and learned ways to bring what they learned back to their community and school to teach their friends. We had lots of fun besides.
We had a total of 18 students from across the Kavango Region as well as two students from the middle part of the country. They all arrived on the Friday after school was out. We started our week by playing lots of ice breakers and trust games and then, of course, had some fun tie-dying shirts! At the beginning of the week, we talked about goals, clarifying the difference between short term and long term plans. We had all the kids think about what they wanted to do or become in their future and then write down what the short-term goals would be needed to get there. We then started to transition into the heart of the camp’s focus: HIV/AIDS. We spent the third day really going over myths and facts about HIV/AIDS. We discussed how the disease can be contracted , what it actually does to your body, and what can be done to stay protected from it. It was amazing to see the kids learning so much and be willing to ask questions when they were confused.
The highlight of the week was an activity called the HIV/AIDS simulation. During this activity we really wanted the kids to learn about the burden of not protecting yourself and getting HIV. To start the activity, each camper all read a different scenario. The common core to each scenario, though, was that each person had unprotected sex. For the simulation we had all the campers assume they had gotten HIV from their partner. All were given one bag of sand to carry for having contracted HIV. They were then asked a series of questions. Did they get tested for HIV? Did they choose to continue their risky behavior? The campers were separated into whether they went for HIV testing or did not. After that, they had to choose, randomly, whether they would continue their risky behaviors. For each of these questions, if they chose the worse one, they were given additional bags of sand to carry for the rest of the activity. There were some kids who had to carry around three sand bags, and you will understand the problem with that next.
After the initial testing, we had the kids complete and obstacle course. This was to simulate the obstacles of life that every person must face. Our campers, of course, had to carry their sand bags over the whole course. If they were to drop a sand bag, they would have to start that portion of the course again. This kind of challenge really made them think about the struggles of carrying a burden that won’t go away. The campers also began to help each other and learned that you can help out your teammates if they were worse off than you. After the obstacle course, the campers attended the ARV station. ARVs are the drugs that people living with HIV/AIDS take to combat the disease. Again campers all randomly chose whether they would take their ARVs every day, sometimes, or not at all. Depending on their choice, they were given a trash bag to cover themselves with. They received two bags if they would take their drugs every day, one if they chose sometimes to take it, and zero bags if they chose not to medicate at all. When everyone was done, we put them all together and sprayed them with water. Then we threw water balloons at them. This was to simulate the kind of protection you have from STIs and other diseases if you take your ARVs. By being safe with the drug, you are less likely to spread the disease to someone else. Finally, after all of this, the campers had to finish a race with their sand bags which was meant to show them that if you are smart and careful, you can live a long and safe life even if you have burdens to carry.
This was an important mantra that we kept telling the campers throughout the week. HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence anymore. Medicine has come a long way in protecting those with the virus and helping them to live normal lives. This is not to say to go out and be unsafe, but it is important to not alienate those with the disease and show that we support them.
Camp YEAH was a great experience for all the kids that came. The campers met new friends from all over the region. They got to experience American food and cooking for the first time. (One meal every day was some type of American dish: jambalaya, chili, burgers) We really could see the difference in what the campers learned through a pre/post quiz discussing the topics. The scores were so much higher for the post test that we knew we had taught them something. There is still a lot to work on for the back end of camp. We had some logistical mix ups as well as other problems, but we know where we need to improve on for our next session. In October our activity for Camp YEAH will be a workshop on how to deal with teenage pregnancy.