HIV has no boundaries and its impact on families is devastating. The daily struggles, feelings of isolation and the need to keep secrets puts a strain on those living regardless of who has the virus. The biggest challenge is caring for adolescents and children living with HIV. Recognising this, Human Touch created Camp Sunburst in 2013 to provide respite for all children and youth living with HIV. Simran and Neha had never known of each other until HIV brought them together at Krishi Udyog Farm of Society of Pilar at Collem for a five day summer camp from May 21 to May 25. About sixty HIV positive and affected children from the state, enjoyed five days of fun, games and sports.
The camp held by Human Touch is a first- of- its- kind to focus mainly on the health of such children. Unlike common seen sightseeing activities, the aim of this camp was to inform the children about the disease they suffer from and to help them correctly identify their status and handle negative feelings in a better way.
Human Touch organised the camp along with Positive People and Empower. The camp was supported by individual donors and the Society of Pilar. At the camp, children sang and danced, as well as competed in painting, clay modelling, quilling and other games. In order to build the children’s self-esteem, sessions on sexuality, motivation, personality development, public speaking, career counselling, vegetable and fruit carving, etc. were held. Special sessions like Zumba and Dance Movement Therapy were also introduced in this camp. In the evening there was a camp fire and a talent show that brought all the children together.
Founder of Human Touch Peter F Borges said, he feels at a loss for words, particularly when young adolescents living with HIV, ask him about relationships with normal children. “Becoming teenagers and entering puberty, naturally they are longing for a relationship. It is extremely hard to give any advice,” he said. Moreover, other mental problems like depression and anxiety tend to arise when the children enter their teens, he said. “They begin to formally identify with the disease and its potential effect, which might worsen their adolescent rebellion,” he added.
Some of them suffer from depression when learn about their status and related social discrimination as they grow older, he said. “It is easy for them to get twisted ideas of themselves, which might pose a challenge to their own health and social stability,” he said.
Vice president of Human Touch and treasurer of Empower Ashwini Naik, who coordinated the camp, thinks that the camp will help to maintain the children’s dignity as it allows them to be themselves. “These children bear a lot of responsibility already. Some of them are already on medication, others have family members who are ill or have died and because they are poor, they are often expected to take care of their siblings or find food for them. Being here enables them to be themselves, to be kids again, to play the entire day without worrying about anything. It is exciting to see the joy this brings to them and how they enjoy the activities,” she says, smiling.
The fifteen counsellors, who volunteered for the camp, gathered every night to share an unspoken bond built from the simple joy that had transpired throughout the day.