Frank discussions and TikTok dances: What I learnt as a volunteer at the Freedom2Be support camp
Foundation Doctor and former camp volunteer Akash shares his experiences joining us as a Key Worker at Freedom2Be last year.
Last summer, I volunteered at the Freedom2Be Camp – an annual residential camp for 11–17-year-olds living with HIV – organised by Chiva. Chiva’s mission is to help these young people develop their knowledge, understanding and skills in order to help them achieve their potential.
During the five-day camp, participants have the opportunity to take part in a wide variety of activities, from outdoor pursuits to music to educational HIV sessions.
When I attended, this included a moving rap workshop where the participants were strikingly honest and open in their raps. They created a beat with lyrics to the rhythm of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s theme song and wrote lyrics about living with HIV. These ranged from the simple and powerful claim of singing ‘I am living with HIV’, to deeper revelations on their personal experiences – moving some of them to tears. It was an inspiring workshop to be able to observe.
There are two principal volunteer roles at camp: Camp Leaders and Key Workers. Camp Leaders have all attended camp previously and provide invaluable near-peer support for participants. Key Worker volunteers (my role) are responsible for a small number of young people. This involved pastoral support, behaviour management and supporting people to take their medication, alongside helping out with camp logistics and activities. There was also the opportunity to contribute to the camp programme with workshops. I was excited to be able to run dance workshops, one of which was turned on its head as the young people took over and I was brought up to speed on the latest TikTok dances!
What did I learn?
I deepened my insight into the very real, very tough and pervading impacts imposed on the lives of young people living with HIV. For example, I was exposed to many ethical dilemmas that these young people face and felt privileged to be able to listen to their frank discussions. These included: what age should people be told about their HIV diagnosis, who in their household/friends know their diagnosis (if any) and their medication-taking practices. For example, hiding pills in specialised keyrings so they can take their medication to school covertly and avoid any questions.
I was struck by the participants’ opinions, who felt that when attending health services, the healthcare professionals focus too much on the HIV, in particular blood counts, and neglect other aspects of these young people’s lives. Understanding these perspectives on HIV from a non-medicalised setting over the week-long event facilitated an appreciation of chronic disease that I feel is not as accessible in a healthcare environment. My appreciation for a holistic approach to HIV services has been strengthened and this experience will inform my future consultation practice.
Why you should consider volunteering
You will have the opportunity to work with an inspiring team in order to help these young people have a carefree time at camp, whilst helping them develop their HIV support toolkit. You will have the rewarding opportunity to contribute to their growth, improved confidence and peer bonding. If you enjoy working with young people in an activity-based setting and have an interest in HIV, I would really recommend it! Take plenty of snacks and be prepared for a full on, inspiring week!
You can still apply to be a Key Worker this summer! Applications are open until 5 May, you’ll just need to be free for training from 16-17 June and for camp from 31 July to 5 August. Camp Leader positions have already been allocated.