As the Chiva team gets busy scaling up our preparations for the virtual Freedom 2 Be camp (vF2B) we held one of our last online peer support sessions. These weekly sessions have taken place since the start of the lockdown and this session we took the opportunity to ask the young people for some feedback on their experiences of the sessions.

Participants talked about the benefit of being able to have a weekly check in – describing the sessions as ‘an emotional support system’. One participant said that it was helpful to have a reminder of her friendships and the peer support within Chiva, and another said they liked being able to share how different people were coping with the loneliness of the lockdown, particularly in the early days.

We held two group sessions with invited speakers from the HIV medical sector – a paediatric consultant and a psychologist. Young people talked about the value of these sessions and how they appreciated getting a better understanding of what was going on with COVID-19.

It appears that the strong bonds and friendships already established through Chiva Camp or the regional peer support groups really helped engender a supportive atmosphere in the online groups. Participants talked about feeling pressure from their ‘other’ friends (outside Chiva) to keep in touch and be sociable. They liked it that their Chiva friendships seemed easier to maintain; ‘Here on the zoom there was no pressure’. New young people talked about how the virtual sessions helped them to talk more about their feelings: ‘ I don’t know why, it helped me to open up and express how I feel’.

Young people said they would have preferred the sessions to be a bit later in the evening, as sometimes it clashed with when they had to eat their evening meal. All agreed that Chiva should continue with online peer support sessions even after COVID-19, and that it was a good idea for people who live far away from each other.

The participants also said they liked the mix in ages and genders of the group, as it brought different people together who might not have been friends in other circumstances.