Reflections from the Second Chiva Families’ Weekend

Angelina Namiba, 4M Network and Chiva Associate

Following the success of the inaugural Families’ Weekend in 2023, where families indicated that there was a clear need for more regular residential meet-ups, we planned and held the second one in early June 2024. 

Due to the high demand for places, we increased the number of places from 16 to 22 families. This inevitably meant that we also needed to increase the number of staff. The original team, Amanda, Fungai, Katy and Angelina were joined by Rebecca. The Creche manager Sharon was joined by a team of three creche workers. One of the creche workers was a young mum who had attended the first residential as a participant. 

The 22 families who attended were made up of 28 parents or carers, 20 older children aged nine or above and 15 children below the age of nine. One of the things that for me was really wonderful to see was that nine fathers attended this time – an increase on last year. 

Although there was a great demand for families from the first residential who wanted to return, we felt it was important that we provide an opportunity for new families to attend too. We also felt that it was important for a small number of the families who came before to attend again who could act as mentors as well as befriend and reassure new parents who might be anxious about what to expect. 

The 22 families travelled from around the country to spend the weekend at a quiet rural retreat. The weekend aims to give families the space to share stories of living with HIV together, to explore how to improve family communication about HIV, and also, most importantly, to allow for some much-needed self-care and well-being activities.

At the beginning of the residential families were allocated guardian angels (where similar families were linked so that they could look out for each other during the weekend). This was also aimed at, hopefully, encouraging families to keep in touch and to continue supporting each other beyond the weekend.

The programme was a mix of parent/carer-only activities, children’s outbound activities as well as joint family sessions. These were intended to be modelling sessions and activities that families could then continue engaging in or organising for their own families once back home. 

The wellbeing activities for parents and carers included mindfulness and yoga which offered the opportunity to relax. There was also the chance to explore experiences through art and creative activities such as mindful pebble painting and creating family dream catchers which combined exploration of feelings and experiences of family life and HIV whilst engaging in arts based activities. 

In addition to the archery, climbing and bushcraft available to the children aged eight plus, they also had their own yoga session. There was plenty of time for quiet time, resting, walking or socialising. Young people also had their own time and space for socialising. As the weather was good, we also had a family campfire in the evening to bring together families for informal conversations around the fire.

I co-facilitated a creative writing session for families on Making Life Story Books. The aims of the workshop were: To explore on a personal/family level through a series of creative aids and prompts, the stories that shape who we are; To support the development of joint family reflection, (self-exploration, self-awareness and self-esteem); To provide a safe space for families to explore how comfortable they are with talking about HIV. 

The main activity involved families using creative materials to first create a book cover, agree on a title and then take time to write out the chapters that make up their life/family story. We then had a sharing session for those who were comfortable to do so. 

The book titles were absolutely amazing and the story chapters were incredibly powerful. 

During the feedback session, many people said they would set aside time with their families to continue writing, and one of the suggestions was to have a regular virtual Writing Room session so that parents and carers would have scheduled spaces for writing. They also said that hopefully once they completed their writing, it could be turned into a book resource that could be shared with other families to support them on their journeys.

At the end of the weekend, we facilitated a session with all the families where they came up with ideas to go into the creation of a Family Communications Guidebook. They looked at what helps, what hinders and what matters in family communication.

Families really appreciated being at the weekend retreat, even though some who attended for the first time started off feeling anxious as they didn’t know what to expect, they soon settled in and by day two, others were saying that they were not ready to go home yet!

I would like to say another huge thank you to Chiva for once again providing this much needed, much appreciated, much valued space for families.

At the end of the weekend, attendees said: 

“This was our first time connecting with other families with HIV. We found it so enjoyable and as a family we benefited so much from our time here. Thank you so much!”

“I learned so much speaking to other people. I felt free.” 

“[The best thing about the weekend was] meeting and making friends, finding our Chiva family. The laughs, long talks, yoga! The creche…is amazing.”