Unlocking potential at camp 2023

This August, our educational and activity-packed summer camp for 11-17-year-olds living with HIV ran for the 14th time. The camp supports young people with information, confidence, a safe space to talk, and, most importantly, introduces them to peers who also live with HIV. Many have made life-changing friendships here.

And 2023 was no different. 79 young people attended, with older volunteers in supportive roles, many of whom also live with HIV.

What do you want to unlock?

The theme of this year’s camp was ‘unlock yourself’ – how to face your fears and challenge the ways you could be holding yourself back.

Camp participants were asked to write down these fears as they arrived, on a paper cut-out of a padlock.
  • “Being confident about speaking about HIV,” wrote one.
  • “Opening up,” wrote another.
  • “Expressing myself and my feelings to people,” shared a third.

Many others wrote down similar fears around confidence, being open, and talking about HIV.

Facing fears and unlocking potential

So how did we encourage attendees to begin to unlock themselves? Many exercises and activities across the week were designed to help try and boost confidence and support them to start to have conversations about their HIV, if they choose to.

Outwards bounds activities, including canoeing and rock climbing, encouraged the young people to work together and face their fears in the physical world, even braving heavy rain on some days.

Some young people were praised for how they handled this, and nominated to receive points for their houses. One was nominated for: “Overcoming his fear of climbing (and dogs) to climb up both cliffs – and being hilarious whilst doing it.”

In workshops, they were asked to think about their motivations, their aspirations and ambitions. In a poetry workshop, they were asked to write about what they would want to say to their future selves.

In other sessions, they thought specifically about how to have conversations about HIV with others: friends, romantic partners. They shared tactics and how to cope if the conversations didn’t go well.

An uplifting performance

And in music, they wrote a song all about unlocking yourself.

“With confidence, and so much grace,
No matter the battles you face,
You can climb every mountain,
No matter how high.
You are the reason, the reason – to unlock yourself
Unlock yourself, unlock yourself
You are the reason.”

Some of the song’s lyrics, led by facilitator Clinton.

Not only did they write the song, but they performed it in front of everyone on the last evening. Some of the poets also joined in to share their pieces on top of the piano chords, in what became a very moving, inspiring ensemble.

And as part of that final performance too, a group of girls got up to share their dance moves, any confidence issues clearly forgotten.

Closing ceremony

During the final group meeting we encouraged participants to come to the front of the room to share what they had managed to unlock in themselves across the week.

These were also all written on paper cut-outs of keys, and the young people placed these on a string, alongside the padlocks from the beginning of the week.

Gaining confidence and the ability to be their true selves were the most common responses:

  • “I felt comfortable for the first time in myself, and I feel good about myself.”
  • “How to love myself.”
  • “To actually be myself and not pretend to be someone I’m not.”
  • “Getting out of my comfort zone.”

We love to see this transformation over the week, and that so many got up to read aloud and share during the performance.

We hope these young people are able to carry this confidence forward into the rest of their lives, and will continue to build it at camp and other Chiva activities.