In many low-resource countries around the world, the medical and psychosocial needs of children living with serious illness are often outside of what local services can provide. Often, the medical needs of children are not met, personal and community knowledge about the illness and treatments are lacking, and the children and their families are marginalized due to the stigma of the condition.
As Paul Newman famously remarked, in the early days of starting camp for children living with serious illnesses, “I wanted, I think, to acknowledge luck; the chance of it, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others, made especially savage for children because they may not be allowed the good fortune of a lifetime to correct it.” And based on the opportunities he saw to bring camp to resource-limited areas, this sentiment took on an even more powerful meaning.
A camper in Kenscoff, Haiti at Kan Etwal, which is run in partnership with Worldwide Orphans Foundation.
Delivering Camp Where the Need is Greatest
In 2016, UNAIDS estimated there were 2.1 million children living with HIV globally, with about 160,000 new child infections each year. Although new HIV infections have decreased and life expectancies are improving, opportunistic infections and resistance of HIV to antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications are persistent challenges. For children living with HIV, this means that they must adhere closely to their medication in order to stay healthy. SeriousFun’s Global Partnership Programs aim to provide the educational and social support needed to help children living with serious illnesses, namely HIV, adhere to their treatments and remain healthy long after camp is over.
Working in collaboration with trusted international organizations in 12 countries, the programs offer the same life-changing experience that children who attend a SeriousFun Camp in the U.S., Europe, Japan, or Israel get, but in the form of locally-designed, culturally-applicable programs that excite, inspire and empower children, wherever they live.
Campers playing rock, paper, scissors in Batlagundu, India at Camp Rainbow, which is run in partnership with Reaching the Unreached and Y.R. Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education.
How It Works
To carry out these truly life-changing programs where resources, materials and support are often limited, SeriousFun staff work closely with partner organizations over many months to share and learn. Together they develop camp documents and systems, select suitable rented sites, educate caregivers and potential campers about the program, recruit and train camp staff and volunteers, adapt camp activities to fit the local context, and so much more.
At the onset of a new camp program, SeriousFun collaborates with partner staff, some of whom have never operated or, in some cases, even seen a residential camp before, to create the model for this local camp program. SeriousFun staff offer mentoring and coaching to the partner, encouraging the creation of a coalition of caring adults within the community who are ready and able to implement the camp intervention with increased local ownership. The beauty of this partnership model is that it is not only more sustainable and culturally relevant, but, with the help of dedicated partners, is replicable all around the world.
In a 2013 - 2014 evaluation of the Global Partnership Program sites in Ethiopia, India, and Vietnam, conducted by the San Diego State University School of Graduate Public Health, using data from pre- and post-camp questionnaires, findings showed that:
- 58% of campers self-reported no missed doses of HIV medication 2-6 months after camp
- An increase in their knowledge of HIV
- More positive attitudes about taking HIV medication
- A 43% to 53% increase in social connectedness with peers and adults after camp
Making a Difference
With programs now operating in Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Swaziland, Cambodia, India, Vietnam, and Haiti, SeriousFun partners have provided more than 150,000 life-changing camp experiences for children and their caregivers since the first Global Partnership Program launched in 2008, ten years ago.
Beyond encouraging adherence to medication and providing a dose of fun for the children, these programs encourage the development of peer friendships and positive relationships with adults, strengthen learning and leadership skills, and help build support networks in the communities in which the children and families live. This helps promote the breakdown of stigma, lessening their sense of isolation, and instilling more optimistic attitudes about the future.
So, while camp may sound like a simple solution to a complex problem—and it may very well be—it is also an extremely intentional, outcomes-driven, and culturally-relevant way of offering thousands of children around the world the chance not “just to be kids,” as Paul Newman famously said, but a life-saving chance to become adults.
Campers gathered in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam at Camp Colors of Love, which is run in partnership with Worldwide Orphans Foundation.