What comes to mind when you think about camp? Fun and games is a common response. But camp is so much more than that. Camp is the perfect place for kids to build critical life skills that will stick with them long after the session ends. These skills are especially crucial for children living with a serious illness who have been marginalized by their condition.
Through SeriousFun’s Partner Programs in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, children living with HIV and cancer participate in unique camp experiences where they can reclaim their childhood and build skills for their future. Here are a few of the ways camp activities are designed intentionally for fun AND impact!
1. Building Resilience
Personal growth, self-confidence and independence—we know campers often develop all three at SeriousFun camps thanks to our brainy friends at the Yale University Child Study Center. And it’s no surprise! Camp encourages campers to take ownership of their behavior and choices.
When kids learn to overcome challenges, they make tremendous progress toward being strong, successful adults. One of the best ways to nourish this skill is by stepping out of comfort zones and trying new things. At camp, the opportunities to do this are endless: Camp involves new faces, new activities, and new environments.
“HIV Talk Show” is a popular activity at SeriousFun Partner Programs in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. During this activity, a panel of older, returning campers—talk show guests—are interviewed by an Activity Leader—the talk show host. Campers are asked questions like:
- “Do you have any advise for coping with living with HIV?”
- “How has camp helped you to overcome your challenges?”
In this way, these older campers demonstrate the resilience they’ve developed through camp, and inspire others to envision hopeful futures for themselves, too.
2. Breaking Down Stigma
At Sivivane Camp in Eswatini, campers learn about HIV—unpacking and reducing the stigma associated with the disease through a team building activity. Campers are blindfolded and guided by their teammates through an obstacle course of various objects. In their hands they hold a cup of water with a fact about HIV written on the cup. For example, “By taking my meds on time every day, I can live a healthy life.” Their goal—with the support of their team—is to reach the center of the obstacles, where there is a bucket of cloudy water.
Once their teammates guide them to the center, they pour their cup of water (representing facts) into the bucket. The result? As more “facts” are poured in, the cloudy water becomes less murky! The key message is this: by learning the facts about HIV, the truth becomes clearer for all and reduces the myths and stigma. Together, campers realize their collective power in sharing facts and reducing discrimination, all while working and cheering as a team.
All SeriousFun Partner Programs take this focus one step further. Campers living with HIV engage in a celebratory routine each morning and evening—learning how to prepare their medications into pill boxes and take them consistently. The camp doctor or nurse encourages a lively group cheer once all medications are taken. This routine encourages adherence to life-saving medication: There was a 58% improvement in campers taking their medication after attending a SeriousFun camp in Ethiopia, India, and Vietnam*.
*As measured four months after camp in Ethiopia, two months after camp in India, and three months after camp in Vietnam in the Global Partnership Programs Camp Outcomes Evaluation in 2013.
3. Practicing Healthy Living
At camp, physical activity and healthy eating are well "disguised" in the form of fun, too. At Camp Hope in Botswana, campers are out of bed by 6:30am for a “Wake Up Warm Up” activity. The ten minute group session is led by a camp counselor and involves gentle stretching and light exercise to get campers’ minds and bodies ready for the full day ahead.
At Camp Hope Malawi, nutrition is at the core of the camp schedule. In the dining hall, campers are served balanced meals that have been approved by a nutritionist. During one life skills activity, campers learn about the relationship between HIV and nutrition. Along with adhering to their medication, eating healthfully can help campers to better manage their illness.
Cooking is also a common camp activity, where campers learn how to prepare favorites in the local cuisine. Designed to be fun and playful, cooking as a group functions as a team builder, skill builder, and confidence builder for campers young and old.