I spent Sunday – Thursday working every day at Camp Hope. Camp Hope is a camp for HIV+ kids with adherence as well as other social problems. It hurt, at first, seeing all those kids and how horribly malnourished they looked. It’s not just the fact that their families have difficulty affording the food, but also the ARVs (anti-retrovirals) often make the kids nauseous and diminishes their already small appetites. Other times kids will get sores in their mouths and be in too much pain to eat. There was one kid with that situation. He hardly ate all weekend even though the doctor got him some teething cream to rub on it with hopes of numbing the spot.
We almost lost one child on the first day. I mean that in the literal sense not in the “he almost died” sense. His mother had instructed his sister to take him to camp. She had apparently decided not to and this poor ten year old decided he’d get to camp by himself. He got lost without a phone. I have no idea how the mother found out he was lost, but she called us. Some of the counselors had to take a car down to the area where the kid might have been and go searching. Now understand that no one knew what he looked like and all we knew about him was his name. I can only imagine that they were driving down yelling out the kid’s name and hoping someone would respond. Luckily they did manage to find him. When he got to camp, he was immediately taken to the cafeteria for food before the cafeteria ladies finished cleaning up. While he was gone, the doctor and I looked through his bag for his meds. She made a comment that struck me….that this little bag (a child’s rollaway bag) probably held all the clothing he owned. There was no soap, no toiletries, and one toothbrush buried at the very bottom of the bag. Luckily we did have extra soap and whatnot in case something like this happened.
I worked with an older woman named Marietta as an Arts and Crafts instructor. It was simple work really. The kids were given blank dolls to decorate in whatever way they wished. I spent most of my time cutting out dresses and other garments for the dolls. I’ve gotta say, some of the decorations were pretty creative! ::grins sheepishly:: I couldn’t resist the urge and made one myself with the help of several of the campers. I also taught them how to make bracelets out of string and would often sit and draw pictures with them.
My birthday was on Tuesday. I had planned all sorts of things (cheetah petting, oodi weavers, etc.) but when the day came, things that had happened in South Carolina weighed a bit too heavily and I didn’t feel much like celebrating anymore. Friends and murder suicides will do that to you.
I ended up getting called in to do work on a paper for UNICEF/UB before heading over to Camp Hope to teach a class. I had teased one of my co-workers, Chris, about not wishing me a happy birthday. What I didn’t expect was that when I arrived at Camp Hope, he had gathered all the kids there to sing happy birthday to me. Someone (one of the teen leaders I think) yelled that they should all give me a hug. I suddenly had 50 kids surrounding me in a giant group hug, all still singing happy birthday. I almost cried. It was probably the sweetest birthday present I have ever received.
It was amazing to see the kids go from shy and hesitant the first day to loud and exuberant the last. I do wish now that I had taken a bigger role in what was going on, but I’m happy to have done what little I did.