Written by Michael Erikson*
For pretty much all my life I wondered why I had so many different doctors. Iím not sure how many doctors I had, but I remember when I was younger I went to San Francisco for doctor visits twice a year. When I was 13 years old, it was at one of these visits that I found out I have HIV. They told me that when I was born, my mother, who also has the virus, passed it on to me.
When I first found out that I had the virus, I didnít know what it meant. I donít think Iíd ever even heard of HIV or AIDS before that day, so because of this I wasnít really scared when I found out about it. I didnít know what to say when they told me I had it, but I could tell it wasnít a good thing to have because of the expressions on everyoneís faces and their tone when they told me about it. When they asked me if I had any questions, there was only one question I could think of: Was I going to die?
When they told me about it everything made sense. It made clear why my mom and I had to take special medication. After they told me the news, they told me about a summer camp for kids like me called Camp Kindle. It made clear why they always had a red ribbon at this camp.
Camp Kindle is a camp for children who are infected with or affected with HIV or AIDS. The camp was started by Eva Payne in August 1998. She started the camp when she realized that there were no camps for children whose lives were affected by HIV or AIDS. She wanted to start a summer camp for these children so they could feel like they were not alone and that there are people out there who love and support them. The campís first session was in July 1999 and it was held in Hordville, Nebraska and served 50 campers. Between then and now, Camp Kindle has served more than 1,500 campers.
Camp Kindle means a lot to the children who get to go. Kassidy, my friend and fellow camper, says that the camp lets children with HIV express themselves. ďSome of them donít get to do that often at school, or at home, or at church, because of influences and stigma,Ē she said. Kassidy went to camp with me and has gotten to know people who have been victims of the stereotypes that come along with the virus.
ďCamp Kindle is about spreading education, because a lot of people are uneducated about the disease of HIV and AIDS,Ē says Rockpile, a counselor at the camp. To me, the camp is about many things, but this is one of the main things itís about.
ďUsually when kids go there for the first time, they arenít too happy to be there,Ē said Rockpile, whose real name is Russell Boring. Rockpile was my counselor at the camp. I have to admit that I wasnít very excited to go there my first year. I was going to a place with a bunch of people I had never met before and before I went to camp, I had never really spent a whole entire day without my parents, which scared me a little bit. On my first day, about three summers ago, I was surprised because the campsite wasnít really the way Iíd pictured it in my mind. At the front of the campsite there was a huge cafeteria where we ate, held our camp activities, and had our big end-of-the-week showcase where we showed everybody what we had been doing and the projects we were working on.
When my friend and I were talking about camp, I thought about all the good times I had there. I wish I could go this year too, but thereís a camp rule that once you graduate from your cabin, you have to spend a year away from camp so you can mature and come back the following year as a CIT (counselor in training). I imagined everything I would do up there if I went this year and all the new people I would get to know.
Camp Kindle is important to me because the children who go there always leave with more than they came with. I donít mean material items, although you do leave with some pretty cool things. Rockpile said that the camp helps HIV positive children understand the virus. ďA lot of [the campers] say I know I have it, but I donít understand what it actually means to me,Ē he said. He was right. Before camp, I knew I had it, but I didnít know what it meant. At camp I learned more about what I have and how to manage it.
Photo from New America Media
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