Temitayo Oyedemi is the Head of Operations at Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA), while Francis Umoh is the Programmes Manager at the non-governmental organisation (NGO) with interest in sexual reproductive health and rights and mitigating gender based-violence.
For two weeks, both of them led a team of support and care givers from five States of the country and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to empower some 50 young adolescents living with HIV with life-saving skills and capacity building mechanisms at its annual Special Camp Programme.
The camp is one of the key activities which holds annually for adolescents living with HIV/AIDS and it is about mentorship and leadership training targeted specifically at adolescents living with HIV.
The 2016 camp programme, third in the series was specially funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and supported by the Lagos State AIDS Agency (LSACA).
Essence of Camping ALHIV
Going by the figures from the UNICEF statistics, 22.3 percent of the population are Adolescents and out of this huge population, only 2 percent are accessing and adhering to HIV treatment.
Speaking with Healthstyleplus at the Camp, Temitayo noted that period spent in camping the young adults living with HIV/AIDS, “was very interesting for the fact that almost all the children were leaving their homes for the every first time”.
According to her, “These are children who have never been away from their homes, never had any opportunities to go on holidays because of their HIV status. Some, their parents are a bit scared to allow them go on holidays because they are not sure they will take their medication, be taken care of and stuffs like that.
This camp for most of them is the first opportunity to come together with other adolescents who are also living with HIV/AIDS from across other states. Here they could communicate and interact, ask questions around themselves especially on their medication wanting to know how others are coping
Then, the camp is such that it is not just for adolescents, we also have some other adults who are living positively with the virus and they also speak with the children, share their experiences on how they have coped so far. I as a person, I have livid with the virus for 16years and I was able to talk with them that they can actually have normal lives, achieve their dreams and even have children because I just did.
The camp affords the children opportunity to see adults who are living with HIV also living normal lives and can equally emulate them”.
The whole idea of the camp explained Francis “is to raise young advocates and leaders who can champion and speak on health issues on behalf of their colleagues. The camp had young persons aged 10-19 from six States of Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Benue, FCT, Kaduna and Lagos and delegates of care givers who are responsible for giving the children support in their different states.
In his words, “The fact that these young ones are living with HIV does not take away the fact of been human beings, does not take away the ability to achieve their potentials and so we learn issues like goal setting, values clarification and how to prevent selves from unwanted pregnancies and re-infection of HIV/AIDS. In fact, life is beyond HIV/AIDS”.
Emotions were Sometimes Let Out:
Relieving some moments in camp, Temitayo and Francis admitted there were a few times emotions were let out by participants in camp.
One of the challenges we experienced in the last two camps we had was the fact that most of the children who came did not know their HIV status. Most of them were on medication but did not know why they were on medication. This is all because of stigma and discrimination; so they were not even told why exactly they were on medication and for how long?
So, when we had a class where we talked about adherence to treatment, some of them actually blurted out they were tired of continuing with the drugs some pointed out that the treatment limits them in doing certain things, and would really love to stop but seeing adults talk to them, share experiences with them, made them feel lighter. We had one or two emotional breakdown but we were able to put them under control and reassure them, it would all be well as they can truly be who they want to be.
Are they adequately Empowered to face Future Challenges?
Yes, these adolescents have been sufficiently empowered in the last two weeks to stand for themselves. You see these adolescents I see today, are very much different from those who came in on August 23 when they were unsure of why they were being invited to camp. They were asking what are we here to learn? But today, we see young people who are bold to say, when I get back home I’m going to talk to my parents, my friends and support groups about what I have learnt. They are ready to go back. The same also can be said of their care-givers who accompanied them, and have been able to develop follow-activities for them so that everything they have learnt, they can equally help transfer to others who are unable to come.
At the first camp we had about forty adolescents last year it was the same but this year, we had fifty adolescents.
From the first camp, we were able to gather from some of the adolescents that they would love to go to school but had no support. PATA from that camp was able to help get support for two of the children to Tertiary Institutions. Some are in Secondary Schools no one is in Primary School, because we identified only adolescents from ages 10 to 19. We run a Home called Mary Support Home, it’s a project named after the first HIV adolescent, a 13 yr old in 1986.
The curriculum is drawn and separated by content, topics and age differentials as all do not have same needs at the same pace. The classes are as practical as possible but age specifics with appropriate illustrations and language.
But when it comes to issues as goal setting, career, all come together. So, the Caregivers are all empowered to know what to look out for when they go back and follow up on their wards and clients.
Speaking on the success of the camp, Francis pointed out, “The camp was a whole lot of activities, there was sessions for aerobics, educational sessions on sexual reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, vocational training programmes as well as sight visits to places of interest-Badagry Beach and then, a meeting with Policy makers in Lagos State.
The camp rules though flexible was firm as discipline must be maintained at all times. People called one another by first names and everyone was free with one another.
We had 50 young adults from six states representing North, North Central, South West, South-South and South East coming together to share experiences within same age bracket; this is significant in promoting team bonding and spirit.
It goes a long way to strengthening team bonding and unity. It is unity in diversity. Secondly, we are increasing their knowledge on issues of advocacy, sexual and reproductive health as well as knowledge on HIV/AIDS so as to promote access and adherence to treatment.
We are also encouraging them to see life as having values in terms of achieving career dreams
The visit to the Badagry beach was a beautiful experience to many who were having their first beach experience in life. Seeing and connecting with nature made some to really appreciate the value of life and worth the living for.
Participation in the camp is just once per participant as there are a large number of adolescents living with HIV and there is need to have it go round as much as possible.
The advocates are trained in English language but at the states, there is a follow up as step down to encourage the participants to train others in their local dialects