The past 10 days have been some of the best in my Peace Corps service. I participated in a 7 day leadership camp for 60 Ukrainian children with HIV/AIDs. These children came from all over the county with the hope of being surrounded in a unique environment…a Ukrainian environment devoid of sigma and discrimination for their positive status.
Unbelievably, this type of camp is unique in Ukraine. It not only provides an opportunity for these kids to be surrounded by love, but they are also surrounded by their peers who struggle with the same difficulties in life. In addition, the camp curriculum provides daily group sessions with a youth physiologist and specialist doctor. This structure seems simple and obvious, but the effect it had on the mentality of these kids was anything but simple and obvious.
The camp staff consisted of about 10 American Peace Corps volunteers and 10 Ukrainian volunteers. As an international pair, each of us were responsible for the daily schedule of about 5-10 kids. In addition, each region of Ukraine that had kids attend the camp also had a social worker stay with them throughout the seven days. They were responsible for making sure the kids took their medicine everyday, exactly at their scheduled times as well as participate in trainings of their own that the camp administration organized.
I cannot post photos of the kids or our activities in order to keep their identities private, but I can assure you they were some of the cutest I’ve seen. Of course they ran wild, got in trouble and did silly things, but these kids were also some of the most grateful and well behaved I have met in Ukraine. They humbled me and I fell in love with each of them. My only disappointment was that none of them lived in my Oblast so I couldn’t keep a close relationship after the camp ended.
Camp OHALOW is now in its fourth year. Without the support of PEPFAR, donations of PCVs’ friends and families and the countless hours of planning by PCVs, Ukrainian social workers and the AUNPLWN, this amazing opportunity would not exist. It makes me so proud to be a PCV, inspired to work in Ukraine and yet sad that such a camp must exist. However, I have found a cause I will support for the rest of my life. I urge you to be aware of it as well.
HIV prevalence by regions in Ukraine (per 100,000 population)
Reported New Cases of HIV in Ukraine, 1987-2012