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July 29, 2011

US Aid Groups Organize HIV/AIDS Camps in Africa

In parts of the world where it is summer time and schools are out, many kids go to camps for different activities and fun.  In Africa, there is a growing trend among U.S.-based aid groups to organize HIV/AIDS awareness camps.  These camps also try to empower children affected by the disease.

Children from the Soweto area of South Africa splash around in a swimming pool during a camp organized by the U.S.-based nonprofit Global Camps Africa.

In addition to activities like sports, dancing and arts and crafts, there are also classes for hygiene, nutrition and HIV/AIDS awareness.

In a message posted on the group's website, Mbali Nkwanyana explains the importance and effectiveness of this approach.

"I would not like these kids to have all the wrong information that I got growing up," Nkwanyana said.  "So somehow I feel that it is my responsibility to give these kids knowledge. Knowledge is power. That is the only way that they can have a brighter future is that if they are equipped with knowledge."

The British based group AVERT says most children living with HIV/AIDS, almost nine in 10, live in sub-Saharan Africa. In the 15 to 19 age group in South Africa, the latest figures from 2009 indicate more than 13 percent were infected with HIV.

In Rwanda, where more than 170,000 people are estimated to be living with the disease, the U.S.-based group CHF International is also organizing a series of camps for AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children.

With help from local organizations and Peace Corps volunteers, camp participants get tested for HIV, receive health education and also work on a personal plan for their future.

"A lot of these kids have several strikes against them starting out and so succeeding in school, succeeding in life is that much more challenging given the situation that they are living in within their families and communities," said Anne Smith, CHF country director for Rwanda. "And I think that this really provides them with an opportunity to be with their peers, to be with other classmates who are in a similar situation and really look at, I am capable of and I have the ability to really make something of my life."

She says the life plans and extra schooling also give them the confidence to become leaders when they return to their regular schools.

"We receive comments like my opinion is appreciated," added Smith.  "I am a trusted person. I can support others. I can lead in my school.  I can lead in my community. Really just a lot of examples of kids getting to a point where they feel like they can reach out for something bigger and really set goals for themselves."

The four-day camps in Rwanda begin on August first in more than 20 locations and run until the middle of the month, helping more than 16,000 school age children. At each of the camps, the children draw what they call a tree of hope, with every branch symbolizing each of their goals.