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The following post is courtesy of Molly Waite, a Peace Corps Volunteer and Molepolole Teen Club Volunteer:
A Memorable Overnight
An hour late, the last teen member of our club casually sauntered into our meeting place, where the rest of our Teen Club members had been waiting in a van to depart for our memorable overnight at Mokolodi Nature Reserve. It was the first such trip for our recently established Teen Club. By ten o’clock our group of about 30 arrived at the private game reserve where we were to be treated to a weekend away from our village so we could appreciate nature as well as get to know ourselves and each other better.
Despite on and off rain during our visit, we did manage a game drive. We were all excited to see some elephants, a big old giraffe, warthogs, cheetahs, impalas, as well as many birds. While looking through binoculars and taking photos, some for the first time, our teens aged 13-19 enjoyed themselves and listened attentively to all the guides’ explanations. We also learned teambuilding and map reading by being dropped off in the middle of the park with a map and having to figure out how to return to the educational center on foot. This meant using our brains and our feet, but we all did it! Some arrived earlier and others arrived later, but all were exhausted back at the education center.
In the evening we sat around a traditional fire telling stories, playing games, singing and laughing for hours. Afterwards, our teens spent a long time unburdening themselves by sharing with each other their feelings about how and when they learned they were HIV positive. The next day, after a nature walk in a drizzling rain and some games, the teens wrote poetry, drew pictures and wrote short stories about their experiences as members of this special Teen Club and how they felt about sharing their HIV status. All in all, our teens were just like any others, with lots of laughter, running around and making new friends, except that they were all HIV positive and experiencing what it was like to learn new life skills and share their testimonies with others for the first time.
During our short time in Mokolodi we also announced our new male and female Teen Leaders for the club. The new leaders had an opportunity to learn from older experienced leaders from the Gaborone Teen Club throughout the two days at camp. These skills and experiences are extremely important in an environment where there are few opportunities for teens to be leaders and take control of their lives. Teen Club is truly a wonderful organization sprouting roots in different parts of Africa, developing leadership amongst its teen members and preparing for an influx of many more HIV positive adolescents resulting from a pediatric HIV population that is now thriving on ARVs.
All in all, our teens and adult volunteers were extremely grateful to have had the unique opportunity to camp in such a beautiful nature reserve. We all had an unforgettable experience.
Here are some reflections from a few teens as well as a nurse volunteer who participated in the camp:
Girl, 15yrs, Form 3:
“I am a girl of 15 years. I am doing Form 3 and I am HIV positive. I found out my status after contracting a serious disease which caused me to be hospitalized. At this time I was doing standard 5 in 2005.
My aunt is the one who told me about my status. She comforted me by saying that I am not the only person who is positive but I did not believe her. In 2006 I joined Teen Club. I started to make new friends and began to discover that I was not alone. I started attending every last weekend of the month and we grew into a large group. And last night I shared with others about my story and I also encouraged them to take their medications.
I am proud that we have shared our problems together. We tried to talk to each other freely, sharing our problems and helping each other figure out how to solve them. I would like to say, “Thank you Teen Club, you made me responsible and confident! Teen Club Rocks! Thank you very much!”
Girl, 14yrs, Form 1:
“I am very happy for this day because the camp was so interesting and fun! I got to realise that us people living with HIV shouldn’t give up in life and that we should be strong and live happily. We were able to talk openly and freely about what has been bothering us in life, taking out what has been in our hearts.”
Girl, 14yrs, Form 2:
“I’m happy for myself for being able to accept my status. At first, when I started taking the medications, I thought I was the only one and that made me feel sad and I began to isolate myself from my friends. Then I started to go to Teen Club where I began to feel happier as I realized I’m not the only one.”
Girls, 16yrs, Form 2:
“I have learned many things at Mokolodi and have done things I didn’t know how to do before. I was very much in denial about things before the camp, but after we talked about life I realised that there was nothing to be worried about. Worrying is no longer a problem for me, starting from today.”
Boy, 14yrs, Form 1:
“I am proud of the way I am treated at home. I am a boy of 14 years old. I am also proud that I know my status because others do not know their status. I am happy and I am proud about how I live. Life is just good and I am living like any other person and there is no difference between their lives and mine. I love my life a trillion times! Teen Club is trying its level best. TEEN CLUB YA CHESA! It rocks! Thank you guys!”
Boy, 17yrs, Form 5:
Teen Club: A Poem
What a place to be
To meet friends
To have fun
A place where smiles are seen
Where issues are solved
Exciting games played
Teens feel free
Feel safe and loved
A place where tomorrow’s leaders are born
Nurse, Scottish Livingstone Hospital:
“As an adult volunteer, I have learned a lot from Molepolole Teen Club. All these years I have been working with HIV-positive adults and only dealt with children through their parents or caregivers. However, in Teen Club that is not the case!! Here, kids are the ones owning everything – we get to know their needs which we have not been paying attention to as healthcare workers.
For example, we pay too little attention to the experiences, reactions and emotions of these children as they grow up and also when they learn about their HIV-positive diagnosis. We never know their everyday challenges with HIV stigma, antiretroviral therapy, and development into adolescence and young adulthood.
I have learned that, in Teen Club, kids are able to share their experiences with each other and, in the process, encourage each other. They get to learn about how one can improve their adherence to ARVs and how to develop leadership and, most importantly, life skills. And this is done by the kids teaching each other!
Certainly, Teen Club will continue to improve these kids’ lives and help them to live positively.”
Thanks to everyone who helped make this camp a success!