ARIEL CAMP: “Building Hope for HIV/AIDS infected children”

The Elizabeth Glaser Foundation for the fight against pediatric AIDS was born from the most powerful force of all: the love of a mother for her children. Elizabeth Glaser contracted the AIDS virus after a blood transfusion in 1981 during the birth of her daughter, Ariel. She and her husband, Paul, learned later that Elizabeth had unknowingly passed the virus to Ariel through breast milk and their son, Jake, had contracted the virus in the uterus.

The Elizabeth Glaser Foundation for the fight against pediatric AIDS was born from the most powerful force of all: the love of a mother for her children. Elizabeth Glaser contracted the AIDS virus after a blood transfusion in 1981 during the birth of her daughter, Ariel.

She and her husband, Paul, learned later that Elizabeth had unknowingly passed the virus to Ariel through breast milk and their son, Jake, had contracted the virus in the uterus.
Then they tried to treat Ariel Glaser and discovered that the drug companies and health organizations were unaware that HIV and AIDS were prevalent among children.

The only drugs were marketed to adults - they had been neither tested nor approved for children. This meant that there was no medical treatment for the infection that was irreversibly destroying the life of Ariel.

Thus Ariel had to slowly die of AIDS and though she was in critical condition, she was optimistic and hopeful. When her Mum asked her to draw something, she drew a beautiful flower and sent it to all children all over the world.

Ariel lost her battle against AIDS in 1988. . Since then her Mum Elizabeth Glazer stood up and started to advocate for children living with HIV and AIDS.

That is how Elizabeth Glaser foundation was born and now thousands and thousands of children in the world are able to access antiretroviral drugs for free.

The battle is still hard but at least now mothers can protect their babies during pregnancies, birth and beast feeding as a result of innovative researches aiming at saving the children’s lives from AIDS.

But researches have gone farther, where now a child born with HIV can live a normal life while taking antiretroviral drugs at a very early age. The EGPAF is still working around the world to save more children and adolescents and operates in Rwanda since 2006.

As a part of their programs EGPAF Rwanda organized a camp held in the Northern Province in Ruhondo district in December 2009, gathering children and adolescents living with HIV as well as their social workers .The camp was organized in memory of Ariel who represents thousands and thousands of children who died of AIDS.

It aimed at building hope of living positively with HIV and AIDS while motivating the infected to keep on taking their antiretroviral drugs.

The main activities at the camp were entertainment (sports game drawing, singing), lectures and counseling .At their arrival they were warmly welcomed by sisters of Foyer de Charite who gave them orientation after they organized themselves into 4 villages: IREBERO village, IBAKWE village, INTARE village and INTORE village and elected leaders.

The youngest child was 7 and the oldest adolescent was 26!!! All these Rwandan children were born with HIV .The oldest adolescent living with HIV shared her experience as a child born with HIV.

Many children were comforted by her message. “You are lucky to have people around you to remind you to take your medicines, people who care a lot about so that they organize a camp like this.

At my time there was no medicine, my Daddy was just waiting for my death, there was too much stigma and discrimination aimed at people living with HIV and AIDS and I was not even allowed to play with other children. “

They were very happy to meet with other children and adolescents because they used to think that they were the only ones living with HIV and AIDS. Among the entertainment activities, they had invented a radio that was giving daily news of the camp as well as of its surrounding. The news was delivered in a funny way to make everyone laugh.

There were children who regained their smiles from the camp. Though it was just 5 days, it was very interesting for the children and adolescents.

On the 3rd day they went outside to visit other places of the Northern Province; they went to Gisenyi and visited different parts of Gisenyi town including BRALIRWA. Adolescents aged from 15-18, got a warm welcome from BRALIRWA staff who gave them soft drinks and very little beer and afterwards they shared lunch under the trees at lake KIVU beach.

On the 4t h and last day, the children elected Miss Camp in an informal way because the elected miss was the oldest adolescent and was somehow too fat! In her interview with the children pretending to be journalist she said “I am very happy to be elected Miss Ruhondo!!!

I am very much excited though I was hopeful and confident that I will be elected!!!

The so called photographer asked her what she is planning to do for the children who were in Ariel Camp and she said “As the oldest child born with HIV, I know how it feels; I understand very well each struggle you have to go through living with HIV and AIDS.

That is why am going to use my crown to advocate for you and I do promise that I will make sure every child living with HIV gets the ARV drugs, is educated and lives a normal life. I will encourage children to take properly their antiretroviral drugs and make sure every child has something to eat before taking the medicines.”

The camp objectives were attained as children have understood that they can live longer, that they are useful to the nation and convey a great hope though they live with HIV and AIDS.

They returned home promising their counselors and caregivers that they will be taking their medicines.

In conclusion, such camps are very important to children and adolescents as they help them to become optimists in life by being hopeful.

Contact: gasamagera.claire@gmail.com

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