China

Summer camp serves AIDS-affected children and fights stigma in China

UNICEF Image: China AIDS summer camp
© UNICEF China/2006/Li Mingfang
UNICEF’s Representative in China, Dr. Christian Voumard, greets a boy attending the summer camp for children affected by AIDS.

By Wen Zhang

BEIJING, China, 23 August 2006 – Seventy children from eight Chinese provinces gathered recently at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to celebrate the annual opening ceremony of ‘Growing Up Together Under the Sunshine’, a summer camp programme for children affected by AIDS.

All of the children who attend the programme either have parents living with HIV and AIDS or have lost their parents to the disease.

The UNICEF-supported summer camp, now in its third year, aims to educate the public about the impact of AIDS on Chinese children as well as reduce stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.

This year, the camp will attempt to further address the children’s needs by asking their host families to pledge long-term social and psychosocial support – and by asking the private sector for financial assistance to meet their health and education needs.

A strong support system

“It seemed as if the sky collapsed when my parents got sick and eventually died of AIDS,” said Fen (not her real name), a 14-year-old girl from Guizhou province.

“We lived in pain and despair – no one spoke with us because they thought HIV can be transmitted by the air,” she continued. “We could not get water from the well as they thought we would contaminate the water. And my sister had to quit school at the age of 14 in order to feed my little brother and myself.”

UNICEF Image: China AIDS summer camp
© UNICEF China/2006/Li Mingfang
A girl orphaned by AIDS speaks at the opening ceremony of the summer camp in China.

But Fen went on to describe how government officials and people from all walks of life provided her with financial support, educated the community about AIDS and gave her a new life – in part through the summer camp programme.

“It is their act of love that pulled us out of despair,” she said. “Their support has made us strong when faced with frustrations and challenges in life.”

Children at centre of AIDS response

Twenty years into the pandemic, children like Fen are devastated when their parents develop AIDS. The challenges are numerous: Besides losing loved ones, they often have to do extra housework and care for their sick and dying parents, endure extreme poverty and face the trauma of discrimination.

China’s National Committee for the Care of Children, with support from UNICEF, has been advocating for the rights of these children through special summer camps like Growing Up Together Under the Sunshine.

“UNICEF and its UN and NGO partners believe children and young people need to be front and centre to ensure they don’t miss out on education, vital HIV/AIDS drugs, HIV information and a chance for a future,” said UNICEF’s Representative in China, Dr. Christian Voumard, who is also Chair of the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS in China.

“Children and young people should be at the centre of the AIDS response,” Dr. Voumard asserted.


 

 

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