Each year, approximately 15 of Moomba’s 40 campers are adoptees or foster kids!
Summer camp, with a twist
Camp Moomba’s motto is “Friends together having fun.” Campers enjoy all the classic activities that make sleep-away camps magical, from rock climbing and sailing to campfires and arts and crafts. They also bond over something unique. The camp is run by YouthCO HIV & Hep C Society, and each Moomba camper either lives with HIV or has a family member who does.
Camp Moomba’s brochure describes “a lifechanging program where youth… get to spend a week together in a community where HIV doesn’t have to be a secret, and kids can be kids.”
Approximately 40 kids attend the camp each summer at a cost of around $1200 per camper. Amazingly, these costs are completely covered by donations, and camp staff volunteer their time. All campers attend for free. Even their transportation to and from camp is covered.
Fast facts on HIV
HIV cannot be passed through saliva, or through casual contact (on the playground, at school, in a family household, etc.). Only five body fluids (breastmilk, blood, rectal fluid, semen and pre-ejaculate, and vaginal fluid ) can pass HIV, and only if they go directly into the bloodstream and have a significant amount of the virus in them.
There is no cure for HIV, but there are medications that treat it. They’re called antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and need to be taken daily. ARVS improve the health of people living with HIV, and dramatically lower the risk of transmitting HIV during sex.
The life expectancy of people with HIV who get proper treatment, including ARVs, is equal to that of people who don’t have HIV. Most people’s viral loads fall to undetectable levels within several months of starting ARV drugs. That means the amount of HIV in their blood is so low that lab tests can’t detect it.
Research over the past five years proves that HIV-positive people with sustained undetectable viral loads cannot pass the virus to their sexual partners. This research is part of a campaign led by people living with HIV, and taken up by YouthCO, called undetectable equals untransmittable
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) two powerful new HIV prevention tools that can be used by HIV-negative people.
PrEP is a daily anti-HIV pill for people who are regularly at risk of HIV exposure. It works by preventing the virus from taking hold in the body. PEP is an anti-HIV drug that’s used to prevent infection after a single incident of potential HIV exposure. It must be taken within 72 hours of the exposure. Learn more about PrEP and PEP at
Stigma and discrimination is still widespread, and can discourage people from getting tested and seeking treatment and support.
HIV+ adoption programs
Several countries have adoption programs specifically for kids with HIV. In BC, Sunrise Adoption Agency (www.sunriseadoption.com)
Education, advocacy, and leadership
I spoke to YouthCO Executive Director Sarah Chown to learn more about what a week at Camp Moomba is like. She explained how HIV education and advocacy are woven into the weekly schedule.
Campers spend time in age-specific groups where they discuss HIV-related issues in a safe space, learn Indigenous teachings about wellness and health from an HIV-positive elder, get educated about sexual well-being, and, for the older campers, practice leadership skills that empower them to become mentors and advocates.
All camp volunteers receive extensive training to prepare them for the intense and complicated issues and discussions that often happen at camp.
Chown says grief and loss often come up. Some campers have lost family members to HIV/AIDS; others struggle with the impacts of racism, stigma, and other traumatic experiences. Volunteer training also includes education on foster care and adoption. Staff use adoption-sensitive language and understand diverse family structures.
Safe (and silly) space for tough topics
One of Chown’s favourite camp memories involves a game called “Move your butt.” The campers sit on chairs in a circle, except for one who stands in the centre and says “Move your butt if ___(something true about themselves)__.” If the statement is true for any other campers, they have to get up and move to a different chair; the last person standing goes to the centre and makes the next “Move your butt” statement.
Chown says the kids usually make silly, light-hearted statements, like “Move your butt if you like potato chips” or “Move your butt if you like to swim.” The memory that stands out for Chown is very young camper who’d been adopted from a country in Africa stood in the circle and said, loudly and proudly, “Move your butt if you have brown skin like me!”
“I think that really speaks to the success of the safe, positive space we strive to create at camp,” says Chown. So does the return rate: 96% of campers come back year after year after year.
“When people see the word HIV, they assume [camp] is not fun,” says Chown. Campers may delve into serious issues, but they take having fun even more seriously. ”We have dance parties, we do wishing stars at the campfire, there’s a thing with Oreo cookies—you’d have to come to camp to understand!”