Katja Heinemann  /  Aurora Photos
Lesley, age 12

Excerpted from "A Journey of Hope: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Unconditional Love" by Neil Willenson and the children of Camp Heartland, a community of support for young people affected by HIV.

I'll tell you a story.  When I was in the second grade, there was a boy named Brian in my class and there was girl named Kailey in my class, and Kailey was told by her mother that she wasn't allowed to hold my hand because I had the disease.  We were going outside to play Duck-Duck-Goose one day for free time, and I wanted to be her friend 'cause she was new. I told her that I had HIV, and she told her mom that night when we went home from school.

"I don't want you hanging around that girl," her mom told her. " I don't want you holding hands or touching that girl."

And then the next day, when we played Duck-Duck-Goose, whenever I went to hold Kailey's hand to make the circle, she said, "Oh, I don't wanna touch your hand. My mom told me I can't."

And that's where one story ends. And then there's another story.  The boy Brian that was also in my class, his parents were doctors, or his dad was a doctor and his mom was a nurse. And what happened was, his father and his mom told Brian that HIV people and people who have full-blown AIDS, they can only live until they're 12. And so he told me that the next morning when we were walking out to PE. And I went home and I didn't know whether that was true or not, because I didn't really know about HIV and AIDS...When I was in 3rd grade, I started understanding more about HIV and AIDS, and my mom just kept on talking to me so I would understand. And so I told my mom, and she said, " Oh, well, you know people who have HIV and AIDS, they're 18 now, they're 21, they're older than 12." I still go by what she says...

I was really little and I just came out of the hospital. I was probably 7 or 8. I had an IV in my arm because they had to give me more medicine. I had been in the hospital two months and I was doing all right, and so they sent me home 'cause I was getting tired of the hospital. And then when I came home we were going to church that morning, and the pastor found out I had an IV. And there was an Easter Sunday, and I really felt, I felt like I was left out. 'Cause I wanted to spend time, 'cause I had a really, really, really best friend at the church, and I haven't seen her since. I remember her name was Anna. Yeah, I remember that...

Click here to learn more about Camp Heartland.Click here to see more of Katya Heinemann's photography.

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