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July 31, 2013

Guest Post: Local HIV+ teen works to end stigma

This week, our friends at Jameson Camp are joining us for a very special guest post about a local HIV+ teen who's making serious waves with her positive attitude and big heart. 18-year-old Paige Rawl is a supporter of Jameson Camp's Tataya Mato program, a week-long camp for HIV+ kids, and speaks to groups all around the city about her experiences with HIV. Read on and be inspired by Paige's story, as told by Taylor Brown.


Recall what life was like in middle school. For most people, the hardest times might include occasionally being left out or perhaps receiving a bad grade on a project. Now imagine what life would be like in middle school if you were HIV+. Imagine what it would be like if everyone knew. Imagine being relentlessly bullied.

For Paige Rawl, this was no hypothetical situation.

Paige, now 18 years old, grew up in Indianapolis and was born HIV+. Her mother contracted the disease from her father, and it was passed down to Paige. However, she didn’t know that she had the disease until she was 12 years old.

It was around this time that Paige decided to open up to a friend. “I told my best friend in sixth grade that I was HIV+,” said Paige. “She told her older sister, and it spread throughout the entire school.”

That’s when everything started to fall apart. Paige was nicknamed “PAIDS” and was harassed by children and adults alike. Eventually it became too much, and she decided to switch to homeschooling. “I went through a lot of bullying because of the stigma associated with being HIV+,” she said.

While she was being homeschooled, Paige decided it was time to take a stand and educate others on the disease in hopes of helping other children cope. “Now I do a lot of public speaking, advocacy, and education programs to raise awareness,” said Paige.

Though the stigma still exists, the number of programs that address the issue of HIV/AIDS is growing. The Indianapolis based nonprofit The Damien Center works to empower those affected by HIV/AIDS and to prevent the spread of HIV. Jameson Camp, a nonprofit organization on the west side of Indianapolis, has a week-long camp for children impacted by the disease. The Tataya Mato program is the only week-long camp in the state of Indiana for children dealing with HIV.

Last summer, Paige shared her story with the Tataya Mato campers. “Growing up, I didn’t know a lot of people who were HIV+ and dealing with the same issues as me,” said Paige. “A program like Tataya Mato gives children the opportunity to meet others like them. It makes them feel like they aren’t alone.”

Paige is currently a finalist in Seventeen Magazine’s “Pretty Amazing” competition, a contest in which participants submitted essays highlighting their accomplishments. According to Paige, 30,000 girls entered and only five were named finalists. The winner of the contest receives a $10,000 scholarship and will appear on the cover of the October issue of Seventeen. The winner will be announced in September.

Paige plans to attend Ball State University in the fall, and she also plans to continue her work educating others and raising awareness about HIV/AIDS. “Just because you are HIV+ doesn’t mean you should be held back,” she said. “It doesn’t define who you are.”