Wednesday, June 22, 2016

LoveYourself's Circle of Love 2016: Solidarity in Diversity, and Gratitude For The Past 5 Years

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
-  Lao Tzu

The famous pundit’s words have always rung true for people who strove for growth and greater heights. For LoveYourself, these words resonate just as well as the organization reaches a significant milestone. LoveYourself celebrates its 5th anniversary by holding its annual “Circle of Love” festivities, with this year’s event focusing on themes of solidarity in diversity and gratitude as its reaches its 5th year milestone. Circle of Love 2016 will be held on July 2.

From a Few Steps to Reaching Out Further

The non-profit organization started out with a team of six counselors, then known as VINN Advocacy, named after its founder, Vinn Pagtakhan. “I remember the day when we held our first mass testing activity, and we weren’t even allowed by doctors from the Health Department to counsel by ourselves. They said we weren’t ready [despite the fact that we were more than prepared for it]”, shares the founder of the organization now with almost 700 volunteers.

LoveYourself has embarked on education and awareness campaigns, and mass testing activities. It opened its first clinic in collaboration with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), The LoveYourself Hub in Malate, Manila in 2011. By 2014, LoveYourself expanded its reach when it opened the LoveYourself Anglo along Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City. Earlier this year, LoveYourself has opened a bright and youthful facility called the LoveYourself Uni near the Taft-Gil Puyat junction to replace The LoveYourself Hub.

Onto its fifth year, the organization has entered a new phase by expanding its core services from HIV awareness and testing to include life coaching programs for PLHIVs (People Living with HIV). The group has striven to continually improve its services, implementing the “inaasikaso at inalagaan” brand of service this year to all of its clients.  With more clinics it plans to open, along with its innovative campaigns, LoveYourself has been making HIV testing more accessible not only to the general population, but to sectors that are most at risk. Based on HARP (HIV/AIDS and ART Registery of the Philippines) data maintained by the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Bureau, LoveYourself is now a major contributor to national HIV statistics as its testing services capture key sectors in the population.

The Circle of Love

Looking back at the five-year journey LoveYourself has treaded, the fifth Circle of Love commemorates all of the organization’s milestones by recognizing key and outstanding volunteers who have selflessly dedicated themselves to the cause and improvement of the organization. Afterwards, the first ever Miss LoveYourself pageant will be held, with representatives from various batches of LoveYourself volunteers competing for the crown. In contrast to previously held pageants, this year’s event will focus on HIV awareness platforms as a main criterion for judging the contestants.

LoveYourself has grown from a group of friends working for a cause to a more formidable force of almost 700 volunterers, comprised of people from various walks of life, united together, more than ever before, to help the community through HIV education and awareness, and to send the important message of loving oneself and self-worth. This year’s Circle of Love celebrates the forces of volunteerism that have congealed individuals together, and to exercise gratefulness for what LoveYourself has accomplished.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Volunteer Spotlight: Vinn Pagtakhan, Mother of LoveYourself

By Karl Faustino
It was never in Vinn’s wildest dreams that he would eventually give birth to LoveYourself. Almost 5 years later, Vinn recalls how he and his friends raised this baby into the organization that has grown to be the largest, most renowned volunteer group advocating HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in the Philippines.
On conceiving LoveYourself
Pre-LoveYourself, Vinn was a private person. As an advocate of “World Peace,” it became part of his life to do charity work, most of them outreach events. Back then, he was not yet aware of LGBT and MSM volunteer groups. “I just want to help” became his mantra.
When he became a nursing practitioner, he created the twitter profile @TwitrNurse. As his following grew, he found out that most of the questions people asked on social media were slowly becoming more focused on HIV/AIDS, and these mostly came from gay/MSM accounts. Then he realized that the current efforts toward HIV/AIDS is not enough. He then said to himself, “If I wanted to do something to help spread awareness on HIV/AIDS, I’m gonna do something different.”
At first, Vinn thought of creating a youth-centric community center, which later on evolved into an LGBT community center, somehow inspired by what he has seen in San Francisco. On June 29, 2011, during one of his friends’ birthday celebrations, he proposed his plans to those present in the party and asked for their commitment to help transform his vision into reality. “For some reason, the universe conspired because that night, I met Chris (Lagman), Von (Arroyo), Ian (Alquiros), and the rest of who would be the founding members of TLY. Everyone got excited with the proposal, so we decided to do it and started writing down the necessary steps to make it happen.” By July 21, 2011 LoveYourself was officially registered.
The birth pains of LoveYourself
Back then, LoveYourself was a “new kid on the block” and with just a handful of enthusiastic volunteers, it was not an easy task. After its inception, branding and funding became the first order of business on their list. By the end of July, they organized their first ever mass testing targeting MSM (men who have sex with men) sex workers. By September, after a screening of “Sayaw ng Dalawang Kailwang Paa” back to back with "Zombadings" and photo shoot fundraisers, they were able to generate enough funds to have the core team undergo DOH training, giving birth to LoveYourself’s first batch of HIV counselors and volunteers. Shortly afterwards, TLF (The Library Foundation) Share, a non-profit membership organization comprised of sexuality, health and rights educators, provided Peer Education training.
The circle of alphamales
Vinn also recalls another birth pain – managing the strong personalities of the core team. For him, it was hard to mediate everyone and everyone ended up “agreeing to disagree,” as it were. Arguments were heated, and people weren’t just going to give up on their perspectives so easily. “The good thing about it though is that at the end of every argument, Chris usually asks me for the final say. And I’m happy that they still respect me, especially when I feel that there are things that don’t go well with the overall vision.” Vinn says he is happy that despite all the differences, there is still respect among the members, and it’s a culture that continues up to this day.
Coping with funding
Vinn also remembered how difficult it was to raise resources during the first few years. The resources came from either me, Chris, or the fundraisers. It was like paying for the tuition of two college students! We also relied on help from other volunteers. But it was more of a personal sacrifice, which I didn’t mind because I know that it’s for a good cause, and it’s a good investment for Love Yourself’s growth. At the end of each event, I am happy because it all went well despite our limitations. I think our key strength as an organization is that we believe in the innate goodness of people.”
It was also because of these events that Vinn learned how to Google for information on where he can apply for grants to further fund the organization’s activities. With his resourcefulness, Vinn was able to secure funding from several companies and international agencies for sustaining LoveYourself’s operations in the years to come.
On raising LoveYourself
Now that LoveYourself has grown beyond Vinn’s initial vision, so do the struggles that he faces in managing it. Resource funding problems have evolved to submitting fund utilization reports to sponsors. Challenges in organizing events became challenges in clinic operations. And managing a handful grew to managing hundreds of volunteers.
On negativity and the art of deadmatology
With its growing popularity, LoveYourself has had its fair share of detractors. But Vinn just simply lets it all pass. “We can’t please everybody no matter how hard we try. There will always be somebody who will throw stuff at us. You just have to learn to let it enter and exit your ears. That’s the art of magnanimity and deadmatology. What gives me the strength every time is the support that you get from people in the organization. There are things to improve, but overall we’re doing something good. As long as there is someone who believes in us, my confidence for the organization will always be there.”
On coping with fatigue and stress
Vinn came to a breaking point last year when his anemia struck him big time. It was during that time when several things were happening simultaneously that it became a bit too much for his body to handle. It was never a reason for him to give up though. “My physical body may be down, pero yung espritu santo ko buhay na buhay pa rin (but my spirits were still very much alive)!” The confidence and faith he has in LoveYourself’s staff and volunteers made him feel at ease that everything will run smoothly even while he was recovering. “Before, I was very hands on with all projects. But thanks to everyone, the organization operates smoothly even if there are several things going on.”
I continue to be just me
Vinn recalls how Chris oftentimes protects him from negativities while raising LoveYourself. “He just wanted me to stay the way I am – perky, warm, and friendly. He wanted me to share my authentic personality to the organization. He doesn’t want me to face everyone looking or feeling jaded because of everything that’s happening in the advocacy. I appreciate this gesture more than ever, because if it were not for this, I don’t know if I will be like this up until today.”
On reaching out to everyone
Given the scale of the organization, Vinn has yet to continue reaching out to its volunteers, especially the new batches. “Everytime I’m here, I make sure that I always go to the clinic to say hello to everybody. Of course, not everyone is able to go to the clinics. But I really want to know everyone especially the new volunteers. The organization has grown so big that it has become difficult for me to really be everywhere at the same time. I hope I can have a ‘coffee with Princess’ kind of an activity with the new batch of volunteers so I can get closer to them.”
Looking back and moving forward
Vinn mentions that over the past five years, his greatest contribution as LoveYourself’s mother is building something that is open to everyone. “LoveYourself was able to open its doors to everyone regardless of identity, financial capability, sexuality, and religious or political beliefs. I believe that everyone has something good to give, and it is this openness to diversity that helped us grow into becoming what our organization is like today.”
Vinn marvels at the exponential growth LoveYourself has achieved. “I’m proud that I was able to build a family from scratch. And that this family grew and grew, and they started having their own families of their own through the different committees and groups within the organization. And that each member finds solace in this family. More than the figures and cases we are able to identify and contribute to national numbers, this is something I will be more proud of”.
Vinn recalls how he never really thought of writing down long-term plans for the organization. “LoveYourself growing into what it is today has been beyond my imagination. I am humbled by a lot of volunteers who have huge responsibilities in their homes and families, and yet find spare time to help in the advocacy. This is the reason why the soul of LoveYourself is its volunteers.” Vinn, the mother of LoveYourself, is definitely one beaming with pride and gratefulness for her children, the volunteers.

Photos: Kris Tangco
Photo Editing: Mark Long
LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly feature on the cause- and service-oriented members of LoveYourself. We will be chatting with volunteers from all walks of life – all united in one cause. Keep checking every month to meet the different faces of LoveYourself.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hit comedy musical Rak of Aegis all set for its 5th comeback

The Philippine Educational Theater Association's (PETA) hit comedy musical Rak of Aegis is making its fifth comeback, running from June 17 to August 28, 2016 with a total of 82 shows. This spectacular theater showcase also comes as PETA gears toward its 50th year celebration.

The popular production has garnered over 20 awards and citations since it opened in 2014,  including Outstanding Original Musical, Outstanding Musical Direction, and Outstanding Stage Direction Outstanding Original Libretto, to name a few.

The new season will see the Rak ensemble reprise their roles as the colorful Villa Venizians, with two wickedly talented new Aileens - The Voice runner up Alisah Bonaobra and actress Tanya Manalang.

Shows run from June 17 to August 28, every Tuesdays to Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays to Sundays at 3 and 8 p.m. at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City.

Catch the June 19 (Sunday), 8 p.m. show. Twenty percent of ticket sales sold to LoveYourself members for this show will go directly to LoveYourself. For tickets, contact Lui at 0917-562-5050.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Break Free From Isolation With Erka Inciong's Works On Display At Pride Night 2016

On Facebook, Erka Inciong is often snapped hugging friends and carrying a wide smile, but the young artist knows all too well the feelings of loneliness and shame that hound LGBTQI+ persons.

A professional graphic artist for a business daily by day, Erka eases into the shoes of an illustrator at night during which she creates powerful images of despair, visualizing the struggles that the LGBTQI+ community and she herself have felt growing up.

Erka's work has been on display in "L O S S," an art exhibit celebrating the opening of Warrior Poet Art Cafe and she was also a featured artist in the Metro Manila Pride Queer Arts Festival held earlier this year.

This Saturday, Erka also joins Pride Night 2016 and below she explains the comforting emotions she tries to imbue in her work:

Could you describe your art?
It's an extension of myself.

What is the role of your art in empowering LGBT?
To make them feel that they are not alone.

What can people expect from you when they attend Pride Night?
That I am not ashamed to be myself.

Catch Erka Inciong's works on June 11 at Pineapple Lab, Makati City. Register now at for free tickets to Pride Night 2016.

Friday, June 10, 2016

DJ Group Panty Monsters Liberates The Beautiful Beast In You at Pride Night 2016

When you step onto a dance floor, you let loose all inhibitions, and for Panty Monsters, it should also mean a release from inequality and discrimination.

Self-hate and pretention are thrown out the window when you dance to a Panty Monsters set, as members of the "unapologetically insane" DJ group make you feel real good about yourself with their entrancing pop beats.

"At a Panty Monsters' party, you are encouraged to be whoever & whatever the fuck you want to be. No T, No Shade," says Darryl Recina, the manager of Panty Monsters, which was formed more than eight years ago.

DJ Mike Lavet

DJ Queen Bridgette Olga 

DJ Peanut Butter & Jelly

DJ Mike Lavet, DJ Queen Bridgette Olga and DJ Peanut Butter & Jelly from Panty Monsters will be liberating party goers at Pride Night 2016 on June 11, 2016 at Pineapple Lab, Makati, and we get a little teaser on how they will make the night a fabulously beastly one.

What is your role, if any, in empowering LGBT?
This group started as an answer to discrimination against the LGBT, the weirdos, the freaks - the deviant. Kami lang ang grupo ng musikero na walang pakialam sa party goers, naka panty ka man o hindi, (We are the only group of musicians that do not care about the appearance of party goers, whether you're wearing a panty or not), whether your cock is tucked or not, we care more about our wigs like your momma does.

What can people expect from your set on Pride Night 2016?
Our selves and our music are both a paradox—pop that can’t be played for everyone; diamonds that are less De Beers and more Bejewelled; synthesizers that wants to play a different game. We’re elegance through the lens of an SM Advantage card. Every Panty Monsters party is a celebration of individuality.

Unleash the beautiful beast in you by dancing to a Panty Monsters set this Saturday. Register now at for free tickets to Pride Night 2016.