Wednesday, September 30, 2015

LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight: Jack, Seven Years Later

We spoke with one of LoveYourself's top counselors Jack Torres, a man whose enlightenment and life of volunteerism beautifully, but not without its challenges, unravelled in seven years. He shares, "I believe life is not meaningless. If I'm able to find meaning in what I'm doing, others should have the same chance to find meaning in their lives."
By Jean Natividad
Jack made himself comfortable on the couch, wiping his sweat and catching his breath. It was a scorching Saturday noon in Manila, and we had a few minutes to chat before he had to leave for volunteer duty. In his gray shirt, blue jeans, and trusty sneakers, he looked pretty ordinary. But it's true there's a story behind every person we meet, and Jack's is one of depth and meaning that's worth sharing.
Jack, 31, wears many hats as an educator, researcher, teacher trainer, and LoveYourself counselor. He has been contributing to making students, teachers, and clients better informed, thanks to his genuine thirst for knowledge and desire to share information. Jack guides the people he meets to make informed decisions, be it in the classroom, boardroom, or bedroom.
Despite a heavy work schedule, Jack provided HIV pre-test and post-test counseling to 132 clients, making him the top counselor at the LoveYourself Anglo clinic during the first half of 2015. But his life of volunteerism didn't happen overnight. It is a process that took seven years in the making, brought by experiences that you could say have changed his life forever.

Jack is one of the hundreds of volunteers for LoveYourself. His photo has been withheld here out of respect for his privacy.

The beginning

It started with a seemingly simple connection that ended up leaving a mark in Jack's life. Seven years ago, he met Dave (not his real name), a guy that, according to Jack, is one of the nicest persons he's ever met. The two dated for a month, and although their relationship was cut short, it spawned a friendship that spanned seven years and a life dedicated to the HIV testing and awareness advocacy.
"When he found out he was HIV reactive, he told me we should stop dating and just be friends.  I also couldn't do anything because I didn't know much about HIV at the time," Jack shared. And so Dave disappeared from Jack's radar, and the two didn't get to catch up until four years later, when Dave was in a relationship and was struggling with how to share his status with his partner.
"I was the second person with whom he shared his HIV status, the first one being his sister. It took him a while to tell the rest of his family, so I was honored with the trust he gave me," said Jack. But then the two drifted apart again. Three years later, Jack and Dave were again in the same room, but only one of them could share stories.

Loss and awakening

"I got tested for HIV seven years after Dave's diagnosis. I wasn't talking to him at the time, but I found out out the day after my test, through Facebook, that he had already passed," Jack recalled. He found a way to make it to Dave's wake, and there, he had an encounter that opened his eyes to a new path he would later on take.
Jack arrived at the wake and met Dave's sister. She spoke to him for a long time, hoping to get to know her brother from this man's point of view. "She was so hungry for information," Jack continued, "The family had their regrets over not getting to know Dave on a deeper level. I could see it in their faces."

But more than witnessing the predicament of the family his dear friend left behind, Jack saw the stigma of HIV. "Dave's family was trying to hide the real reason behind his death, and that's one of the things that pushed me to join the advocacy – because, I thought, 'Why do you need to hide the reason for his passing? Why is it that when someone dies from HIV or its complications, people try to fish for even more information?' There's really such a negative connotation when someone dies because of HIV," he said.

The first steps to a new path

Jack's new path doesn't come without its obstacles. He shared, "Before joining LoveYourself, I really had to think about the issues that might emerge since I am not out." Jack currently juggles two personas apparent in his dual Facebook accounts - one for his advocacy where he is out, and another for his family and local groups where he is not out.

Jack grew up active in church, but his responsibilities there have now taken the backseat. Although Jack believes his church has good teachings, he admits he is not pleased with its view on homosexuality: "In my church, when someone appears flamboyant, the members would talk about him behind his back or bully him, so for me, it's a huge turnoff."

But Jack remains hopeful. With his many years being active in church work, he has seen the many changes the institution has gone through – primarily from being very dogmatic to becoming a bit more lenient and emphasizing grace and acceptance. "I also believe people have innate goodness. I just think right now, their eyes haven't yet been fully opened to God's limitless love for everyone," he shared.

As for coming out to his family, Jack believes the right time will come. “Maybe when I am fully independent, when I don’t have to live with and rely on my parents, then I can come out. It will happen, I know.”

Moving forward
When asked what could have happened differently had he known then what he knows now, Jack said he would have kept in constant touch with Dave. He would have had himself tested earlier, he wouldn't have lived in fear for seven years, and he wouldn't have been so shocked with his friend's death.
But seven years later, Jack is more optimistic than ever: "My goal right now is to just continue the advocacy because changes don't just happen overnight. The stigma is hard to fight, but it doesn't mean we have to stop fighting."
Jack has been with LoveYourself for more than a year now, but his life of advocacy is still in its beginning stages. His path is brightly lit, with the inner light of his fellow volunteers, his clients, and his dear old friend Dave.

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.

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