Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Volunteer Spotlight: Roberto Pinauin, Back to Basics

Roberto Pinauin is what you would call an expert in his field, having spent almost two decades in NGO work. But with his new role as a LoveYourself life coach, he experiences a kick that only going back to basics can bring. "It sounds almost vain and messianic, but that's what people are looking for when they get into socially oriented activities – having that one-on-one contact. Even if you only get to experience that once a week, you know you're doing something concrete."

By Jean Natividad

 It was a day to stay vivid in Robert's memory until many years later. "I was working in South Africa and visiting a hospice. This was palliative care for people who were about to die, at the time when South Africa was the epicenter of the HIV epidemic," he recalls. "I touched a woman who was in the bed. She then jerked away from me and started crying."
The woman had not had any physical contact with a non-health worker in so long – Robert soon found out – because of the stigma of HIV and AIDS back then that is still very much prevalent today. But the story doesn't end there. He continues, "I left the room and had a meeting with the management of the hospice. A few moments later, I was planning to see her again, but I was told she had already died."
That moment, so far, has been the most challenging for Robert, a development work expert with extensive experience both here and abroad with organizations like Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and IBON International. "Why was it difficult? Because of the enormity of the problem, how helpless you are sometimes, how quickly things change, and how there's just not enough to do. No matter how hard you try, people will die," he explains.
Years after his eight-year stay in South Africa concluded in 2008, Robert is once again doing HIV work, this time with LoveYourself. The LoveYourself life coach shares, "When I saw how the organization was being managed, I was really impressed. There are many challenges in volunteer management that I see are being addressed by the approaches of LoveYourself."
With his knowledge of and experience in the field, Robert has a lot to bring to the table, but at the same time, it's as if he's starting over.
Coming full circle
Robert's HIV work comes full circle with his role as life coach for people living with HIV (PLHIV) enrolled in LoveYourself's new HIV treatment program. It's a strategy he finds fascinating: “I think it's an excellent idea as it rounds up the intervention. The intervention was already excellent in the sense that it had multiplicity of approaches, but this one takes on where the previous program leaves, and hopefully that will also give us more learnings.”

In the previous program, only counselors were tasked to handle clients, and the goal was to ensure newly diagnosed PLHIVs undergo treatment. Now, LoveYourself life coaches are available as guides for PLHIV clients to not just get treatment, but to come to terms with their status and face the world with optimism. Following an experimental framework, clients and their life coaches set goals and journey together in a span of six months.

Robert explains, “The HIV treatment approach in the Philippines is very biomedical. The reasons for lack of access to and dropping out of treatment are usually psychosocial. So what we're trying to do is address the psychosocial aspects. While counseling is more about treatment, life coaching is about looking at the individual closely to figure out how to help him." It is a role that, according to him, calls for some introspection.
No doubt, this new feather to Robert's cap comes with crucial responsibility. He is one of the handpicked few to pilot this new approach. "My first ever client tested positive for HIV, and in a way, I felt that's how it's supposed to be. It jolts you that this is what the work is about. It tests if you have what it takes to keep doing it," he says.

Learning and its rewards
Even as an authority in NGO work, Robert never claims to know everything. It is, after all, when you start thinking you know everything that the learning process stops. He shares, "With LoveYourself, I'm learning a lot in terms of the reality and nitty-gritty of groundwork, of approaching a specific social problem and knowing how to solve it. It's fulfilling because of that one-on-one connection and the learning experience.”

And even with all the development work he has done, Robert admits to craving the kick that comes with being on the ground. He confesses, “Development work can be thankless in the sense that if you pursue something in a multilateral organization at the international level, you would be paid lots and lots of money but won’t get the psychological returns you’re looking for because you will still be talking to the technocrats and administrators.”

Volunteering with LoveYourself is Robert’s way of getting that kick, of “getting in touch with the people whom you just talk about in the distant centers where policies are being decided on, those who are actually marginalized, miseducated, and victimized.”

This sense of fulfillment does not come as a surprise since working closely with clients means seeing the immediate results. Robert recounts an example: "Making progress with my 19-year-old client is my most rewarding experience yet in LoveYourself. With our age difference (Robert is 46) and my frequent travels for work, I asked if he preferred to be assigned to somebody else instead, but he responded, 'No need, I'm already happy with you, and I like your coaching style.'
He continues, "Because LoveYourself life coaching is still in the experimental stages, you sometimes wonder if it's blind leading the blind. But when you get feedback that's positive, you think, 'Maybe I'm doing something right.”
Looking forward
Robert finds more boost for his HIV work as he observes LoveYourself from an expert’s point of view. “Involving the community is a very good strength of LoveYourself. With this approach, you are both the actor and the beneficiary.” With this he means the integration of HIV education into the natural activities of males who have sex with males (MSMs). “That's very interesting because MSMs don't realize that, all of a sudden, they're already talking about HIV – and all because they attended a party.”

He goes on to add, “The volunteer management of LoveYourself is also very interesting. I've never seen so many volunteers so committed. LoveYourself has been successful in eliciting that level of commitment. The level of operations is so vast, but the staffing is small, and volunteers really do the work. To be that successful, you must be doing something right.”

On a broader scale, Robert believes the country has an advantage in curbing the HIV epidemic. "It's very frustrating because the previous approaches of the government – the Department of Health (DOH) in particular during the time of Juan Flavier – was very aggressive, so the HIV epidemic shouldn’t have happened.
“On the other hand, because it's happening now, there have been a lot of advances in treatment that makes certain aspects of the HIV epidemic easier to manage. Also, there's now that acceptance that PLHIV can live long and fulfilling lives. That's the difference,” he explains.
To conclude, Robert shares his most sincere opinion as both an expert and a volunteer: "I think the Philippines is very good in community and development work. The world will learn from us in this, and we can be a model for others to follow."

Photos: Roberto Pinauin and 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.
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