Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Volunteer Spotlight: Miggy Obina and Gino Osic, Finding Each Other Amid The Noise

By Gian Geronimo

LoveYourself volunteers Miggy and Gino share how their self-worth and love for one another drive them to give their best for the organization.

Miggy and Gino first set eyes on each other inside a dark, noisy and crowded motel room in 2013, where people were so busy enjoying a night of drunken reveling. That room that night was a frenzied place, and wasn’t exactly the most conducive backdrop for a budding romance. But sometimes the most unlikely meetings are the ones that lead to the most pleasant surprises, a place where, surrounded by noise and chaos, two people meet in a pocket of silence, and a love story begins. That was the first of several encounters that would ultimately lead to the two becoming one of LoveYourself's power couples.

Miggy, a vice president at  a local bank, first became involved with LoveYourself in 2012 while assigned in Cebu, after a friend who is also a volunteer told him about the group and its advocacy.  He officially joined the Manila chapter in 2014. . Meanwhile, Gino, who currently works as a payroll analyst while pursuing his undergraduate degree, learned about the group in  2011 and has since been helping to further the cause.

Miggy and Gino’s paths first crossed  in 2013, at a birthday party  organized for a couple of  LoveYourself volunteers, in one of the branches of a popular motel chain. Miggy initially didn’t want to go; Gino, on the other hand, came to have fun (even if he didn't really know a lot of the people in attendance). Little did the two know it was a meeting that would eventually change their lives for possibly, well, forever.

Upon arriving at the venue, which was already filled with bodies energetically dancing, with inebriated souls laughing and having fun, Miggy saw Gino quietly taking in the scene around him, and was immediately attracted. "I saw this young man sitting there all by himself," Miggy says. "The very first time I saw him, I said, 'Sh*t, this guy is good-looking! !'"  Miggy proceeded to chat up Gino, who was busy people-watching at the party.

Gino recalls his thoughts that night: “Who is this person and why is he asking me questions like, ‘Are you okay with the idea of being in a relationship with an older man?’" (Miggy was 40 then, and Gino 23.) But he also fondly remembers thinking of Miggy: “What a high-bridged nose!”

Not meant to be (at first)

The two had a great time talking to each other during the party, which eventually spilled over to days of texting one another after that night. Alas, there came a time when the two abruptly stopped communicating, due to work and other personal entanglements.

"The time came when he was no longer replying to my messages. I was somehow saddened because I thought there could have been something more between me and Miggy," says Gino.

They would see each other once again during a LoveYourself event at the end of 2013, when Miggy was already in a relationship. "I really thought that  was a sign," Gino recalls. "I resigned myself to the reality that we would never be together."

That relationship would turn out the be short-lived, however. Miggy confesses how difficult that period was: "I had my heart broken twice in a row. The first was with a guy with whom I had a brief relationship. My colleagues in the bank saw how devastated I was, how hard I cried.

"The next person I met before Gino broke my heart, too. I expected more, but he could only offer a very sincere friendship, though we are still friends up to now," he also says.

Fast forward to June 16, 2014, when TLY had a general assembly and where Miggy was a lecturer. Miggy, who was already single by that time, remarks that his thoughts were already drifting towards Gino before that day, and was only waiting for them to meet again.

"For the longest time I've been wanting to have a partner who won't let go of me," Miggy says. "I would catch myself thinking, ‘I wonder how Gino is? That guy seems so sincere. If he were my partner, maybe he'd appreciate me.’"

Meanwhile, Gino was busy with work, and didn't have any romantic entanglements between the time he met Miggy and their fateful meeting on June 16 -- because it was Miggy his heart was pining for since their initial encounter and subsequent conversations.

"If you only knew how long I've waited for this moment," Gino said that time, according to him. "And now that I have you, I won't let you go.

During the general assembly, Miggy was talking with friends when he saw Gino walk in the door.

“Hi, Gino!”

“Hi, Miggy!”

Miggy notes just how sweet Gino’s smile was that day.

“Where’s the restroom?” Gino asked.
“Want me to accompany you?”

“If it’s no problem.”

And so Miggy walked Gino to the restroom, where, immediately upon getting inside, he started kissing his future boyfriend.

"Why did you kiss me?" Gino gasped.

"Why, didn't you like it?" asked Miggy.

"…. I liked it," Gino confessed. Cue Miggy kissing him again.

The plot twist?  Gino confesses he deliberately asked Miggy for directions to the restroom -- even though he already knew where to find it.

Loving one's self, each other, and everyone else

In any case, the two consider that pivotal day their anniversary. From then on, their relationship has blossomed. Among other significant relationship milestones include moving in together. "We have an adorable pair of dogs that we love so much!" says Gino. And, perhaps the most important factor of all for any relationship, introducing one another to their respective families.

This doesn’t mean, though, that there haven’t been bumps along the way. Late last year, Miggy confesses he wanted to end the relationship because of the age factor. Miggy went home to Dumaguete to take some time to think, and while Gino says he wasn’t obviously happy with what was happening that time, he wanted to Miggy to go ahead anyway and find some peace of mind. In his home, a distraught Miggy sought words of wisdom from his dad to help him sort things out. He says he will never forget what his father said: "When you feel that emotion is gone, remember the first time you fell in love with him, and it's going to be magic. That feeling will come back, if you allow it to.”

“I thought of June 16, that moment when I kissed him and I thought to myself, “I think I am in love with this guy,’” Miggy says.

Following that biggest problem of Miggy and Gino’s relationship, things have been sailing smoothly since. But how else does the couple’s dynamic work? Miggy says it’s simple, really: “We don’t enforce. We allow each other to move and breathe.” Gino, meanwhile, offers a similar take: “We have vast amounts of patience and understanding. I have my own life, he has his.”

The two of them share something else in common, too. As members of LoveYourself, Miggy and Gino say their relationship also brings out the best in one another, which in turn benefits the organization and its goals.

The two men say their love for each other drives them to give their all when participating in LoveYourself events. Miggy is a former head of the group’s Learning and Development committee. He still gives lectures for some activities from time to time.

"While I'm giving a lecture, for instance, someone's taking care of me, giving me coffee that's prepared just the way I love it," Miggy says. "It's nice to feel when you're taking care of others, the one you love is also taking care of you." He says Gino would be with him during these lectures, even if it means sacrificing a bit of sleep.

Gino, meanwhile, shares his talent for dancing, preparing choreography for several of the organization's events. For these, Gino would, say, badger Miggy to drive him to Divisoria and help buy costumes. "I love feeling how I have someone with whom I devote time and effort for a group that we are so dedicated to."

The last time

Talking to Miggy and Gino, one can immediately sense the passion they have for one another and for the things that matter most to them, LoveYourself included.
"When you feel true love, when you feel sincere love, you want to share the effects of that love with the people surrounding you," Miggy shares.

For other couples out there, the two have pieces of advice they want to share in order to maintain a happy and fruitful relationship. Gino shares: “Do not limit yourself in loving your significant other. Just love the way he is. Whatever flaws that he has, love them. Always cherish the moments you have with each other.”

Meanwhile, Miggy says: "First, no rules. Second, be yourself. Third, respect each other. When you respect each other, you will not do something that will hurt the other, you will not do something that will ruin the relationship. Fourth is trust. Lastly, be there for each other.”
He discloses that before meeting Gino, he used to find it hard to sleep on a bed with others (even with his significant other, or during the early stages of their relationship, at least). Now that he’s found comfort and stability in Gino, however, Miggy now realizes how easy it is to drift into a peaceful slumber, with his lover by his side.

“I can no longer sleep without him,” he confesses.

Miggy is certain Gino is truly the one for him. The duo thoughtfully shares their theme song, "The Last Time" by American R&B singer Eric BenĂ©t. For Miggy, the lyrics communicate his exact feelings  regarding his relationship with his significant other, his life partner:

"The first time I fell in love was long ago.
I didn't know how to give my love at all.
The next time I settled for what felt so close.
But without romance, you're never gonna fall.
After everything I've learned;
Now it's finally my turn.
This is the last time I'll fall... in love."

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.

Have you been inspired by the courage and commitment of our volunteers? Like us on Facebook and help share our message of positivity and self-worth in your own communities to help fight the spread of HIV.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Volunteer Spotlight: Kurt and Albert, Lovers at Third Sight

By Karl Faustino

Kurt and Albert were strangers to each other, until they were bound by two things: an advocacy close to their hearts, and a relationship that started with a dish they craved one fateful night - Kadyos.


Kurt recalled how, in 2013, he went searching for a group where he could do HIV and AIDS-related volunteer work. . “What popped out first when I searched for one on Google was LoveYourself, so I checked out the details and inquired if I could volunteer. Every day I followed up on my application status. Then, I was given a project to check how dedicated I was to the organization’s cause.” With a few other applicants, Kurt produced a video of Mr. Gay Philippines to raise funds for LoveYourself. Then, he became part of batch Impetus.

Albert, on the other hand, just stumbled upon LoveYourself early in 2014. “It just appeared on my Facebook feed. I barely read the details, but what I do remember was that the post was about a Summer Camp activity. I wanted to attend the event for a change and meet new people with whom I can be more of myself. I just usually hang out with my colleagues at work,” he shares.

After participating in the event, Albert figured  he liked the environment of the community and was inspired to join the advocacy. He attended the orientation under batch Sensation. A month afterwards, he met Kurt.

On Finding Love, Just Love

First sight. It was July 2014. The first encounter was a calm one. No sparks flew. Kurt was busy organizing a LoveYourself event, and Albert, then a newbie, mostly hung out with his fellow new volunteers. . Only a  few messages were exchanged through a mutual friend.

Second sight. They chanced upon each other again in October 2014. A few pleasantries were exchanged. That’s about it. 

Third sight. Months passed without anything significant or foretelling happening between the two lovers-to-be. It was only a year after when they saw each other again, in July 2015. It was, once again, through a co-volunteer’s actions that their fate became somehow sealed. 

Albert’s batchmate Rod Olete invited him and Kurt  over to his house for dinner. He prepared Kadyos, a popular Ilonggo stew consisting of pork, pigeon peas, and jackfruit. Fate had it that Kurt and Albert were both craving Kadyos at the time. 

Kurt sat beside Albert, and as a discussion on relationships ensued, Kurt couldn’t help but be mesmerized by Albert’s views. He felt drawn to Albert. “As I sat beside him and listened to him that night, it was already a “kilig” moment”, recalls Kurt. Kurt had the courage to ask Albert out not too long after that night. While Kurt saw this occasion as a date, Albert simply saw it as a simple meet-up. 

Albert, on the other hand, had issues running through his mind at the time. Albert admits that he had a set of ideals and standards when it came to searching for that “special someone”, and he is aware that these standards weren’t particularly doing any good for him. “I told myself I will try to just get to know someone without the standards that I am looking for and see if it will work”, says Albert. And this resolve allowed him to get to know Kurt even more, and the two started going out more often.

On Finally Being In Love

Three months and several dates later, Albert finally said yes. Kurt recalls how some friends and co-volunteers were asking about their relationship status: “So I asked him if I could confirm we were officially together that day. He said yes. I was so happy that time because everything seemed serendipitous. We first met in July 2014. Then we met again in October 2014. In July 2015, we met the third time, and that’s when everything started for the two of us. Then October 2015 we officially became a couple.”

Kurt looks back at how it became the longest, most challenging - yet most fulfilling - three months of his dating life: “During those three months, Albert didn’t give me any hint of his feelings at all. That scared me because I’m the type of person who’s afraid to enter a relationship without knowing if that person really loves me, too. But then I realized - if you love someone, you don’t have to expect anything in return.”

Albert was quick to remind him, “I wanted to test his patience, and assess how serious he was to get into this relationship.” Albert thought to himself that a lack of seriousness while dating wasn’t a good sign. For him, being in a relationship demanded more seriousness; so if one couldn’t be serious while dating, it definitely is an indicator of how the relationship will turn out to be.

On Sharing Love

Albert and Kurt have been thankful to LoveYourself, not just because it allowed them to cross each other’s paths, but because they were able to extend their love beyond themselves as a couple towards a wider community.

Kurt is currently the lead of LoveYourself’s Communications Committee, which handles all internal and external correspondences to members, friends, and partners of the organization. Kurt says being in a relationship with a co-volunteer has bolstered his determination to lead the committee and be a volunteer, and has given him the boost to further help people. “After all, you’re helping the same set of people together. You, as a couple, have the same cause, and you move people together,” he says. 

Now on their 4th month, Kurt and Albert are looking forward to letting their advocacy and relationship grow further. When asked about their formula for happiness, Kurt says, “I’m continuously learning to cherish the friendship more than just the intimacy that comes with the relationship. It’s all about enjoying one’s company, not about obliging yourself to do things because you’re together. You’re doing it automatically simply out of love for the person.”

Albert emphasizes the volitional aspect of the relationship: It’s a responsibility, but at the same time, it’s not an obligation one should feel coerced about. It’s about being selfless towards the relationship and to one’s partner while  also about finding time for oneself. “Time and space for yourself is always important even when you’re in a relationship. Even when you’re in love with someone, you still have to love yourself,” says Albert.

Photos: Raybert Domingo, Karl Faustino
Photo editing: Mark Long, Geno Maglinao

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.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Cherry Poppin' - The Second Comin': Tastes Better The Second Time Around

The month of romance may have passed by but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate love anymore. And with summer just around the corner, things are actually bound to get even more sizzling!

Come and join the Cherry Poppin' - The Second Comin', a party that will be held at the hip and upbeat Century City Mall Events Center in Makati on March 19, 2016, 8PM - 3AM.

Cherry Poppin' is an event by LoveYourself, an HIV awareness and advocacy group, first held in 2015 to create a venue for members of the LGBT community and their friends, regardless of sexuality, to mingle with one another, dance to music, and have fun in a cool party atmosphere. 

And due to its resounding success last year, here comes The Second Comin', and it is going to taste better the second time around. This year, Cherry Poppin' - The Second Comin' will be presented together with Kosmos, a collective of local LGBT DJ's.

A donation of PHP300 grants you one ticket, inclusive of a free drink, and will help fund the activities of LoveYourself. 

Party the Night Away 

Cherry Poppin' will be piped with beats from upcoming DJ act Geert Major aka GARUDA, who will be supported by Kosmos' in-house roster of DJ's: DEEJ DIAZ, KAZWAL, and MIKE LAVET.  

Dutch DJ and music producer Garuda has been performing at top clubs in Thailand and Manila, as well as in his native Netherlands. 

Date Auction

The night heats up with a fun date auction. Get a chance to go out on a date with dashing bachelors. Take your pick from a selection of models and professionals, including a boy-next-door medical doctor, a hot stud who practices veterinary medicine, a graphic artist, a stage performer, and other good-looking professionals who will, without doubt, tickle your fancy, or probably even more than that!

These men will definitely engage your mind and senses and touch your heart over a romantic dinner or a movie or concert date - just you and him.  

Fashion Show

See good-looking bachelors and your possible dates-to-be strut their stuff down the ramp in a fashion show that's also going to be a feast for the eyes - about a dozen or so handsome men donned in apparel highlighting the freshest fashion trends. With this lineup of events for Cherry Poppin'  - The Second Comin', isn't the second time even more irresistibly tempting?  

So, what are you waiting for? Why not go reserve and pre-purchase a ticket now? Feel free to send a message at our page for any queries. For ticket reservations, you may contact 09178608244 or sign up here. You can also follow our event page to keep yourself posted on updates. 

Event Venue

Century City Mall Events Center is located at level 5 of the Century City Mall, not far from the intersection of Makati Avenue and Kalayaan Avenue in Makati City. The mall can be accessed from either road. The area is accessible to public transportation and basement parking space is available in the mall. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

LoveYourself Uni: A Place Rooted in Love and a Sense of Community

LoveYourself is all set to open its brand new clinic and community center, called LoveYourself Uni, on February 13. The clinic’s name denotes unity and inclusiveness with all members of the community, and at the same time be closely associated with the “University”, as a reference to the youth.

LoveYourself Uni is an upscale of the  now closed LoveYourself Hub along San Marcelino Street in Malate, Manila. Also taking into consideration accessibility, the clinic is located just right beside Buendia LRT-1 station, as shown in this map. Apart from functioning as a testing center, the space was designed to impart a vibrant and hospitable atmosphere as it aims to be a community center.

A Date Rooted in Love

Save the date as  LoveYourself Uni’s inauguration coincides with many other auspicious dates and even a special holiday. The opening ceremonies come after the Lunar New Year which was on February 8. This reminds us of the Chinese sticky rice cakes called “tikoy". The stickiness of tikoy signifies the ties that bind the family and friends together and remember those who matter the most. And it is this cohesion that brings to mind what LoveYourself strives for as an organization and, more importantly, as a community for the society it belongs to.

The inaugural also falls on the eve of Valentine’s Day, which brings to mind that the community represented by LoveYourself is rooted in love. The community of volunteers advocating and working together to bring HIV awareness and inculcating the value of self-worth to its clients and partners demonstrates the very same virtue upon which the day of hearts is being celebrated around the world - selfless love and care.

A Calming Oasis for Your Tranquility

LoveYourself co-founder Chris Lagman worked closely together with interior designer Simoun Almoro to bring to life interiors that invoke the dynamism of youth by creating a laid-back and cozy atmosphere that altogether conjures new perceptions on the realities of HIV testing. Chris and Simoun came up with the idea of a vibrantly colored mural to enliven the subtle and solid colors of the floor and walls. Breaking the monotony, they thought of a mural featuring geometric shapes, primarily triangles.

Artists and LoveYourself volunteers, Vince Condicion and Brian Barretto, brought the sketch of geometric shapes into life by filling it in with colors. They were assisted by other LoveYourself volunteers, who altruistically helped out to finish the mural, working on weekends up to the wee hours of the day. This outpouring support from every volunteer is a testament to the community that LoveYourself represents. The labor of love gave birth to a cafe-like setting consisting of couches with grasslike upholstery, decorative hanging lamps, wooden floors, and a mural awash in vivid colors that all work together to suggest a sense of warmth and homeliness.

The upbeat interiors of LoveYourself Uni are a departure from the usual setting of clinics or treatment centers with bare, if not non-existent, interiors that aimed to provide minimal functionality. The interiors are also meant to make clients feel at ease, alleviate worries, and provide a sense of comfort.

A Community with greater purpose

LoveYourself Executive Director Vinn Pagtakhan said that the organization is prompted to reinforce its efforts to curb the “explosive epidemic of HIV infections among males who have sex with males (MSMs).” Citing a study conducted in LoveYourself Hub in Malate from 2012 - 2015 revealed an incidence density of HIV as high as 8.5 incidences per 100 person-years, particularly among those aged 15-22 years old. On the other hand, Bangkok, Thailand, which also suffers from an explosive epidemic, has an incidence density among MSMs of 5.9 incidences per 100 person-years as reported in 2013. 

Following these data, Vinn goes on to say that intervention must be focused on MSM college students. Hitting this target group is the main objective behind LoveYourself Uni’s upgrade, increased convenience, and youthful vibe. This is why LoveYourself Uni’s mural of collage of triangles was given the name “The Triangles of Self-Care (TSC)” by Vinn and Chris. TSC is a three-point HIV prevention model and tool that imparts the practice of timely testing and treatment (T), safe and satisfying sex (S), and correct and consistent use of condoms with water-based lubricant (C).

LoveYourself Uni will commence regular operations on Wednesday, February 17. Confidential testing, counseling and peer education services are to be offered for free, as it has been for all its clinics ever since. Also, the clinic, just like LoveYourself Anglo, will also be hosting the NEX+ CHAP+ER Program of LoveYourself, a treatment program for people living with HIV (PLHIV).

Sunday, February 07, 2016

2016, A Year of Beautiful Beginnings: LoveYourself Launches New Clinic, "LoveYourself Uni", and The NEX+ CHAP+ER Program

LoveYourself is about to enter a new phase as it opens a new clinic, called LoveYourself Uni to replace the LoveYourself Hub, which was closed down last December 2015. The new and more accessible location along the northbound lane of Taft Avenue, just beside LRT-1 Buendia station, offers bigger space and a hospitable and cozy environment, an upgrade from the LoveYourself Hub's older location at San Marcelino Street, Malate, Manila.

Regular operations for LoveYourself Uni will commence on Wednesday, February 17. Operating hours will be the same as LoveYourself Anglo along Shaw Boulevard. Details on the location and operating hours of LoveYourself's two clinics can be found here.

Unity, University, Inclusiveness

LoveYourself Uni, pronounced the same way as the “uni” in the words "unity" and "university", has been given its name as an allusion to the core philosophies of LoveYourself.  It refers to the unity of the community, with a thrust on unity that goes beyond gender, sexual orientation, or identity, in the same way that the HIV epidemic is not necessarily limited by these factors.

Furthermore, the name wishes to impart a sense of inclusiveness, that all groups of people are welcomed and given the same hallmark treatment qualities of "inaasikaso" and "iniingatan" for which LoveYourself is known for. These two Filipino words do not have a direct translation to English, but roughly mean "being handled" or "being watched out for" and "being taken care of", respectively.

It is also LoveYourself's mission to help its clients receive the right care and treatment by early detection. It also employs various behavioral change mechanisms through its numerous awareness and education campaigns.

Lastly, "Uni" is also derived from the word "University" as a reference to the youth. DOH data has consistently pinpointed the youth as among the population groups most vulnerable to being infected by the virus. In December 2015 alone, 183 of 650 or 28% of reported cases were aged 15 to 24 years old.  From January to December 2015, 2,215 out of 7,829 or roughly a third of reported cases came from this age group.

Aside from its physical accessibility to nearby universities, it is the hope of LoveYourself to be able to speak to the youth and impart valuable awareness that can potentially save the lives of young people.

Opening Ceremonies

To commemorate the occasion, an inauguration of the clinic is set on Saturday, February 13, with keynote speakers and personalities expected to grace the occasion.

Chris Lagman and Vinn Pagtakhan, founding members and leaders of LoveYourself, are expected to render speeches. in addition, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM)'s HIV/AIDS research program head, Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, as well as representatives from major partners, the Department of Health (DOH) and Pilipinas Shell Foundation, and various media and lifestyle personalities are all expected to grace the occasion.

Performances by artists including slam poet readings are expected to provide entrainment during the opening ceremonies.

Springboard Towards The Future

Apart from the opening of LoveYourself Uni, the onset of the New Year has been marked by LoveYourself's expansion into PLHIV (People living with HIV) care and treatment through the launch of the "NEX+ CHAP+ER Program", which addresses both the biomedical and psychosocial aspects of HIV treatment.

The program is currently being piloted in LoveYourself Anglo, with a number of LoveYourself volunteers functioning as life coaches. The same program will be implemented in LoveYourself Uni.

This program is highly significant for the organization, whose services were previously confined to HIV testing and counseling, including bringing and counseling reactive clients to receive proper treatment from accredited medical facilities, primarily its major partner hospital, RITM.