Friday, April 28, 2017

Volunteer Spotlight: A Lenten Season Reflection - It is All About Love

Contrary to the perceptions of many, homosexuality is not necessarily condemned by the Church. In fact, the experiences of three LoveYourself volunteers - Rye Tumbaga, Gibs de los Santos, and Geno Maglinao, point to the Church as a safe place of acceptance and love.

By Kris Tangco

In a TV5 interview in February 2016, Manny Pacquiao, who was then running for the Senate, provoked a storm of controversy with his views on same-sex marriage and relationships. Homosexuals are “worse than animals,” the conservative Christian said on national television, quoting the Bible as reference for his statements. Social media was abuzz for several weeks, and the divisiveness was palpable. Articles from writers like Shakira Sison of Rappler started resurfacing, strongly advocating support for same sex marriage. In one article, the staunch defender of LGBT rights bemoans those who claim to be friends with LGBTs insofar as they are “funny for calling out what’s wrong with [that girl’s] outfit” but are against the more fundamental issue of the LGBTs’ equal rights to marriage.

Homosexuality has always had a contentious relationship with religion. With the common perception that religion outlaws homosexuality, some members of the LGBT community have fallen out of their congregations, with some turning into agnosticism, or simply becoming non-practicing Christians.

Amidst the usual rituals of Visita Iglesia, processions, fasting, confessions, and retreats, the recently concluded Lenten season, on the other hand, is a time for introspection. In this regard, Volunteer Spotlight goes through the stories of three LoveYourself volunteers whose relationship with their faith goes beyond the judgment of society.  In fact, as I will later find out, that against the background of traditional and religious values, there is actually much openness and love within these religious congregations for the LGBT community.

Beginnings and Coming Out

What matters to Jesus is what is in your heart

Coming from a family with deeply-rooted religiosity, the religious life has always appealed to Rye Tumbaga, who joined LoveYourself late in 2016. Eloquent and well-versed, the native of Nueva Ecija engaged me in deep conversation as he shared the pains and struggles of coming out and the moving compassion of those who gave him support and acceptance.

Rye  spent 13 years’ worth of extensive education and sabbaticals as part of his formation as a future priest. His time off during sabbaticals gave him many experiences, including failed relationships with women, as well as his first true relationship which lasted for 9 years - with someone of the same sex. “Gays are very much capable of love,” Rye reflects. “In fact, the best love I’ve had was with a gay man.” It was also during this time Rye felt the need to come out to his parents. “I saw my father in tears, holding on to our statue of the Blessed Virgin, asking where he had gone wrong. But my mother was the stronger one. She took the pain and stood by my father. In the end, they both accepted me.”

Rye recounts the support of his brothers in the congregation about his sexuality. “I actually encountered no resistance. In fact, my confessor told me that ‘what matters most to Jesus is what is in your heart.’ God is love!”

Rye retells the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman in the Gospel of St. John. Jesus makes a stand before the pharisees and the crowd who were condemning the woman convicted of a crime punishable by stoning. Jesus asked those who were without sin to cast the first stone, to which no one responded, and the woman was eventually set free. It is this story that Rye talks of the acceptance of the Church - “Its members are all sinners but are bound together by love. We are all human - and we sin. But the Church that we are part of is divine.”

Singing is a grace that touches the lives of people

Gibs de los Santos is a chorister, a bass singer of the esteemed choral group, Koro Ilustrado, led by renowned former University of the Philippines Madrigals singer, Anna Piquero. Gibs’ talent and love for singing was apparent from a young age. At 9 years old, he started singing as part of his local parish choir. He continued singing regularly, getting trained in the disciplines of Classical, Sacred, and Contemporary singing. Hailing from the southern city of Cagayan de Oro, Gibs was assistant conductor at the choir at Xavier University, where he took up nursing.

With a conservative Catholic background, Gibs grew up with a zealous determination to be of service to others. His experience at a Jesuit-run University deepened the drive, and after graduating, he spent a year at the seminary as he considered becoming part of the Society of Jesuits.

With life running smoothly as it were, Gibs struggled within with questions about his sexuality. Upon entering the seminary, he asked a mentor, a Jesuit Father, if he was doing the right thing. “More bluntly, I asked him if a gay person like me can become a priest.” And he was taken away by the priest’s answer, “Why not? What God looks at is what you’ve done for Christ, and what you will do for Christ.” And he recounts another memorable word of encouragement from a priest in the confessional, “Who you are now is because of His love.” Gibs’ qualms were abated, and this also gave him the courage to come out to his parents.

“I wanted to come out simply because I wanted to. It felt heavy keeping this [homosexuality] as a secret,” shares Gibs. However, he lost the opportunity to tell his mother who passed on. His mother’s demise placed further pressure on Gibs to tell his family about his identity. Despite knowing its possible consequences, he pushed on. “My father banished me, and this is the reason I moved to Manila.” It was 2013, and Gibs found himself alone in a big and alienating city. In spite of the sad outcome, there seems to be little resentment in Gibs’ rendering of his story.

In fact, things were to take a turn when he moved to Manila. Gibs easily found a job in the BPO industry, and in September 2016, he joined Koro Ilustrado, a choral group he has long admired. “I would attend their concerts in Cagayan de Oro, and Miss Anna, the head of the chorale, gave master classes, and I made sure to sing for her and she would tell me techniques on how my singing can be improved. I admire her a lot.” Gibs was able to pass auditions. Now, he juggles time with his work at night, and the chorale’s rehearsals and busy tour schedule.

Singing in the group has improved Gibs’ technique and has allowed him to “touch the lives of people.” In this way, Gibs strongly feels he is able to serve people - a fundamental mandate of Ignatian spirituality. “A dying man’s daughter persistently requested our group to sing at her father’s funeral even before the man passed away,” recounts Gibs. “The group regularly doesn’t accept requests for funerals. But she was persistent, and we had to say yes. At the funeral, the daughter and the other relatives were so grateful for us. That’s when I realized that it was because our music moved them and for us to sing on that occasion meant a lot to them.”

Going back to the issue of coming out, “It has actually improved my relationship with people. I used to fight a lot with my brother. Now that I’m open about being gay and him knowing it, we have never gotten along any better,” he smiles. Slowly, his relationship with his father is improving. “We are pretty much civil. We don’t talk too much, and there’s much to work on, but when I go home to Cagayan de Oro, we are OK.”

Art and God

A prolific graphics designer and visual artist by profession, Geno Maglinao talks about himself with a sense of stoicism and elusiveness. The Lucena native tells about the deep religiosity of his family. “Every trip we do is almost like a pilgrimage - even if it were a holiday in Cebu or Bohol, we always made it a point to visit the Church or hear mass if we can.” Every Good Friday, he and his family participate in a procession. Faith is a major force that shapes Geno’s personhood, and on his arms are tattooed the words sining (art) and Diyos (God).

As a child, Geno manifested artistic inclinations. “I used to perform in plays, and I loved to draw. The turning point that made me realize that visual design was what I wanted to pursue, and what I see as my first break, was when I designed the invitation card for my high school’s JS Prom,” recounts Geno. Quite surprisingly though, Geno did not pursue higher education in arts and design, but went to the seminary.

“My family is active in the Church. Also, I was a Boy Scout back then, and my experiences of reaching out and helping those who are in need made a strong impact on me,” says Geno. It is the image of service that struck Geno back then and that was when he wanted to become a priest and be a missionary. “I simply wanted to be of service to others.”

However, Geno did not finish his formation in the seminary as he was also deeply interested with design. He found himself traveling to Manila during weekends to take courses in design. “Whenever I had the time, I would go through all the functions of a certain design software and study them.” After finishing his pre-novitiate course in Philosophy, Geno found himself working for a small graphics design company. He eventually would move on to freelancing.

In contrast to the experiences of Rye and Gibs, Geno did not feel the need to come out with the truth about his sexuality. “In the family, I was the one inclined to the Arts. And it was like an open and accepted fact already. It was apparent. With my friends, when I told them that I have a boyfriend, it was something that they have been expecting.” However, the acceptance didn’t come to Geno in the easiest way. “It was all a matter of perception. I was very much straight acting back then.”

Joining LoveYourself: Being of Service and Living the Faith

What a person needs is a compassionate heart

With a few conversations with people who were living with HIV (PLHIV) while waiting in a hospital for a consultation, Rye got to know about LoveYourself.  During one of his reflections, Rye came across a few verses from the book of St. James. “Faith without works is dead,” the excerpt reads. This pushed him to join the organization, where he trained to become a counselor.

Rye is rich with reflection as he recounts his experiences as a counselor. “There is much similarity in the religious life and being a LoveYourself volunteer. It’s all about love. The only difference is the expression.” Counseling has enabled Rye to be more compassionate to others, as he listens to his clients’ stories and reaches out to them about practicing safe sex and giving them hope when they turn out to be reactive.

Being an HIV counselor entails certain technicalities, such as limitations on showing emotions and physical contact with the client, and it is with these rules that Rye finds himself, to a certain extent, at odds. “Sometimes I just have to wonder about the restraints of clinical counseling,” muses Rye. “The stigma of HIV is so great it is just difficult to keep yourself within these rules,” says Rye. “What someone needs is a compassionate heart. If I can’t help it, I cry with my client. I want to let him know that he’s not alone in all this. Most importantly, I want him to know that God is there for him.”

I want to be the light for others

When Gibs moved to Manila, with the wounds of the rift between him and his father still fresh, he found himself searching for a community to belong to. He came across an online ad - one of LoveYourself’s first “Discreet Dudes” series - a yearly event hosted by the organization aimed at giving gay men a space and opportunity to meet others and discuss issues openly. Gibs felt encouraged by the openness and warmth of the community, and he immediately signed up for the next batch of recruits.

However, the decision to join LoveYourself goes beyond Discreet Dudes. Gibs, who was then already employed in a BPO company, wanted to look for opportunities where he could practice his profession as a nurse. Upon joining LoveYourself, he trained to become a counselor and also serves as a phlebotomist from time to time. Gibs also credits his aunt who is an HIV nurse and advocate as an inspiration.

Gibs sees his volunteering for LoveYourself as a form of service. “I want to be the light for others,” he says. “By helping others, I am also serving God. Despite our identity, we can also serve him.” Joining LoveYourself and getting to know other volunteers have likewise helped Gibs accept himself more.

Art as Service to Others

Upon finishing his pre-novitiate course, Geno pursued his dreams of working as a graphic designer. He found himself busy with freelance projects, but was unfulfilled with the temporary nature of the projects - he was looking for something long-term, in the design sense.

The Lucena native also calls Malate his home, with his family’s Manila residence located in the neighborhood that was, during the first decade of the 21st century, the center of the country’s gay scene. Geno has become accustomed to the clubs and bars in the area and would go there with his friends. When one of his friends acquired HIV, he felt he needed to do something.

Back then, Geno was already friends with Ian Alquiros, one of LoveYourself’s founding members. Ian had invited Geno to join the organization, but the latter hesitated, citing the stigma of HIV/AIDS being at the heart of LoveYourself’s advocacy. “I saw joining LoveYourself back then as a confirmation to the world that you’re gay. And I wasn’t just ready back then.” But when one of his friends turned out to be HIV-reactive, Geno was spurred to join the organization.

Unlike Rye and Gibs, Geno did not train to become a counselor. Instead, he dedicated his love for visual arts to help the organization continually improve its branding and campaigns. Now, Geno is the Creatives Lead of LoveYourself’s Communications Committee. “With a long-running advocacy like HIV/AIDS that I feel strongly about, I am able to contribute my skills and be of service to others,” says Geno as he contrasts the experience with paid projects that are temporary in nature. Furthermore, Geno is part of the Events Committee.

It is all about Love

The Philippines is a staunchly Catholic country, and it is undeniable that faith plays a central role in the lives of Filipino people. “We know that there are a lot of our LGBT brothers and sisters who have fallen out of the Church. But in reality, it is a welcoming place for everyone - everyone’s a sinner. It’s just that we allow the misdeeds of a few to dishearten us,” opines Rye. The former seminarian who still dreams of becoming a priest someday, encourages everyone to hold on to their faith.

All three were interviewed separately, but all have an astonishingly similar and resounding view on the issue of faith and the LGBT community. “Some people may choose to be agnostic, but as long as I see the love in them, I still see God in them,” says Geno. “At the end of the day, we have to respect each other - whether they are a believer or a non-believer.”

Photos courtesy of Kris Tangco and 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.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Triangle of Self-Care: The Game of Safe and Satisfying Sex

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

There are some things from our childhood that we leave behind. We throw away our old clothes, our old school books, and even our old security blanket. Not all things from our past are thrown away, however. There are a lot that we carry into adulthood such as the lessons we’ve learned, the memories we’ve formed with old friends, and for some of us, even our old toy collection! As we grow older, the games we play tend to get more and more complicated. From the simple rules of Snakes and Ladders to the complex dynamics of a strategic board game, we play to obtain the same objective - to win. When we realize our nature as sexual beings, we begin to play with trust, pleasure, and health. In the game of safe and satisfying sex, the choice is ours to pick what card to draw.

Mutual Masturbation and Dry Humping

The first card we may have drawn when first engaging in sex is manual sex and frottage. In more accessible terms, mutual masturbation (jack off or fingering) and dry humping. These practices pose the lowest risk for HIV infection as the virus has variable chances of survival depending on where the body fluids go. One would be at higher risk if the body fluids come into contact with an open wound, the anus, or the vagina. The mechanics for transmission are as follows:

Oral Sex

A tier up comes oral sex, which includes practices such as felatio (blowjobs), cunnilingus (kissing the clam), and analingus (tossing salad). Oral sex has higher risk due to the possibility of having tiny lesions on the gums or tongue that may go unnoticed after one’s daily hygiene routine. Some men and women may have sores (singaw) that they are not aware of having. It is important to know that one should not engage in oral sex at least two hours before and after brushing one’s teeth. The mechanics for transmission are as follows:

Penetrative Vaginal Sex

One option at the higher end of the risk spectrum is unprotected penile-vaginal contact or simply vaginal sex. The increased modes and mediums for HIV to effectively exit one body and enter another is noteworthy. The risk for transmission reaches its peak if sex is rough. The mechanics for transmission are as follows:

Penetrative Anal Sex

The most high-risk sexual activity one may engage in is penile-anal contact or simply anal sex. Despite it having similar risks to vaginal sex, the possibility of bleeding is much higher than with vaginal sex since the anus does not produce its own lubrication when aroused and penetrated. Unlike the vagina, the anus would require plenty of lubrication and less roughness for the decreased risk of bleeding during sex. The mechanics for transmission are as follows:

Risk Multipliers

Like many games, there are certain instances wherein one can multiply the damage points inflicted to the other player. For sex, certain practices increase the risk of infection. First is the use of different substances such as drugs and alcohol. This can impair one’s judgement to make better choices before and during sex. Second is not communicating clear intentions when meeting with a quick sex partner. It is important that one is clear about what one wants out of a certain meetup. This eliminates the possibility of getting pressured into a potentially unprotected situation.


A game isn’t complete without a way to protect oneself from the attacks of the antagonists. Similarly, not all defensive moves can deflect the onslaught of the enemy, so it is important to always keep oneself and one’s partner informed about the risks taken when engaging in sex.

First form of protection is the correct and consistent use of condoms (including dental dams) and lubricants. Correctly putting on a condom or dental dam is usually the first line of defense for HIV transmission. It would be best to check the condom before use. Make sure that the condom hasn’t passed its expiration date, and is not too sticky and odorous.

Using plenty of water-based lubricant also decreases the risk of the condom or dental dam being damaged. Silicon-based lubricant, however, may damage the condom or dental dam further due to the interaction of the silicon and plastic polymers.

A second option for protection can be Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). When taken regularly, PrEP can effectively protect you from getting infected with HIV even when having sex without a condom. It is important to note, however, that PrEP only protects you from HIV and not from other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So, it is important to still wear a condom to avoid this from happening.

The game of safe and satisfying sex could easily be seen as an oppositional turn-based strategy game of who can pleasure the other better. However, it is important to realize that, in this game, you and your partner are teammates. You have the duty to support and protect each other from the real opponent - HIV and other STIs - which can alter your relationship and lifestyle. As teammates, it is important to communicate before sex.

As with any game, we won’t be winning all the time. Each sexual encounter is yet another game to win against HIV and STIs. When we feel the game didn’t go in our favor, we must take the time to step back, evaluate the situation, and act accordingly. This could range from changing the condom when changing positions and after ejaculation to getting tested with your partner after the window period (3 months). Don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about your concerns after sex.

Images by Christian Watson Vergara and Carlos Diego A. Rozul


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

HIVisions -- A Youth in Crisis: HIV/AIDS and Awareness

By Kris Tangco

The HIV crisis has gone on for four decades, and for four decades the world has struggled against it. Doctors, scientists, educators, policy makers, writers, artists – people of all walks and all colors have, in their own ways, sought to make sense of this crisis and its relationship with society. From citizens to states, from medicine to prayer, from cures to cries for reform, people’s visions of how to respond to the crisis are as diverse as the people who bear its scars. The goal of this series is to give you a glimpse of these visions: the roles people of different passions and disciplines have played in this crisis that, as of January 2017 as recorded by the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Bureau, is infecting 28 Filipinos daily.

The HIV crisis in the Philippines requires urgent attention due to increasing rates of HIV infection, in contrast to a worldwide trend of plateauing or decreasing rates. Moreover, of the 26 Filipinos daily who contract HIV, 8 of them are aged 15-24 years old[1]. The age group contributing to the biggest proportion of cases has also become younger, with the 25-34 years age group accounting for more than half of detected cases, with the 15-24 years age group trailing behind at 28%.

The Philippine government has enacted legislation aimed at increasing the effectiveness of intervention[2] as the face of the epidemic in the country changes with the median age of People Living with HIV (PLHIVs) getting younger. Globally, young people are considered most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection. This situation is a result of a general lack of correct knowledge about HIV/AIDS that can be addressed by reproductive and sexual health education and other socioeconomic circumstances that expose the youth to risky behavior[3]. In fact, a Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS) study in 2014 reports that 14% of Filipino girls aged 15 to 19 years old are either pregnant for the first time or already mothers[4]. Four percent (4%) of 15-24 year olds infected with HIV are females[5].

Knowledge of HIV/AIDS and Sexual Attitudes

A paper prepared for the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America by Elmer Laguna from the University of the Philippines Population Institute gives us insights on the knowledge of Filipino youth on HIV/AIDS and its impact on their decision to engage in various sexual practices. Laguna cites the AIDS Risk Reduction Model which states that being correctly informed on reproductive health is the starting point from which one is able to make commitments in changing one’s risky behavior and enacting solutions to perform low-risk behavior[6,7].

Findings from the study revealed that awareness of the existence of a disease known as HIV/AIDS is universal among the youth, but misconceptions about the disease exist for a sizable proportion of the sector. More than a quarter believe that HIV/AIDS is a punishment from God for people who have sex outside marriage. A significant proportion also mentioned that AIDS is curable, and more than half believe that only persons with multiple sex partners are at risk of acquiring the virus[8]. In 2016, the increase in HIV cases among the youth is indicative that the level of knowledge of HIV/AIDS among the youth still needs urgent attention.

Linked with HIV/AIDS knowledge are prevailing sexual attitudes and behaviors. Elmer Jose from the Department of Psychology of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines conducts a study on these on respondents aged 15-24 years[9]. Cultural mores on premarital sex stemming from the country’s Catholic background is noteworthy as high percentages of respondents hold sex as sacred and must be reserved after marriage. In spite of the significant reservations against premarital sex, more than a quarter of respondents reported having had premarital intercourse, with 80% having not used condoms - an overwhelming majority.

Cross-linking findings from Jose and Laguna’s studies, the influence of religion is a palpable force in shaping people’s attitudes towards sex and HIV/AIDS. Quite ironically, Laguna reports that Catholic respondents are generally more aware about the existence of HIV/AIDS. Consequently, the view that HIV/AIDS is a punishment for those who engage in sexual intercourse outside marriage is prevalent and may be a reason for someone to feel stigmatized about activities geared towards HIV/AIDS awareness and understanding — from talking about one’s sexual behavior to getting oneself tested and receiving treatment. Secondly, the alarmingly low rate of condom use among respondents who reported engaging in sexual intercourse whilst being aware of HIV/AIDS is a worrisome contradiction that puts into question the effectiveness of reproductive health education programs[10].

Condom Use and HIV Testing Among the Youth

In 2015, a qualitative study on condom use conducted by the Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH) tackled reasons that drove subjects to or barred them from using condoms. Similarly, reasons that drove subjects to or barred them from getting tested for HIV/AIDS were identified.While the study focused on men having sex with men (MSMs), persons aged less than 24 years comprised majority (64%) of the respondents[11].

The study revealed that there are more barriers than drivers for using condoms. Access to condoms and lubricants, knowledge and awareness about HIV, and perceived risk determined whether or not respondents used condoms. Moreover, personal motivations drove respondents to use condoms for protection or abandon them for sexual pleasure. Social perceptions centering on the “cleanliness” of their partner also determined condom use.

Of the numerous factors the study considered, love and romantic relationships, and spontaneity, or “heat of the moment” sex, are barriers that had no corresponding drivers. “Here, the meaning of being in a relationship and not using a condom to show trust and fidelity becomes the barrier to condom use[12]”. In other words, personal motivation towards safety and cleanliness is overpowered by multiple barriers including personal motivations towards sexual pleasure, love and romantic relationships. Finally, the spontaneity of sex implies that the physical urge to have sex is a barrier to condom use[13].

Similarly, there were more barriers than drivers for getting tested for HIV/AIDS. Access to services, knowledge and awareness of HIV/AIDS, and perceived or felt risks of acquiring the virus determined whether or not respondents got themselves tested. On the level of personal motivation, it was either respondents wanted to validate their negative status or were prevented by fear of finding out their HIV/AIDS status. Stigma associated with HIV, however, is a barrier to testing that had no opposing drivers[14].

The study clearly reveals that there were consistently more factors barring people from using condoms and getting tested for HIV/AIDS than factors driving people to use condoms and getting themselves tested for HIV/AIDS. As a response to these findings, the study recommends a model for awareness intended for the general population, including the youth, with the goal for effecting behavioral change. In order for knowledge and awareness to be instilled effectively, the model identifies three levels of knowledge: conceptual knowledge which makes HIV understandable, social awareness of the reality of HIV, and personal awareness of PLHIVs[15].

LoveYourself Caravans

LoveYourself has an initiative called LoveYourself Caravans, an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign which includes conducting HIV101 and on-site testing at universities and colleges and workplaces. In response to the growing rate of infections among the youth, LoveYourself Caravans is increasing the number of schools it targets to collaborate with on-campus awareness programs. In light of the three-tiered awareness model recommended by DOH’s 2015 qualitative study, we ask LoveYourself Programs Officer Earl Patrick Penabella to see where LoveYourself Caravans’ programs stand.

The HIV101 modules conducted by LoveYourself attempts to address an awareness program’s requirement to instill conceptual knowledge, and to a certain extent also instill social awareness through videos and group dynamics alluding to the reality of HIV/AIDS. “Social awareness though is difficult to quantify; its end results are more qualitative in nature,” says Earl. He admits though that the the capacity of LoveYourself’s HIV101 programs to raise personal awareness still leaves much to be desired. “The program can consider sharing testimonials from PLHIVs, who can talk about their experiences before students and educators,” muses Earl.

An integral part of LoveYourself Caravans' campaigns in colleges and universities is advocating the use of condoms, a topic that is not well received in secular institutions. Earl reports that 4 out of 5 schools denied the program from distributing condoms and demonstrating its usage, relegating learning about the contraceptive tool to Powerpoint slides. “There are a few ways we can go around this setback - LoveYourself has tools to ensure that we do get the message across. The most basic expectation of an awareness campaign is to move the audience one notch up - which means if they have zero knowledge, then it is to equip them with the knowledge,” he explains.

LoveYourself Caravans’ HIV101 module includes the Triangle of Self Care[16], a LoveYourself paradigm that sufficiently tackles condom and lubricant use. LoveYourself Caravans is also planning to launch a peer educator program aimed at capacitating and training students with the skills and knowledge to facilitate LoveYourself’s HIV101 modules to fellow students, a scheme similar to LoveYourself’s campaigns but on a decreased scale. The peer educator programs will be held at LoveYourself’s facilities where respect for religious and cultural sensibilities is not an obstacle. “Schools may disallow us from doing condom usage demonstrations, but when we train our peer educators, they will be exposed to the actual thing,” solving the barrier to experiential learning.

Beyond Conceptual Learning

A partner of LoveYourself Caravans is the Ateneo entity of the Association for the International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce (AIESEC), a worldwide organization developing the leadership potential of the youth through experiential learning, volunteer experiences, and professional internships[17].

Being an international exchange organization, Project tHrIVe allows foreign volunteers, which the entity calls as “Exchange Participants (EPs),” to experience LoveYourself operations by spending a few days working at its clinics. The program lasts for six weeks, and the EPs are made to work with various organizations including LoveYourself, educating the youth about the dangers of HIV/AIDS transmission, working at its testing sites, and participating in events that the organizations may have.

Project tHrIVe with its hands-on approach to learning allows its participants first-hand encounters with clients at LoveYourself’s clinics. “Our EP’s time volunteering in LoveYourself Anglo really helped them to see the nerve-racking effects of having HIV. It made them want to educate the youth even more, because they know that it is the only way to lessen the number of people experiencing these emotions,” shares Nicole Ngo, lead of Project tHrIVe. Despite the impact the program bears on its EPs, the program is not without its limitations. “We often encounter logistical problems, and coordinating with various organizations can be difficult,” says Nicole. Moreover, the project head admits there is a need to be more stringent with the attendance of EPs. “Most of the EPs are traveling to the Philippines for the very first time and would also like to travel around the country. We do have to remind them that they come here first and foremost for the project, and sightseeing can come second.” A more obvious limitation would be the very nature of AIESEC itself as an the international exchange program -  the EPs who participate in Project tHrIVe are foreigners.

“This is why I’m thinking of proposing an on-the-job training program with our school partners,” says Earl. As the urgency to safeguard the youth from HIV/AIDS increases, there is a need to continually improve awareness programs starting from the basic HIV101 module. A group of researchers led by Dr. Emmanuel Baja at the University of the Philippines-Manila under the Newton Fund Program of the government of the United Kingdom are investigating the development of a virtual reality gaming application with HIV/AIDS and other STIs as its theme with the aim of promoting awareness of HIV/AIDS and testing in the Philippines[18]. The example given by this initiative as well as Ateneo-AIESEC’s Project tHrIVe highlight three levels of learning - conceptual, social, and personal. Moreover, the ever changing face of the epidemic requires a vigilance from advocates conducting awareness campaigns and constant innovation to ensure that the programs instill awareness and knowledge more effectively, and more members of vulnerable sectors are reached.

Photos from Project tHrIVe

HIVisions’ A Youth in Crisis will continue with more stories of noteworthy efforts from LoveYourself’s partners from the academe in its advocacy of HIV/AIDS awareness, testing, and prevention.