Saturday, June 30, 2018

Volunteer Spotlight: A New Queen on the Rise

By Tino Largado

When does your strength become your weakest point?

Nicole Silvestre, LoveYourself Volunteer,
on her BPO Queen 2018 experience:
“It was a battle between myself and my limitations.”
For LoveYourself Volunteer Nicole Silvestre, her confident response to this question sealed her fate on the 29th of May, 2018. Having already bested 22 other candidates vying to be the very first BPO Queen, Nicole took no time in drawing a heartfelt answer not only based from experience, but inspired by her volunteer organization, no less.

“My biggest strength will never be my weakest point because this is something I can always hold on to. I believe that loving yourself will always be your biggest strength and it will never be a weakness.”

Nicole bagged First Runner-Up at the end of the night —  a feat Nicole herself considers a satisfying end to the journey of a 26-year old BPO employee who, only months ago, had one previous office pageant and a noontime show transgender queen search on her kontesera (pageant veteran) résumé.

“This entire experience has been a test of character,” relayed Nicole. “Through it all, my takeaway has been about pushing myself. It was a battle between myself and my limitations.”

While the pageant scene comes as a new ground for Nicole to test her limits, she’s never one to shy away from previous battles, and her only desire is to educate and inspire others with her experiences. She’s aware of the responsibilities a beauty queen entails, and equipped with her passion to the advocacy, she’s eager and excited to do more.

Pageant Push

Nicole’s recent attempt at pageant success, prior to her BPO Queen stint, is on the stage of Eat Bulaga’s Super Sireyna, appearing with two other contestants on March 16th. “I just wanted to see how far I can go,” she recalls. While she didn’t win that day, her goal to find to test her limits paid off: she realized she can actually do it.

Just a couple of months fresh from an exhilarating experience on national TV, the opportunity to join BPO Queen came knocking her door. The way it promoted diversity, equality, and inclusion in the BPO industry, and how it’s finally happening for the first time this year, enticed Nicole to participate.

Not going to battle empty-handed this time, Nicole trained under Raymond Zoleta, Michael John Destar, and the team of Faces (Home of Beauty Queens). She was amazed and challenged at what she learned on how a queen walks, talks, and carries herself on-stage.

She realized the work was cut out for her the moment she qualified for BPO Queens. “I remember right after the first press conference,” she said, “when all candidates were introduced, is when I got the chance to size up the competition. I immediately told my handler: I have to train harder.” She took it upon herself to refine her opportunities and master her strengths.

She kept her eye on the prize while never forgetting that this experience offers her a chance to learn from others like her. “I’m proud of the other girls,” shared Nicole, who admits she misses the other candidates now that the pageant is over, particularly the ones she became friends with. “It’s not everyday that you get to be around people who share the same experience, industry, and passion with. It was a battle on-stage, but off-stage, it’s pretty much like hanging around with sisters.”

Nicole grabbed the chance to have a moment with Catriona Gray,
Binibining Pilipinas-Universe 2018,
at “This is Me: Brave and Free”

On top of her preparations, Nicole felt excited when she found time to spend with Binibining Pilipinas Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, who graced the Anglo site during the recently-concluded This Is Me: Brave and Free HIV-screening event. “Her presence is refreshing. She’s down to earth and comfortable to be with.” Asked about one unforgettable tip Catriona gave her before her pageant, Nicole said “Eat chocolates right after the swimsuit round. You need the sugar rush for the Q&A.”


Rediscovering Roots

When faced with life-altering decisions, Nicole responds best with perfect timing. When she started joining pageants, she had the desire, so she got the needed nudge from her friends who support her. The same is true when, at the age of 20, Nicole decided to begin her biomedical transition to as a transgender woman.

When a dear friend died at a young age, Nicole realized that, indeed, life is too short to not take your happiness upon yourself. “Do what makes you happy.” It’s a cliché for most people, until a situation makes it a reality. It’s a reality Nicole decided she wanted for herself, so when she got a slot for an internship at a hotel in Marco Island in Florida, USA, she used it to gradually perform the changes she wanted done. The circumstances seemed to align, somehow. “It helped that I was away,” explains Nicole, “because I got a chance to complete my transition without gaining a lot of outside reaction. I’m away from family and friends, even in Florida, I didn’t attract attention.”

The challenge arose when she flew back to Manila. While Nicole’s relationship with her mom remained seamless despite the change, she can’t say the same yet when it comes to her dad. Nicole’s never closing doors, though: “I believe it will happen in time.”

Her optimism extends from the confines of her family, and out to her friends, colleagues, and anyone who’s yet to understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance. “People can easily say they’re OK with it. In fact, they do, all the time. But when it happens in front of their own eyes, to someone close to them, it’s different.” Nicole is aware how this remains to be a challenge, one that lingers on even after the process of biomedical transitioning is done. Not only is she hopeful that true acceptance overcomes tolerance, she has learned to take it upon herself to do something to make it happen as well.

Instrument and Inspiration

Nicole saw an opportunity to scale up this personal challenge into an advocacy. Instead of limiting her goal of genuine acceptance to just friends and families, she recognized how transgender women like her share the same struggle around people who probably lack knowledge and sensitivity regarding Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE), react differently towards the concept, or are simply unwelcoming or closed-minded. She began engaging into conversations surrounding this topic whenever she can, making sure to do whatever she can for the cause.

Her role of championing advocacies in the community take a different turn when she decided to take a friend for HIV screening at LoveYourself Anglo in July 2017. “This friend engages in risky activity, so when I finally convinced her to get tested, I wanted to be there,” recalls Nicole. She lets out a chuckle when she remembers how, because of the wait time for the results, she decided to get herself tested as well. “I’m already there, anyway, so might as well.”

The accommodating aura and the welcoming warmth made her think of signing up as a volunteer. It also made her realize how the HIV advocacy is strongly related and equally crucial to the transgender cause she firmly believes in. The idea of being able to advocate for both causes as a way to give back to the community excited and challenged her. Nicole found herself staring at a chance to do something concrete, as a volunteer, and she grabbed it. She joined LoveYourself as a member of Batch Duque in September of that year.

Nicole shares how the organization has done more for her.“It allowed me to push for greater things, even those I never thought I could do. It gave me a better sense of understanding of the community I belong to. It led me to find the sisters I treasure dearly. It feels great to be around people who share your  wavelength, your passion, your heart.” LoveYourself served as an instrument for Nicole to take her advocacy further, not only educating about SOGIE and transgender rights, but also incorporating self-love in the context of HIV testing and treatment. Nicole finds inspiration in the co-volunteers she has fondly treasured as family; the leaders she look up to as role models, even the clients she takes care of during counseling.

“I’m very happy I have found sisters.” Nicole poses with her co-volunteers after a dutiful day at Victoria by LoveYourself.

Dedicated to Educate

“I still get frustrated,” admits Nicole, when asked how it feels whenever there are insensitive or hateful comments against the transgender community, or ignorant assumptions on any LGBTQIA topic. “I remember reaching out to someone I didn’t know through social media because she made comments that are selective and insensitive. I explained and communicated in a way that’s informative and not condescending. This person reasoned out to me how it’s only a matter of preference, but in the end, she apologized.” When the situation calls for it, Nicole is not one to back down easily, and can go on and on to make sure she gets her point across. “I believe they speak or act a certain way based on what the know. It’s how important education is.”

It can get tough for Nicole if it happens in the workplace. “You may sometimes hear people murmur remarks that are uncalled for. Some people would still joke about it, until now.” This admission comes at a time when the BPO industry has always shown support towards diversity and inclusivity, ahead of other industries in the country. “I have talked to friends or colleagues about it. Some have been receptive, others weren’t as open-minded.”

Nicole is aware this challenge is far from over, and she believes being a BPO Queen runner-up and LoveYourself counselor will enable her to achieve more. She plans to stick to what she does best—educating and inspiring from experience—to break the barriers of ignorance and hate and bridge it with understanding and compassion. She also aspires to influence more people who feel a strong passion for advocacy to follow her example and do something about it, the way she did by joining LoveYourself. Like a true queen with a purpose, there’s no stopping her, and she’s calling out for support and action.
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When not juggling BPO work and HIV advocacy, Tino is a self-confessed TV addict and Broadway musical fanatic. He thinks he’s an old soul, perhaps a sitcom actor in his past life, trapped in a selfie-obsessed man-boy suit.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

HIVisions: Secured Living for PLHIV

By Rael Bustamante and Ronald Bugarin

According to the March 2018 HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), there were 912 new cases of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) reported, most of which are young professionals aged 25-34. Attaining and maintaining financial security is a common goal among these up and coming men and women. But, some PLHIVs are discouraged from attaining financial security due mainly to discriminatory workplace policies regarding their condition or limited employment opportunities where some industries require that applicants and employees should be nonreactive / HIV negative. It will be beneficial for these PLHIV to have some form of assurance in having a secured life and future if only they are given a chance to apply for life insurance policy without discriminatory provisions.

Currently, life insurance has morphed from the traditional compensation for a person’s dependents after death to a form of investment or savings on top of the traditional coverage. Having a life insurance does not only give an assurance that those left behind have financial stability but likewise provide investment or savings opportunity for the applicant to secure their future. It will be favorable for PLHIV to have such opportunity especially to those who are making smart financial decisions because after a period of time, they can withdraw the savings earned from the life insurance policy and use it to have better lives without losing the benefits of having life insurance.  Also, critical illness riders where financial compensation are provided in case the policyholder acquires a critical illness without affecting his life insurance coverage and investment are now available.

Image Retrieved from: https://www.jurnal.id/id/blog/2017/5-bentuk-bentuk-badan-usaha-di-indonesia
The government has taken actions in providing equal rights for PLHIV. Section 26 of Philippines AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 (RA 8504) states that, “the Secretary of Health, in cooperation with the Commissioner of the Insurance Commission and other public and private insurance agencies, shall conduct a study on the feasibility and viability of setting up a package of insurance benefits and, should such study warrant it, implement an insurance coverage program for persons with HIV.”.  The Insurance Commission (IC) has already taken steps to ensure Life Insurance coverage are readily available for PLHIV and their dependents through the issuance of Circular Letter No. 2017-11.

But unfortunately, Life Insurance Companies have yet to properly implement the provisions on the underwriting of life insurance coverage for PLHIV where Applicant’s risk and exposure are assessed prior to granting of a life insurance policy. Some of the provisions require additional examinations beyond the coverage of Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package of PhilHealth and additional premium on top of the regular premium to be paid which can burden the applicant.

GUIDELINES ON PLHIV LIFE INSURANCE COVERAGE

Circular Letter No. 2017-11 was issued by IC on the 14th of February 2017 to all life insurance companies outlined the guidelines on the life insurance underwriting of applicants with actual, perceived or suspected to be living with HIV.  These guidelines were enacted to set standards in the risk assessment for PLHIV. This is set as a basis for the parameters of life insurance risk classification and other underwriting purposes. Among the salient point of the guidelines are as follows
  1. Insurer may require applicants to undergo HIV testing based on parameters set forth in R.A. 8504, performed by health facilities recognized by the Department of Health (DOH) and equipped in providing services on HIV testing and counseling.
  2. Insurer shall report to the Medical Information Database (MID) any HIV test with positive results provided the information was voluntarily submitted by the applicant/proposed insured and subject to compliance by the insurer with the provisions of R.A. 10173 and provided further, that the report to the MID is done with the knowledge of the applicant/proposed insured.
  3. Insurer may postpone the application of a newly diagnosed PLHIV for a period of not more than one (1) year from the start of continuous Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) in order to evaluate compliance and efficacy of treatment.
  4. The insurer may provide insurance coverage to a person with HIV or an individual diagnosed to be infected with HIV, if (a) the person is undergoing proper medical treatment, (b) the person has a favorable risk profile and ( c) the results of the medical examinations required by the insurer are within normal limits.
  5. The insurer may require applicants to defray the cost of special underwriting requirements related to the application for insurance coverage, if necessary.
  6. The insurer may impose extra mortality charges to persons accepted for coverage. The coverage may provide supplemental benefits or riders.

These guidelines appear to be tedious or to the disadvantage of PLHIV specifically under Item 4 - Grant of Insurance Coverage provision of the guideline.  PLHIVs are required to submit various medical examinations which are beyond the requirements of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for PLHIV and not covered by the OHAT Package of PhilHealth which includes Hepatitis C profile, blood chemistry profile to include kidney function and three (3) consecutive CD4 cell count tests. 

Below are the different tests needed by PLHIV before and during treatment in comparison with the requirements of Life Insurance Companies for PLHIV applying for life insurance as mandated by IC.



Pre-treatment, treatment and insurance policy requirements
Furthermore, there are additional costs added on top of regular coverage premiums for PLHIVs like mortality charges with supplemental benefits or riders and cost of special underwriting requirements making it quite expensive for PLHIV to acquire a Life Insurance coverage.

The guidelines also limit the acceptance for PLHIV as to plan of insurance, maturity term, payment term, age and policy amount. This means that Life Insurance Companies can dictate what type of product, how long the coverage, payments terms and even policy coverage can be granted to PLHIV as opposed to Regular Applicants who have the option to tailor fit the life insurance coverage to their needs. PLHIV does not have that option with this provision.

NON-COMPLIANCE OF LIFE INSURANCE COMPANIES

Despite provisions set forth by Section 26 of Republic Act 8504 as well as promulgated guidelines issued by IC via the issuance of Circular Letter 2017-11, Life Insurance Companies have yet to provide access to life insurance coverage to PLHIV and their Dependents.

The authors of this article made queries to five Major Life Insurance Companies on their compliance to Circular Letter 2017-11.  From the survey made, only one out of five Life Insurance Companies surveyed was compliant.

Reasons given by non-compliant Life Insurance Companies were they still treat HIV as an excluded medical condition. Others have yet to set up the underwriting parameters in determining the applicable life insurance coverage to be granted for PLHIV. And worse, some suggested not to disclose their HIV status upon application of Life Insurance coverage so that the Application can be approved easily. Said non disclosure can be disadvantageous to PLHIV since this can be seen by Life Insurance Companies as fraudulent and any claims to the policy on the basis of the withheld information can be rejected by the insurance company.

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Image Retrieved from: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/718743
A CALL FOR EASY ACCESS TO INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR PLHIV

A year has passed since Circular 2017-11 was released and until now Life Insurance Companies have yet to set-up their underwriting parameters to provide life insurance coverage for PLHIV.  There is a need for all Life Insurance Companies to comply with the mandate not just for the sake of compliance but more importantly to provide better life insurance coverage to more than 53,192 reported PLHIV cases as of March 2018.  

The efforts made by the IC for PLHIV are on the right track, however, amendments for the guidelines to be non-discriminatory to PLHIV are needed as well as stricter monitoring of its implementation by Life Insurance Companies. Hopefully, the Life Insurance Industry can answer the call of all PLHIV to have easy access to Life Insurance coverage that can preserve their hard earned income and provide for their Dependents financially when the need arises.
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Rael is a panda bear who loves giving hugs and making people laugh. He can be a little naive and eccentric but nonetheless, he will be your favorite chinito flavor 🐼
Ron is a true blooded Banker who does events and hosting on the side. He has volunteered for LoveYourself because of his former partner was diagnosed as PLHIV

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Making This is Me: Brave and Free a Smash Hit - The Hornet Experience

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

The stage was set ablaze in the Philippines' first community-led multi-site HIV testing day on May 26, 2018. This is Me: Brave and Free is a team effort organized by community based organizations across the Philippines (Juan Positive Movement, HIV & AIDS Support House, Inc, Decent Image of South Signal Association, Cavite Positive Action Group, GAYON, Project H4, Kagay-an PLUS, and Olympus Society of Davao) alongside LoveYourself (LoveYourself Anglo, LoveYourself Uni, and Victoria by LoveYourself) to celebrate self-care through a fast, free, and confidential community based-screening process.

With almost one million people reached across social media platforms, and a total of 1,145 sign-ups, campaign efforts has certainly been a success. With today's advancements in social networking, social networking applications has played a significant role in promoting timely testing among its  user base. Let's see how Hornet came to support This is Me Brave and Free.

Supporting the Event

Alex Garner - Hornet Senior Health
Innovation Strategist
Hornet joined This is Me: Brave and Free as they believe in the great work community-based organizations in the Philippines has done to improve health and wellness in the LGBT community.

"We are committed to the health of the LGBT community and want to do all that we can to empower our users to make informed decisions about their sexual health." - Alex Garner

Alex from Hornet shares how vital gay social networking applications are to provide useful information and help men of all statuses make connections. Even with a simple notification telling you about a nearby event, it can make all the difference in a person's journey in self-care.

"We strive to create a community that celebrate and affirms people of all ethnicities, gender expressions, body types, ages, and HIV statuses. Getting more people to openly talk about their testing experience and providing a platform for that conversation can really make an impact." - Alex Garner

This is Me: Brave and Free has one of the most diverse sets of faces influencing the LGBT community towards getting tested. Featuring people of different gender identities, abilities, and body types, it is a step forward towards spreading the importance of HIV testing in a healthy lifestyle.

Hornet's Role in the HIV Advocacy

"Getting tested is a great way to take control of one's health. Much of the fear associated with testing is around fear of what a life with HIV will mean. We work to demonstrate all sorts of experiences of people living with HIV and a positive diagnosis does not mean a loss of sexuality, health, or support system"  - Alex Garner

Hornet positions itself as a platform wherein people can openly and affirmatively declare their HIV status to combat the stigma associated with knowing one's status. Hornet has even created a video series on Youtube called Ask a Pro that tackles important topics such as livign with HIV.


The evolution of how people connect nowadays has affected how the message of love and self-care is delivered. With plenty of resources and opportunities brought to an online platform, Hornet does its part to connect these to the people who would most benefit from them. You can be part of the network Hornet helps to connect by downloading their app on the Google Play Store and on iTunes

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Carlos Diego is an HIV counselor and the Head of Editorial for LoveYourself. Outside of volunteering, he is a clinical audiology student and a registered psychometrician. He aims to facilitate a deeper meaning to health by discussing the importance of aural, sexual, and mental health.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Batch Upendo - The 20th Batch of Volunteers, Starts Their Mark in the HIV Advocacy

By Mark Angello C. Ganon

1,000 in 20 – Stars aligned on Saturday, June 2, 2018, at the People’s Hall of SM Aura Premier when LoveYourself welcomed Batch Upendo, a cluster of 56 new recruits in the HIV and AIDS awareness advocacy. With the orientation of these extraordinary individuals, Batch Upendo has etched its mark in LoveYourself history as it became its 20th batch of volunteers. On top of that, 56 was the just the right number to push LoveYourself’s roster of advocates beyond the one thousand mark.


Chris Lagman, LoveYourself’s Director for Learning and Development, primes Batch Upendo volunteers to continue the organization’s commitment to be a safe space for the community
With this milestone, LoveYourself positions itself in the frontline in the battle against HIV. Staying true to its commitment to the community, the organization continues to provide a safe space for anyone who wishes to be enlightened on HIV, its transmission and prevention, and on how to thwart the stigma it entails. Marvin Frondoza, a volunteer HIV counselor, headed the batch orientation that welcomed the promising HIV advocates. The orientation served as their stepping stone in the advocacy and their coming out as new warriors against the virus.


New volunteers share smiles and laughter as they are welcomed to LoveYourself




LOVE in NUMBERS

With over 1,000 LoveYourself members, one would think it’s an arduous task to keep such a diverse group intact. The secret? It’s the amity and solidarity formed within each of the 20 batches, which eventually transcended to the organization as a whole. While it might not be the best idea to create division through batches, embracing differences within a small group would empower individual members to be able to yield and accept diversity in a larger scale. Batch Upendo is no exemption to this 6-year tradition of LoveYourself. Branding a batch with a name and pairing it up with a distinct insignia builds a sense of unity as new volunteers begin their venture in the advocacy.

Staying true to this year’s theme of “love across the globe”, LoveYourself’s core group selected a word from Swahili, one of vast languages of the eastern Africans. Upendo, the term that was chosen is the Swahili translation of “love”. It is an old belief that love is a universal term that defies definition. It is an understandable language that does not necessarily warrant words and it is more felt than said. In essence, it is the love of the volunteers that keeps LoveYourself going strong in its 6th year of service to the community. It is in love to and for the community that LoveYourself envisions itself to continue being a safe space in the years to come.
Batch Upendo logo, created by TJ Monzon,
got its inspiration from the barren lands of Africa

LOVE in FLOCKS and PACKS

From the Swahili roots blossomed the inspiration of Rick James “TJ” Monzon, the creator of the logo for Batch Upendo. The emblem shows a brown circle enclosing a young giraffe in a sitting position. Its border is adorned with leaves that are embellished with African-enthused patterns. The color theme of the logo, on the other hand, is a representation of the parched lands of Africa where predators easily hide themselves in shrivelled grass and dried soil.

The giraffe was chosen as the spirit animal of Batch Upendo for its height, and compassion. It has long been considered that giraffes are one of the worst mothers in the animal planet, but latest discoveries have shown that the when a young calf dies, its mother, along with other female giraffes in the tower, protect the carcass days after death. In this day and age, giraffes can teach us a thing or two on how a heightened sense of compassion for others is what is needed in our community.
Digging deeper in the essence of the logo, TJ quips that love is also represented in the logo. It can be noted that despite the sweltering heat and danger lurking behind bushes, there is one thing that’s common in the African faunas: the instinct to form groups, like the giraffe. This natural proclivity of forming flocks and packs is planted on the fact that there is a better chance of survival if they stick together.
“The hunted come together in groups to protect one
another especially the young.” - TJ Monzon
This love for one another spells life and death for the young who’s just starting his journey in a harsh world. In that same sense, as the community continues its battle against HIV, we also get enlightened with the common LoveYourself adage that says, “Alone we can do so little, together, we can do so much.”

Batch Upendo
Alongside the growing numbers of HIV cases is the increase of the numbers of hearts and minds that converge to combat HIV and AIDS. LoveYourself continues to be a community of volunteers that aims to not just create ripples, but to be the ripples that nurture the value of loving one’s self as a way to multiply joy in the community.

Feeling inspired? Join us in the advocacy by clicking here.
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Gello is an infection control nurse who is utterly useless before his 2nd cup of coffee. Unbeknownst to most, he’s a closeted otaku and has a deep obsession with eggs. Despite being 30, he still secretly waits for the owl that will finally deliver his acceptance letter at Hogwarts.