Five years ago, a friend talked to me. He had himself tested for HIV. I was glad to hear that his result turned out to be non-reactive, meaning negative to HIV. Then he started talking about an organization called “LoveYourself”. It didn’t get much of my attention, until one day I read an article in the news saying that HIV cases are increasing in the country. I was alarmed but uncertain of what to do to help. I looked up “LoveYourself” online to learn more about the organization, but did not express my interest to be part of the team.
Four years ago, someone so close to me called me and woke me up in the middle of the night with explosive news. He was HIV positive! My mind that time was restless thinking about how to respond or what to do. I couldn’t show pity, I couldn’t blame him. I So, I just let him speak and asked “So, what’s your plan now?”
He said, “I want to live. Please help me.”
It pierced my heart.
Tears fell on my cheeks and I responded, “Okay. Pack your things and move here in Manila. I know a few people who can help you with this.”
A few days after, he was with me here in Manila. I took him to RITM Alabang where he was also confined due to high fever. While there in RITM Alabang, I saw a lot of people living with HIV. Some looked healthy while others were not in good conditions. I told myself, I have to do something to help. Then, I discovered my purpose. After a few months, I found myself attending trainings on Self-Empowerment, One-on-One Counselling, Group Facilitation and HIV 101 with the other volunteers. I became a volunteer counselor of LoveYourself.
In this photo are the passionate volunteers of LoveYourself, Inc. after the mass testing in celebration of World AIDS Day 2016
I work in a BPO company as a Team Lead of the Global Workforce Management Team. I work at night. After work, I sleep for 5 to 6 hours, then go to the LoveYourself clinic and duty as a volunteer counselor. There, I meet people from different walks of life, but with one thing in common— the fear of knowing their status. I know exactly how they feel, especially for those who are tested for the first time, for I had felt the same during my very first HIV testing. I facilitated group discussions on HIV, answering every question and correcting some misconceptions. I also had one-on-one sessions with my clients discussing options to protect themselves and to uphold the value of self-love.
LoveYourself clinic is a safe space for everyone. People, regardless of who they are or where they’re from, are free to come in and free from any judgments. As volunteers, we ensure that everyone will feel comfortable and safe and guarantee confidentiality of everything that has been talked about during our one-on-one counselling, especially about their HIV status.
LoveYourself is my second home. If not at work, you will see me at the clinic doing counseling. Just last year, I completed my training as a Life Coach. The role of the Life Coach is different from the counselors. Life coaches are responsible for ensuring that a person diagnosed as HIV positive will enroll for treatment, embrace his status, uphold the value of self-love, and more importantly, adhere to treatment.
The more I spend time with these people living with HIV, the more I see the need to act. Their struggles go beyond just being HIV positive. It is not having the virus that they worry about but the stigma in the community. As a Life Coach, I empower them to know their worth and understand that they are capable of loving and being loved, and that they are valuable.
People around me started asking, “Aren’t you afraid that one day you will be infected with HIV being surrounded by people living with it?” Why should I be afraid? They are normal like me. They are human like me. I was never offended by that question. In fact, that is a perfect topic to start conversations about HIV and eliminating the stigma.
Another question I often get is, “Why do you do that (volunteering)? You are not even paid to do it.” My answer is so simple. The joy in seeing how I affect others’ lives is more than enough. I have never been this fulfilled before. It is only through this advocacy that I find a deeper meaning of why I am here, the very meaning of my existence. Volunteering is not an easy job. It is very tiring. But if your heart is in what you do, you will never get tired of what you are doing. Every day, I feel the urge to be at the clinic and help others conquer their fears in knowing the status and clear all uncertainties as to what life would be after the test.
Left to Right: Leo (co-volunteer), me, and Vinn Pagtakhan (founding CEO of LoveYourself, Inc., and one of TOYM awardee for 2016)
Last year, I was recognized as the second most outstanding counselor, one of the most outstanding life coaches, and one of the most outstanding volunteers for events, communications (social media relations), and even at caravan. But to me, these recognitions are nothing compared to my passion in helping. With or without recognition, I would still devote my time. And I will never stop until I see people living with HIV living normally even with their status known to others. I will never stop volunteering until the stigma has been completely wiped out.
Maybe the question now is “How do you balance everything knowing you have work at night and you volunteer during the day?” Well, I still live life passionately. If not at work and not at volunteer work, you will see me enjoying movies for I am a huge fan of good movies, or you will see me sitting at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at SM Aura enjoying my favorite coffee while listening to my playlist in Spotify, or doing online counseling on HIV, helping those who still have fears to know their status find courage to do so for themselves and for the people they love.
If you wish to know more about HIV, you may message me in my Facebook account (https://facebook.com/arvin0908) or my Instagram account (@arvin0908). You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.