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Q: For you, sir, how was your life when you learned that you were HIV positive?

A: I have to recall my experience for the past 15 years. I am HIV positive for 15 years now. At first, like Elsa, it was difficult. Although I know that there is no cure for HIV, I did not quite understand the implication of my situation. I guess the counseling the hospital gave helped me somehow. But during that time there was no access to anti-retro viral therapy. Because of that, I thought that I was definitely going to die. I started to process (prepare) myself to wait for the time when I will die. Everything about me during that time was blank. And I (hid) for almost six years after diagnosis before I started coping with my status as HIV positive. Q: Where did you stay during those six years? A: I stayed in the province. Q: You just stayed at home? A: I have a farm. Q: You just stayed there? A: I was telling myself, I will wait for my death here. However, through Gods mercy, I did not get sick during those six years; although the doctor said that I was going to die. I was really preparing myself. Q: You mentioned it was difficult, what were the difficulties that you experienced when you first learned about your condition? A: I used to be an OFW. When I came home in 1995, I was expecting that I would still be able to work in another country. It did not happen because I had to undergo the test, and it was then that I was diagnosed as HIV positive. It was painful, of course, economically, because I have not achieved my goals yet during that time. I really felt bad that I could not continue with my job overseas. What was I going to do? My mind was telling me to just accept that Ill be staying here. It was during those times that it was very difficult for me. But I was able to cope with it because I was busy with my farm. Another reason why it was difficult for me was because I kept all these things to myself. I was trying to identify to whom among my immediate family I can share my status (condition). I decided to tell my older sister, and I was not mistaken in my choice and decision. She was very supportive, she accepted my condition, she accepted me, and she gave me the moral support that I needed. After telling her, I started telling all the members of my immediate family. I was married during that time, I have one child. My child was almost three years old during that time. (S/He) was very young. I tried to do some precautions for my child: I didnt feed my child, I did not let my child use the things or utensils that I used. I was trying to decide what to do. I had to undergo several processes. I did not encounter problems with my nephews and nieces and other family members after telling them that I am HIV positive, at least there was acceptance. However, I did not tell my other relatives and our community, only my immediate family. I was afraid of the impact on my family when the community gets hold of it. I was afraid that they will talk (gossip) about me and my family. It was alright, I guess, if they would only talk about me. I cannot bear to hear talk against my family. I was trying to protect them. Q: How about your wife? A: During that time, in fact even before I came home, there was already a gap between us. I knew that my marriage (married life) will not be successful because my wife does not know of my real sexuality. You see, I was forced to marry my wife. My family knew that I am gay. They were thinking that I will become straight if I marry and have a family of my own. But I knew that even if the world will end, I am still gay. This (my being gay) is also why I only have one child. Q: At least, you had one child. A: My sexual preference is really different. I hope Sister will not get shocked and is already familiar with different sexual preferences and sexuality.

Q: How was it when your child was growing up? A: I was guiding him/her. My child is my responsibility and I honored my responsibility as a father. I sent my child to school; in fact (s/he) is already in college now. We live together. What concerns my child is that our family is not complete/whole, that my wife and I are separated. Q: Did your child know about your situation while your child was growing up? A: My child knows that I am gay but I havent told my child yet that I am HIV positive. I did not want her/him to get distracted from her/his studies. S/He will be graduating next year. S/He is in third year college now. I am planning to tell my child when s/he has a job already, so that s/he will not get distracted from her/his studies. I was thinking that if I tell my child now about my condition, it might become a problem. I am slowly preparing him/her to know about my condition, about what HIV is. But s/he knows that I am working with/for people living with HIV and AIDS. I guess I am just waiting for my child to ask me about whether I am HIV positive. My child knows that I am an advocate of HIV and AIDS. Q: Maybe s/he gets a hint of your situation but is afraid to know definitively. A: That could be Q: How did you find out that you are affected? A: I am an overseas worker. I worked in Saudi Arabia for almost eight years. Until such time that I thought of coming home because I wanted to change employers. HIV testing is required for migrant workers. Thats how we found out that I am HIV positive. And, personally, I also assessed myself; I tried to validate how I got HIV. I involved myself in activities when I was in another country that put me at risk to HIV. That was one of the processes that I found difficult. I was asking myself, Who gave me this? I could not identify. And of course, through unsafe sex. Q: You mentioned unsafe sex, do you believe that condom use can help in preventing transmission of HIV? A: Yes. A: (Elsa) Only in discordant couple. For example, in our status as HIV positive, our responsibility is to protect our partners who are HIV negative. In cases such as these, condom is one way to protect our partner. A: I believe that condom use is the only option to prevent HIV transmission sexually. A: (Elsa) We dont, however, encourage young people to use condom. We have to be careful, we dont want the Church to get angry because we advocate indiscriminate condom use. Q: How did being HIV positive affect your life? A: I did not blame anybody. I did not blame God. I blamed myself. I was not careful. Although, during that time early 90s, there was little awareness among people about HIV and AIDS. I think I got HIV around 1993, and I was diagnosed in 1995. I was looking back at my activities and what I could remember are the things I did in 1993 I was into multiple sex partners in Saudi Arabia. Q: What were your initial reactions? A: It seems that, God was trying to wake me. As if, God was tapping me. I am not a holy person, but I often attend Mass even when I know that I am bad. I am a devotee of our Lady of Perpetual Help. Even before I worked overseas, around 1980s, I attend mass every Wednesday. When I learned that I am HIV positive, it felt like God was tapping me so that I would wake up. I believed that God had a plan, God wants me to do something. I was telling myself that I can do this, I can bear this. Q: But you said earlier that you hid for six years when you knew about your situation?

A: It was because the doctor gave wrong information about my situation that I have five years to live. The doctor from the diagnostic clinic gave the wrong information, not our doctor. The doctor from the diagnostic clinic did not give us any information about HIV and AIDS and then I was told that I only have five years to live. I asked myself, what should I do? That was when I decided to go home to my farm in the province, spend the last moments of my life with my family. I started questioning what the doctor told me when after six years I did not get sick beside the fact that the doctor told me that Im going to die in five years. Q: How did being HIV positive affect your role as a parent? A: Financially. Before, I earn money more than what we needed when I was working abroad. You know how life is in the province and in the farm profit (money) is seasonal. We get money only during harvest time. I experienced the situation wherein the only money I had was the fund for farming. It was difficult. I did not want to rely or depend on my family. For a long time, I was hacking my brain what I should or could do, I could not think of anything. Things only changed for me when I started getting invited to participate in advocacies. That was the start of acquiring correct information about my condition. I learned that what I was told were wrong information. I felt relieved after that. I could hardly imagine that I had been living my life according to myths and wrong information for six years. Although, the hospital was regularly getting in touch with me, they are asking me how I am, that I should have myself monitored in RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine). I just ignored them. Although, there was also a time when I asked myself why I did not respond to them. It was during 2001, the time of the first national consensus, that I paid a visit. The organization had a plan to gather all Filipinos who are living with HIV and AIDS for a consultative meeting. That was the first time that all of us gathered together. Before that, I did not know other Filipinos who are HIV positive. Q: How did they know that you were HIV positive? How come they sent you invitation letters? A: I was a patient in RITM. Upon diagnosis, they get your information your demographics. Q: So, you were diagnosed here in the Philippines? A: Yes, I was diagnosed here, in the Philippines. I was planning to continue working abroad and that was one of the requirements. During the consensus meeting, the organization was introduced to me. In 2002, I started participating in the advocacies. I felt that I need to do something; there is something I want to do. Some things began to change in me. I began to like what the support group was doing. I can relate with what they were doing, their activities they were conducting HIV and AIDS awareness during predeparture orientation-seminar for migrant workers, for Filipino overseas workers. I even asked myself why was this orientation not given during my time. I realized the importance and I told myself that this is what I want to do. I believe that was a good move on my part because in the past ten years that I have been doing this, I experienced a sense of fulfillment. I am already fulfilled in the ten years that I was involved in this advocacy. There were so many things that have happened in that ten years straight. I did not experience getting tired or burn-out. We do mentoring. We want to transfer skills. We prepare those who also want and are willing to do what we did advocacy. Q: Prior to joining the organization, how did you cope up? How did you respond to, according to you, Gods wake-up call? A: My being promiscuous stopped. My bond with family strengthened. I did not have any involvement in our community. I was focused on my family. I was pre-occupied with them, I was preparing them and myself with the event that I will be gone. Q: What did you do to prepare yourself and your family? A: Although I did not tell all my relatives, particularly nephews and nieces, that I am HIV positive, I taught them to relate well with others. I really am a regular church-goer. Even if I do all those kind of things, even if I keep things to myself, my peers know that somehow I acknowledge that God is always

there, somehow I have this fear of God. I am not the type that who will do something bad to others because something bad happened to me. I believe that I did not do anything bad to others or that I offended others. I had this partner before but when I had been tested positive, we were both relieved that HIV was not transmitted to him. Q: How many years already since the doctor told you that you were HIV positive? A: 15 years already. I was diagnosed in 1995. It is almost 16 years now, it will be 16 years by October. Q: What was your feeling when the doctor told you that you were HIV positive? A: Actually, it was really a burden. They told me that I have five years to live. It is difficult to express how I felt during that time. Sometimes I really felt depressed. But sometimes, especially whenever I spend time with my family, I feel a certain relief, I somehow forget my sickness and that I am going to die. I like taking care of animals, I like growing plants. I poured my time and energy into that. I wanted to leave that (something) for my family, for our next generation. Q: So what you did after knowing that you are HIV positive is to plan for the time when you will be gone. A: I really prepared my family and myself, for sixteen years that was what I have been doing. Q: How does the organization help you? A: It is part of my coping mechanism. And the anti-retroviral that they provided really benefited me. We were the ones who initiated so that it can be accessed for free. We lobbied at the DOH during the time of Dayrit to provide us with ARV therapy for free. We asked the government what support they can give us. The organization had been a great help. And besides, I was employed. Although I started as a volunteer, I was given the opportunity to become a regular employee. I am not intelligent but the experience I gained through the organization is a factor to help the organization implement programs and projects/activities. I started as a volunteer, then they made me an I.O., then a project assistant. The organization helped me financially. The pay may be low but at least I had a stable source of income. It is difficult to live in Manila, which is why when the organization hired me, I go home to the province every weekend. I am from Nueva Ecija and it is only a three-hour travel. Like what Elsa mentioned earlier, we also experience difficulties in the organization but one of the privileges that we enjoy is we are given the opportunity to travel abroad. That is one of the ways how we get the strength we need for our work. When we go to other countries, we experience new environment, and it helps us to unwind. It is sometimes difficult to work in a non-government organization, it is sometimes stressful. We dont only interact with patients, we are also involved in project implementation, partnership with local government units, reporting of projects done or delivered. We have to maintain these things for those who give us funds, otherwise we will lose our funding. We are funded by international donors for almost twelve years. We dont want to lose the trust that our benefactors have given us. There are organizations that there are no funds, what happens then? Projects and programs cannot be implemented effectively. This is one of the reasons why our passion is also connected with the organization. Our task is not easy. Q: How does the assistance you get from the organization help you as a person? A: I felt that my self-esteem was given back to me, the morale which was lost before. I never imagined that I will be able to go to Europe, but I was given that opportunity. Another thing, I had this fear to speak before an audience, but I was helped. My speaking or communication skills were developed and improved. At present, I am the main coordinator of the speakers bureau. Our focus is the migrant workers. It is a group that has 24 members, we conduct HIV-AIDS awareness during pre-departure orientation in 7 agencies. Thats what keep us busy everyday. Sometimes we get invitations from communities, from local government units, and the academe. In the organization, we have different projects. I am involved in prevention for migrant workers. My partner is involved in the services among persons living with HIV. We have different tasks. He visits those who are in the hospitals, those at home. We work as a team to deliver the objective of the project.

Q: Aside from persons who are HIV positive who conduct counseling, are there also guidance counselor or psychiatrists? A: Our access to psychiatrists is very limited. We had that experience when we were tagged as mentally ill when we tried to ask the services of psychiatrists. But that is what the psychiatrists from San Lazaro Hospital try to strengthen because they know that although we have the support of one another, it is still quite helpful to get the assistance of professional psychiatrists. However, we still cannot avoid that when one of us sees the other approach a psychiatrist, that person is thought of as somebody who is starting lose her/his mind. Although, it is a reality that there are really some among us who lose their minds, it is a handful but it is still a reality, those who have not yet coped up with their baggages. Q: After joining the support group, gaining back your self-esteem, your confidence, learning to communicate with other people; how would you describe your life now? A: I did not dream this much, so what else could I ask? In fact, I am already planning to retire. I am not yet 50 but I feel I want to settle in the province again. So I am giving myself one or two more years, as soon as my child graduates, then I would decide on what I really want to do. After my child graduates, it is about time that s/he starts to be independent. That is how I want to train my child, to learn to stand on her/his own feet. If there is one thing that you will inherit from me, it is the desire and the capacity to dream. I grew up in poverty. I dreamed of working abroad and I realized that through my own effort. We were nine children in the family, and my parents could not provide for all our needs, especially our education. It is from my own initiative and effort that I was able to work abroad. Sometimes I tell myself, I should have not worked abroad and I would not have gotten HIV but I got something from all these, especially when I get the chance to travel abroad and interact with people of different nationalities or cultures, my social life is somehow fulfilled. My life is only simple, I am not one of those who desire for more. When I look at the predicament of others, I tell myself that my being an HIV positive is not a barrier from attaining what I wanted to attain. Q: Knowing that there is no cure for HIV, what is your life plan? A: All of us will die. Okay, there is no cure, but I already know how to manage the pain, we were trained how to do that. I know that the ARV is only an instrument. I believe it is still up to me how to prolong my life. My weakness though is smoking, though our doctors always remind us not to smoke. Its just that when I smoke, I felt that the stress disappears. I dont drink. I maintain regular sleeping hours. What I miss though is the exercise. I dont have problems with my appetite. And I believe that faith in God should not disappear, even when you dont have HIV. I believe that God can see what I am doing, that I am helping other people become aware of this condition. We may not be able to eradicate stigma, but we are doing something to make all people aware that HIV is a social disease that affects society. What we aim is to decrease discrimination against persons living with HIV and AIDS so that we can be among others, so that we can be accepted by the community. We dont stop, we dont get tired of disseminating information. As long as we can help or give right information, we will do that. We know that we will still live long enough and that we will not feel tired. We have accepted that there is no cure for HIV, but we dont have regrets, because we have prepared ourselves. Q: What can you suggest to help those who are HIV positive? A: Peer support is important, especially for those who are still in denial of their condition, those who have been newly diagnosed, those who do not yet understand their condition. It is important that they can speak to people like us who are already dinosaurs. We call ourselves that because we are in this condition for twenty years now. We hope that those who are newly diagnosed will listen to us, listen to our experiences. They are very lucky. The difficulties that they will experience are lessened. We did not know who our peers are during our time, who to run to. There was no anti-retroviral therapy. We dont have anybody to talk with who are experiencing or have experienced the same thing. Everything is there for them now. It is good that it is us who talk to those who are newly diagnosed, we can tell/show them

that being HIV positive is not a barrier to continuing life. We can relate with them about the time when it seems that everything is surreal, we can tell them that you can still do something. The youngest of our newly diagnosed now is 16 years old. The situation of persons living with HIV and AIDS are not all the same. There are walk-ins who really dont have the means, not only that they dont have anything to eat but they were also abandoned by their family. It is difficult to face them often times, when you do, you really want to be able to do something for them, to take them in. Now, we have this international referral system with the DSWD. We introduce institutions that could help people who does not any means to support themselves. Elsas clients are elite because they can afford to go to Makati Medical Center, I am focused with the indigents, those who are really poor. Actually, there is one now from Ilocos who is being discriminated against by the family. I want to go to the person, s/he is somewhere in Paoay. I need to get him/her because s/he does not have any means for transportation, for medicine, for food. Thats how our lives revolve, us dinosaurs. We cannot send those who are not yet trained as counselors to look for those who are newly diagnosed. One of the things that it is important that we can share with them are our experiences before. How and why we reached this stage still alive. We want to inform them of the services the organization is offering. We do not provide money, we facilitate the fulfillment of their immediate needs our referral system, those who could help us help them. Q: The financial help that you can provide for them really comes in the form of work or employment? A: Yes. And we have this existing program that provides hot meal for those who are admitted in the hospitals. Our organization only assists the patients even when we dont have allocation. In times like this, we try to do something to fulfill their needs. We get from our savings. Sometimes there are agencies who give donations. Sometimes we save 20,000.00. However, we also get from this savings the transportation allowance for our volunteers. An amount is also allocated for those who need fares, medicines. It is small but somehow it helps. Q: Knowing that you are infected and at times there is discrimination, do you think that this will stop you from doing this to your life or from helping society A: No. I experienced being discriminated by my brother-in-law, only once. My niece offered me coffee but my brother-in-law stopped her because he was afraid that I could transmit to her through the utensil. But my niece was also the one who explained to him because she is a nurse. Q: For those who are non-positive, what is your advice? A: We only have one life. It is about time to be involved. Let us notice things that we usually dont give notice, like HIV and AIDS. Lets learn to be careful and if you are like me before who was promiscuous, turn your life around. The trend that I see now is a bit alarming. Newly infected are very young, those at the age of twenty and above, students. Maintain being monogamous. We cannot know who is HIV positive merely by physical looks. HIV infection is like wildfire at the moment. We dont realize that it is spreading. There are five infections per day. I also associate this dilemma with our access to information, to the internet, is one big factor. Through the internet, our young people meet people they would date. This is primarily true with men having sex with men. And there are also establishments which started to mushroom, like bath houses, gay bar where people indulge with sex orgies. For the month of June, 83% of registered cases are men having sex with men. Q: So, youre saying that the ratio of those who are HIV positive is higher among males having sex with males? A: Yes. There female who are infected but these are the spouses of these males. Q: How many cases had you in your latest data? A: May 184, June 178. All these are newly diagnosed. This does not include those who are not yet diagnosed. There are also those who continue to infect because they do not know that they are HIV positive. There are also those who are afraid to get tested, those who are in denial.