Get Them While They Are Young

"It's not just them -- it's all of us" -- the video wall at the talk in St. Paul's University Iloilo

“It’s not just them — it’s all of us” — the video wall at the talk in St. Paul’s University Iloilo

I’ve begun with my HIV advocacy early this year. My last talk was on December 22 or around that time; speaking about my experiences in the Australian-New Zealand Bank in Makati and Eastwood. It was different to do it in a corporate setting — because these are some of the sectors that we have to reach out to. Without any judgments and making assumptions, this is the sector that do not realise that they, or the people they know, might be at risk. If we manage to reach out to them, give them the proper education and information, they might be able to stop it within their friends, family, and co-workers, and that’s really half of the job.

I didn’t think that so early in the year I’d be on the road again so soon but I am. Yesterday, I had a talk at Iloilo for the students of St. Paul’s University Iloilo. They asked me and Charity Perea, a nurse who is part of the DOH and is in charge of the HIV and AIDS unit in Western Visayas. With over two hundred students gathered around, we spoke about the basics of acquiring HIV and how to protect yourself. Miss Charity handled all the basic, medical and technical information. I told my story and went straight for the gut.

It was quite an experience. I remember the time when I went all the way to Batangas to speak to high school students from all over the province who were gathered in an auditorium to listen to specialists, and an advocate like myself, talk about HIV. Yesterday, they were nursing students from the top nursing school in Western Visayas.

You can tell, from the questions that they asked, that they know people, or they themselves, might be engaged in risky behaviour. There is a thirst for knowledge and for information but a fear to search or ask for it. So I made sure to let them know that they now have the responsibility to take twenty minutes of their Internet time to find out the facts about HIV. The information is out there on the world wide web. It’s out there. Instead of Facebook or Twitter or whatever it is that they always do online, just twenty minutes to educate themselves on HIV.

The students of St. Paul's University Iloilo

The students of St. Paul’s University Iloilo

And then I added a second challenge — to educate and talk to the people they know who might be at risk. If we all do this, inform correctly the people we care about and the people who care about us about HIV, hopefully, this will cascade further and the information spreads and we end up protecting ourselves from the virus. We can do this. We can stop HIV from spreading. This is our moment.

Today, I will be speaking at the University of St. La Salle. This is the first time I’ll be speaking in my hometown of Bacolod. I was living here for two and a half years and I made myself available and sent out feelers to do any sort of HIV advocacy work but it only happened now. It’s never too late. I hope they are as accommodating and as receptive as the students of St. Paul’s University in Iloilo.

There is a huge chance that by 2016, we can curb and actually stop the rise of HIV infections in the country. HIV is preventable. We should have to be smart and be safe. That’s it. Get the information across. Be the cure.

We are in a war. It’s time to take a stand.

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