Delayed posting due to internet issues at Blue Waters
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE INTERNATIONAL AIDS SOCIETY
I started working as a volunteer HIV counselor in 1994, I was barely 20 and I hardly understood the run-arounds of the advocacy. Working full time in the corporate world, I remained as a volunteer of the advocacy until I eventually lost track. In 2007, I was diagnosed with HIV and I remained strong with the support of a partner who has ever since held my hand with love and care.
In December 2012, I decided to leave the corporate world and give my full attention to the advocacy. Having witnessed leaks in the entire continuum of prevention and treatment & care. I spent the next years working at the grassroots, with the grassroots. Every life was worth every drop of sweat, blood and tears. It was then that we established HIV & AIDS Support House.
Last summer, I received a scholarship award notice. I was excited but anxious. Excited to travel across continents and meet different advocates from different cultures. Anxious that I may not be able to bring back home enough knowledge and learnings to share to my colleagues in the Philippines.
July 17, 2016. 18. 19 up until the 22nd, the sessions were running left and right and I would find myself exasperated at the end of each day. And today, the 22nd, was the last day and tonight is my last night in Durban, South Africa. Tomorrow, I shall travel back to the Philippines with a rekindled spirit of hope, strength and a more open-minded view of the advocacy. I saw how my blood brothers and sisters from other continents stood and spoke, both with their heart and soul, to tell everyone about their woes, their wounds. I have seen how courage has built new bridges and how passion has filled gaps.
I have always heard of the epidemic in other continents, but I have never seen the epidemic in person. I witnessed how empowered sex workers spoke and demanded for their rights. I watched trans-women commanded for respect and equality—not just for their gender rights, but for their rights to access to HIV services. I stood in awe as women, the indigenous people, the youth, people living with HIV, people affected with HIV and everyone else asked for access to services and treatment. I gasped as thousands of other marchers called for access to treatment. My heart bled with every sad story, ached with every frustrating tale, cried with every account of discrimination shared in the convention.
Criminalization. Treatment access. Discrimination. Stigma. Funding. These are but parts and parcels of the issues we have in the HIV response. But what shall forever be engraved in my soul is the fact that we—the community—are in the center of it all.
The scholarship was unexpected. I hope to bring justice to the opportunity that was given to me. I hope to nourish the new friendships formed in the conference. I hope to bring and give back more to my community.
I hope. And I shall act.
Thank you, AIS — for the chance. The fresh air. The new blood. The memory. Experience. And above all, thank you for the education.