Chuchay is a minor who was “abused” by a neighbor but was given favors in exchange. He needed the favors to help the family. But he also wanted the favors for some semblance of luxury like make-up kits and mobile phone. Chuchay is a character in the movie, Mga Batang Poz.
K was 19 when I met her, she was infected at 16 from doing sex work. She said she was not prostituted, she called what she did work and pleasure but stressed the fact that it was something she did primarily for her family–so to put food on the table. After diagnosis, she was constantly discriminated and stigmatized by her own family. She fought hard to attain that sense of normalcy in her life- she worked with her city health office as a peer educator and eventually went back to school.
T had a similar story. He had to do sex work at 15 to sustain his studies as his mom was elderly and unable to work. A performer at school, he made it through high school and eventually, diagnosed when he was in 2nd year college. Life was harder after diagnosis but he was able to work sans the most needed life-saving ART. He got pneumonia and tuberculosis but fought his way through the infections.
At 17, D had to offer massage online so he can have fare money to go to school. D hails from the north, an hour and a half from Quezon City. He was diagnosed at 18 when he came to me for CBS during a bout of shingles. We had to source money from donors to get his way through the basic laboratory requirements and transportation money so he can access his ART. At this time, he has graduated senior high school and is undetectable. He intends to work his way through college. Still offering massage online to sustain his education, his own family doesn’t know about his HIV.
Minors. The future. They had to work hard to provide for themselves and/or their families. They were not forced by clients to have sex for money, but they were forced to do sex for money so they can make it through a day with something in their stomachs.
Is this a blame game? The failure of the parents to provide? The failure of the family to sustain? The failure of the government as the duty bearer? The failure of these kids to “know better”?
But these kids don’t need fingers pointing at them, or anyone. They went through the most excruciating pains at such young age that all they want, is to live. And yes, these pains came first, way before HIV.
The community is small, that’s true. But the dimensions and dynamics within that small positive community is so vast that issues go beyond who’s to blame. The sub-cultures are so distinct that “I made it, so can you” may not work when we talk to people. The heterogeneity of lives have so much array that they surpass claims of who can help better– or who is more powerful in the advocacy.
Talking to them helps, it may go a long way.
They say they’re okay. And I for one, would like believe that they are. But when we start blaming them, stigma intensifies.
Helping them by making them accept the blame won’t work.
Accepting blame and Accepting responsibilities are two different things.
Be there for our kids.
The time will come when these younger community members will take our place in the advocacy. Maybe not all of them, heck not even half. But a very few will. A very few may even witness the coming of the cure.
Let’s be brave for one another, especially for our new kids.