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'Juan' Finds Life after HIV

Manila, Philippines–Having failed to pass the medical tests for a new job in Saudi Arabia, Juan (not his real name) came home last March to confront a painful truth: He is positive for the human immuno–deficiency virus (HIV).

His heart was crushed, his faith shattered. He thought it was the end of his dreams. He thought his life was ended at 24.

He found out that he was wrong.

“There is life after what happened,” said Juan who has found new purpose as a member of the Bacolod chapter of the Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay (KGPP), one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) for 2008.

The KGPP was cited for its project to promote awareness about the disease as well as provide a support group for its 18 members living with HIV, including Juan.

Support group
“It is very important to have a support group because you can talk to them and express what you feel, what you think about life–things you cannot talk about even with your family–and they will understand,” Juan said.

He is now one of the group’s most active members, speaking in various forums to spread awareness about the disease and minimize discrimination.

It was also Juan who presented the KGPP project during the national judging for the TAYO awards.

“I am here in front (of you) with the firm conviction that even an HIV positive individual can do something to bring a positive change in the lives of others,” he said in his presentation.

The project, named “Each One, Reach One, Teach One: Leadership for Young People Living with and Affected by HIV,” is three–pronged: educate children about their rights and risks, reach out to HIV carriers through hospital and home visits, counseling and medical support, and educate HIV carriers to “Better understand and cope with the stigma and discrimination.”

They live normal lives
In an e–mail message, KGPP president and founder John Piermont Montilla stressed that people with HIV should not be labeled “Victims” nor should they be described as “Suffering from HIV.”

“They do not suffer. They still live normal lives,” said Montilla.

It was not an easy process for him, said Juan. He did not know who to talk with and what to say. Could he ever get a job again? Could he face other people?
“I felt hopeless. I felt like my life would be going to waste,” said Juan, who contracted the disease from a partner.

Though he considered himself fortunate in having a supportive family, he knew his parents were also in pain: “They did not say so, but I know they were hurting.”

Since its establishment in December 2006, the KGPP in Bacolod City has established links with government and private agencies, as well as with the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital where Juan tested positive for HIV. The hospital endorsed his case to the KGPP.

“I was apprehensive at first. I did not know who they were. I did not know how they would think about me,” Juan said.

His fears proved wrong after a few meetings with the group.

“I felt I was in a good group,” he said. He found himself getting more involved in the KGPP and regaining his self–respect in the process.

“I found the courage to face students during symposiums, one thing that I never thought I could do again,” he said.

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