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Op-Ed

Fund grassroots HIV workers… for real

Many grassroots organizations that work on LGBTQIA and/or HIV in far-flung areas do not have access to millions given to Metro Manila-based NGOs. So if we want to “Let communities lead”, we have to actually fund these small organizations and not keep funding only the big NGOs.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.com

Sometime last year, this small LGBTQIA organization in Northern Mindanao sent me a message through Messenger, asking if I can give SOGIESC 101 and HIV 101 lecture for an upcoming event of theirs. And so – after a few days – I took a bus ride from Misamis Oriental to their location, some six hours away from where I was based then.

Now back in Metro Manila, I was reminded of that experience just as we mark yet another World AIDS Day, this one themed “Let communities lead”. That experience particularly surfaced in my mind because of a few things, namely:

  1. Many grassroots organizations that work on LGBTQIA and/or HIV in far-flung areas do not have access to millions given to Metro Manila-based NGOs.
  2. And yet these grassroots organizations continue to try to make an impact, with – in many times – their leaders spending their own money to bring their efforts into fruition.
  3. Meanwhile, those urban NGOs hold seminars for the same “leaders” over and over again and over again, held in posh venues in the country’s capital, or – when budget allows – elsewhere in the Philippines, or even overseas.
  4. While at it, those who head the urban NGOs earn a LOT while “working” for impoverished people; big chunks of budgets go to personal pockets, and not the supposed actual beneficiaries.

This, for me, is what needs to be closely considered: Not everyone in HIV “advocacy” are there to serve. This is why there’s a need to check this pretension that everyone in the HIV advocacy is in it because they want to do good.

I’d argue that at least those in grassroots communities have the heart to do so. Which is why there is a need to fund them already. This is what real “Let communities lead” looks like in the fight against HIV.

And this is the real reflection we should all have for #WAD2023.

Cagayan de Oro City-based Stephen Christian Quilacio may be known as a party-goer (and yes, there's nothing wrong with that!). But this Bachelor of Architecture grad is serious when it comes to LGBTQIA and HIV advocacies - e.g. he founded Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA) to mainstream the issues of people living with HIV in Mindanao; and produced "Lima" and eventually "Red Lives" via community theater to share HIV-centric stories particularly to grassroots community. Pushing for fringe communities to no longer be excluded is what drives Stephen; and "if this can be done in a fun way, so much the better," he smiled.

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