Sometime in September 2008, 18 people living with HIV (PLHIVs) gathered in Davao City, and – after seeing the need for a Mindanao-centric PLHIV organization – they saw the need to form some sort of Mindanao-focused support group. Immediately, a set of officers was elected (helmed by Razz Catipan as founding president, Nidgie Tindoc serving as vice president, Genclyde Santos serving as secretary, Mel Borda serving as assistant secretary, Meralyn Eltagonde serving as treasurer, and Rosanna Hermosa serving as treasurer); and a year later, when the group already had some 60 PLHIV members, Mindanao AIDS Advocates Association Inc. (MAAAI) was officially formed.
According to Mel Borda, the formation of MAAAI was “largely due to the continuing increasing number of PLHIVs in Mindanao. We needed to come up with localized support for PLHIVs,” he said.
That there is a need for such a group goes without saying. While the city only recorded a total of 570 HIV cases since 1992 (42 of whom already died), and the broader Davao region recording a total of 672 cases for the same period, Davao City is actually one of the HIV hotspots in the Philippines. Currently, an estimated 10 to 15 people from the city are getting infected with HIV every month, so that – according to Borda – the current figure could balloon by the end of the year. “We can’t wait for the worst to happen before we take action,” he said.
MAAAI was officially registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in October 2011.
Currently, the organization has 180 members, “and all of the members are PLHIVs – we’re empowering PLHIVs to help empower other PLHIVs,” Borda said.
There are numerous programs undertaken by MAAAI, though these focus on: advocacy and networking, capacity building, and care and support. For instance, “we have meaningful involvement in school campaigns,” Borda said. Through such avenues, PLHIVs are also able to share their stories through testimonials, which have become “one of the ways for us to increase knowledge and awareness about HIV in the community.”
MAAAI also actively partnered with branches of the local government unit (LGU), such as the Local AIDS Council (LAC), Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Labor and Employment; as well as private yet civic-minded organizations, such as the association of psychologists in Davao City (to provide free counseling for PLHIVs and their families), and St. Camillus (a religious arm that similarly provides HIV-related support).
There remain numerous challenges – foremost of these the “financial needs for sustainability of the organization,” said Borda. This is particularly since MAAAI helps its members in dealing with their needs, including medical needs, “so funding for the same isn’t always forthcoming.” MAAAI also offers services to non-members of MAAAI, “since we acknowledge that we don’t live in a vacuum.” Fortunately, there are other “good hearted people and organizations (locally), and PLHIVs are already being referred for free to them – this really helps a lot in the carrying out of our efforts.”
A focus for MAAAI remains the “empowerment of PLHIVs, especially newly diagnosed clients,” Borda said. This is because at the end of the day, “PLHIVs need to learn that PLHIVs themselves can help solve the issues they are facing. This is a key lesson for everyone.”
Mindanao AIDS Advocates Association Inc. is open to PLHIVs. For more information, coordinate with Mel Borda at (+63) 9104060871; Nidgie Tindoc at (+6382) 2224187; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.