People living with HIV (PLHIV) and non-PLHIV members of Ekklesia Tou Theou – Church of God (ECOG), Bahaghari Advocacy Group, and HIV Awareness Campaign Group (HACG) gathered last Holy Week at “Project: Matthew 25,” the annual retreat of ECOG in Indang, Cavite.
“Para sa akin, ang retreat namin ngayon ay life changing. Yung mga nauna naming retreat ay puro sa teambuilding. But this year, inisip namin na makatulong sa community. Hindi lang ang PLHIV community ang natulungan namin, kundi pati ang aming mga sarili. Dahil marami kaming natutunan sa kanila at marami din silang natutunan sa amin. Para kami lahat ay maging tagapagtaguyod ng advocacy at magkaroon ng pag-asa ang bawat isa sa amin (For me our retreat now is life-changing. Our previous retreats were all team-building but this year we thought of helping the community. It was not just the PLHIV community that we helped but also ourselves. We have learned much from them and they also learned much from us. This is for us to become advocates and would nurture hope in ourselves,” said Fr. Regen Luna, pastor of ECOG.
Sessions included in the retreat were the sharing of personal journeys, confrontation, acceptance, and empowerment of people living with HIV.
“Ano nga ba ang mga pinagdadaanan ng isang taong may HIV? Anu-ano ang mga tanong na madalas niyang hinahanapan ng sagot? Kung isa ka rin sa mga “pusit” kung tawagin nila, kumusta ka na? Nasaan ka na sa paglalakbay na ito at saan ka nga ba papunta? (What do people living with HIV go through? What are the questions that they usually ask? If you are HIV positive, how are you? Where are you in this journey and where are you heading)?” asked Mark Lester Rodriguez, president of Bahaghari Advocacy Group and member of ECOG, in the sharing.
Outrage Magazine managing editor Ryan Mendoza, also the HIV program coordinator of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, introduced the pro-SAVE (Safer practices, Access to treatment, Voluntary Counseling and Testing, Empowerment) and anti-SSDDIM (Stigma, Shame, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction, and Misaction) approach to HIV and AIDS.
Luna expressed optimism of retreat’s empowering outcome.
“Almost all of them are now expressing to be trained as peer education counsellors and certified HIV counsellors. They were empowered when we shared our experiences in the field of HIV advocacy. They were empowered when they heard that they are not alone in this battle and a group like us is willing to be with them in the journey. They are sharing good news about the retreat with their friends on Facebook and now more are interested to attend next year,” said Luna.
The retreat was supported by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Catholic Universalist Church of the Philippines, Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, Metropolitan Community Church Makati, Good Shepherd Orthodox Parish in Ohio, USA, Bishop George Kuhn, Fr. JP Heath, Fr. Noel Bordador, and Fr. Jim Brigl.