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To live a life in service

Meet Carla Culaste, the trans houseparent of a halfway house for people living with HIV in the City of Manila. It’s a challenging – and yet fulfilling – job, he said, as he stressed to others to learn more about HIV to promote non-discrimination.

This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Carla Culaste, now 26, was around 12 years old when he first visited the Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI). His sister worked for the non-government organization that was founded by his gay uncle, Joshua Formentera. Even then, he said that he was always “impressed” with how it was able to touch the lives of Filipino PLHIVs, providing them a “safe space” when even their own homes failed to do so.

Little did he know that – by the time he’d turn 22 – he’d be working as the houseparent of the NGO’s Abot Kamay Center, a halfway house for PLHIVs who are in need of a helping hand to get back on their feet.

DAILY ROUTINE

From Monday to Friday, Carla sleeps at the center. On weekends, he heads home (in Parañaque, where his family lives). But even if his work is actually supposedly only from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, “as a houseparent, 27/7 ka nakabantay (I watch after them 24/7).”

Part of Carla’s job is to “always check on the clients” – from checking if they have supplies of their medicines, if they actually take their medicines on time, if they eat properly, et cetera. This is particularly true when dealing with new clients who may still have physical limitations and need help in their day-to-day living in the shelter.

Aside from this, Carla also helps manage clients who may need to be rushed to the hospital, particularly when “wala silang pamilya na willing tumulong sa kanila (if they don’t have family willing to help them).” By extension, therefore, Carla becomes an alternative family member.

Iniisip ko kasi, bilang houseparent, hindi lang ako nanay o tatay sa kanila (As a houseparent, I do not only see myself as a father or a mother to them), Carla said. “Ano rin ako sa kanila… kapatid, kaibigan na puwede nilang takbuhan pag kailangan nila ng makakausap (I am also a sibling, a friend to them; someone they can go to if they need to talk to someone).”

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But it is a fulfilling job, particularly when he sees people he helped do well in life. “Nakakasaya rin (It makes one happy),” he said.

GROWING UP TRANS

Carla didn’t finish high school; though if given a chance, he’d like to study again.

As a trans man, his life was not always easy.

The youngest of six kids, he always identified as a trans man.

“Before, hindi nila ako matanggap (In the past, my family couldn’t accept me),” he said. “Against sa religion nila (Being LGBTQIA was against their religion).”

As a child, two of his borther also bullied him; they hurt him verbally, as well as physically.

When he told his parents about it, they just dismissed the bullying, telling Carla that perhaps “naglalambing lang sila (they were just being affectionate)”.

But Carla said he still chose to be what he is because this is what makes him happy.

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By the time Carla had his first partner, “wala na rin sila nagawa (there was nothing they could do but accept me).”

In hindsight, that experience taught Carla an important lesson in life: To be accepting.

Kung paano mo i-treat ang tao… ipakita mo sa kanila na kaya mo silang intindihin kahit magkaiba kayo (In treating people, show them that you can understand them even if you’re different from each other),” Carla said.

EVERYONE’S ISSUE

With her exposure to the HIV community, Carla wants PLHIVs to learn to care for themselves. For instance, not to do things (e.g.vices) that will – in the end – just be bad on/for them. “Huwag matigas ang ulo (Don’t be hardheaded),” he said.

To everyone, he said “huwag kayong matakot sa PLHIVs (don’t be afraid of PLHIVs).” In fact, “matuto tayong sumuporta (sa PLHIVs) hindi lang sa kamag-anak natin (na may HIV). Maging concern din tayo sa iba. Iwasan natin ang discrimination (We should learn to support PLHIVs, not just relatives who may have it. We should show our concern to everyone. We should avoid discrimination).”

Learning also helps, he said, “at bigyan natin ng kaalaman sarili natin tungkol sa HIV kasi dagdag impormasyon yan para sa atin (and for us to add to our knowledge everything about HIV since this is good to our lifelong learning).”

For more information on Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI), visit Abot Kamay Center at 2613 Dian St., Malate, City of Manila, 1004 Philippines.
They may also be reached at (+632) 4042911; or email pafpiorg@gmail.com.

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