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Recognizing naturally emerging leaders of gangs and transforming their leadership abilities as change agents and role models then we make behavior change happen in their spheres of influence.

What I see and what I hear,
from my peers, I hold them dear
feel strong when they are near
to face the risk with no more fear
................Excerpted from a poem entitled "the risk gangs hold dear" by JohnPierre

Gangs are self-formed groups of peers that are formed out of the desire of members to gain protection and recognition. However, most gangs are linked around violence, law–breaking activities and delinquency. ‘Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay’ is working to change this common and self-fulfilling view. In southern Philippines, KGPP facilitators strive to reveal and recognize the good and enduring characteristics of gangs and use these characteristics to promote positive change and address violence and risks.

According to JohnPierre, “the reason why young people engage in risk-behaviors and elevate their risk of HIV infection is not result of their lack of knowledge to HIV, but rather because of the behavioral characteristics of the peer group and the functioning of their sexual networks where they belong. Improving their knowledge should be coupled with addressing their environment then behavior change comes as follow. We can only change gang culture if we first change the way we think, feel and work for gangs.

For instance, gang members engage in sex for varying reasons and most engage due to the reward they feel they get. Their reward maybe the income they generate out of the sex, the feeling of being “loved” or “comforted”, the passage to “manhood” and feel more like a ‘man’ and among others. They also involve in doing crime to feel the increasing “respect” of the peers. Every gang members have their own peer-sanctioned abilities (as requirements for membership) to obtain these rewards which when combined supplements each other and later defines the dominating and enduring subculture of the group. Eventually, a natural leader is chosen and emerge as one who have the abilities to obtain all the rewards (that can be benefited by the group)..

Acknowledging the potentials of emerging natural leaders as reinforcers of a good behavior influences them to become role models for their peers. We should harness this capacity. For example, JhanJhan, a natural leader among street youth in Molo Iloilo City is now taking the responsibility of influencing his peers to reduce their risk by using condoms. If the leader uses condoms, the rest of the group will use condoms as well. He did not succeed once when he was a peer educator but sees improvement now as role model. Now his peers are looking for condoms where he do mentoring on how to use them correctly and consistently. So we create role models amongst peer educators, not just peer educators.

JhanJhan now both promote protection for the members of his peer-group and strive to live with new-found tolerance with rivals of other peer groups that continually re-earn the allegiance of their peers and retain their authority not as perpetuators of violence and risk-behaviors but as change agents. He represented his peer group, as well as KGPP and Iloilo City during the Philippine National Children's Conference held in Antipolo City Philippines on August 27-30, 2009 sponosred by the Council for the Welfare of Children to promote his advocacy on HIV and AIDS prevention among youth.

KGPP believe in change. Change is inherent in each and everyone. We need to be patient enough and never give up. Our perseverance is the hope of every community to reveal the change they want to be”

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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on September 18, 2009 at 4:15pm
Hi John,

Thanks. You have deftly illustrated with the example of JhanJhan the process of influencing a group of individuals through the leader. The inherent softer side of so called hardened gang members is empathically captured.

There is a saying that 'one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel' but you show how one lighted candle can illumine the darkness. Would be great if you could share how JhanJhan got engaged in the process.

Thanks to Gaston and Lau for pitching in with valuable experiences.


Comment by Gaston on September 10, 2009 at 6:31am
Hi John-Pierre,

Great and inspiring posting. I can really recognize these dynamics in other countries as well. Although they are not always called 'gangs' there are many youth groups that are inspired by one leader. The best 2 examples are
- Eli from Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea. Youth group leader who made a shift in the entire youth group and the community after a number of SALT visits and realizing their strengths. The community went from a violent place with lots of alcohol/ drug use to a calm place where the mothers now sleep quietly at night. See Eli talk about it here:
- Kasure, a wanted criminal from Goroka, Papua New Guinea that was known by the police. Now he is a facilitator of the AIDS Competence Process and becoming a role model for his 'gang'. I remember he shared to me in February that his friends were asking him how he changed so much and became interested. His 'confession' is one of my favorite videos ever:

Keep your great work going John-Pierre,
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on September 10, 2009 at 5:24am
Hi John-Pierre,

Thank you so much for sharing this important lesson. Your experience will definitely be part of the global knowledge asset on Acknowledgement and recognition (

Your blog resonates with my experience. As the eldest of 4, I also had some influence on my brothers and sister. As the eldest I automatically took responsibility for the youngest. My sister, Gaetane, always told me that "I look up to you and what you do and say has a big influence on me."
So, I guess what you say is true ;-) even in other contexts.

Take care


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