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No Key Populations Left Behind @ AIDS 2016: Closing the Engagement Gap of Young Key Populations in the Fight Against AIDS

July 20, 2016 Durban, South Africa -  Get to Zero and Be a Hero Campaign showcased  at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban South Africa

Asia Society Young Leader John Piermont Montilla of southern Philippines showcases the Get to Zero and Be a Hero campaign on Human Trafficking, Illicit Drugs and AIDS at the Global Village Program of the 21st  International AIDS Conference held at the International Convention Center in Durban, South Africa.

The biennial event is the premier gathering of scientists, activists as well as policymakers, people living with HIV and key populations around the world committed to ending the pandemic. Mr. Montilla was offered an exhibition booth to promote the Philippine way of HIV prevention for youth at risk as demonstrated by his expertise and community engagement work particularly in the Tourism Superhub region of Western Visayas in Central Philippines.

Montilla shares and discusses the Young Key Population Scorecard Process (YKeyPop Scorecard) designed for difficult youth in his exhibition and marketplace booth at the Global Village. He discusses how the tool drives change in particular among young men and their social and sexual networks who lives in an environment of violence where government services are difficult to be accessed. The process was enhanced with the support under the Alumni Talks program of the U. S. Embassy in Manila.

Through the River of Life Initiatives Caravan - a series of consultative workshops in six cities in the Philippines with spikes of HIV has been recorded (Olongapo, Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao, and Zamboanga), the workshops reached 120 survivors and leaders and rolled-out to groups of sex workers, drug users and victims of sexual exploitation reaching 6,300 clients by end of 2015.

The project is part of the larger River of Life Initiatives program implemented by the Peers Enabling Each other’s Recovery Support (PEERS) Network – a national mentoring support group run by the Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay, a national organization of boys and young men afflicted with drugs, crime and exploitation.

Learn more about the ROLi here:

Bringing out voices of victims of drugs and crime

Montilla, a survivor himself was brought back to his feet under the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Unlad Kabataang Pilipino Program in 1999. His work is inspired by the fact that boys and young men comprises a majority of those afflicted with crime and drugs and very few have risen up above their situations. His national support group for young men based in Iloilo  have always taken, despite the challenges has  shaped their own response through the years to promote, protect and support their members. They develop survivor-driven solutions that seeks to bring out the voices of male victims of drugs and crime to influence projects and programs that brings them nearer to government services that are delivered with openness, respect and dignity.

The first project was implemented in the year 2000 to what is known as the HIV`AIDS Youth Advocacy Package (HAYAP) on Tour under the Children and AIDS Network Philippines. From then on, the group keeps re-engineering its work to address the emerging and evolving needs of the Filipino Youth which crystallized into what is now currently known as the River of Life Initiatives or ROLi methodology.

The heart of the ROLi is to empower youth that are put at risk by exploitation to reach out the poorest and most vulnerable sectors  in order for them to access  lifesaving services and development opportunities from the Government. It seeks to bring back long lost trust with service providers and law enforcers, and paving the way to bravery, self-discovery and moral recovery.

“Male victims must be heard” in order to bring their voices and engage them to rebuild their young shattered and almost wasted lives. Montilla’s journey serve as an example of hope and inspiration to men and boys which is what is lacking in the current national response on HIV as well drivers of HIV such as trafficking in persons, illicit drug trade and its abuse and gender-based violence.

YKeyPop Scorecard: addressing HIV risk behaviours through creativity

The Key Population Scorecard Process is a creativity-driven tool that accompanies the ROLi methodology that is aimed to make change happen in ways that are fun, meaningfully engaging and creative. The Get to Zero and Be a Hero Campaign brings the Scorecard tool in places where youth are put at risk and as an avenue  for an open discussion between members and dialogue with their health service providers, social workers, law enforcers, community leaders and their respective families as well.

The tool enhances accountability of service providers that goes hand in hand in promoting personal accountability of young people. It bridges the engagement gap between young people and their adult service providers to jointly address sexual and reproductive health concerns such as HIV through creative, innovative and youthful initiatives right in the clinic settings and the communities. The community-driven  program strive to unlock the potential of at risk children and youth to promote their meaningful engagement that offer life skills in combating crimes, drugs and sexual exploitation that exposes them to HIV infection and other pressing health and psychosocial outcomes of their exposure and risk-taking and openly seek help to the government free from fear.

The process offers a fun-filled periodic self-assessments, creative workshops, and collaborative work integrated with elements of game playing in the context of risk reduction (e.g., self assessments of risk behaviors, risk scoring, competition and collaboration with others, and completion of tasks and quests).

It champions a practice known as SALT  which is adopting the Appreciative Inquiry model in working with youth in actual and virtual environments where they are put at risk.

Learn more about SALT here:

War on Drugs: A Victim Centered Approach

Montilla also seeks to take the opportunity that this program will be a platform where voices of victims are being heard and recognized in the current administration’s war on drugs, crime and corruption. He believes there are always better ways. He advocates that victims will be treated separately from those who take advantage of their vulnerabilities. The program can serve as mechanism for appropriate health and psychosocial interventions for drug abuse victims and where survivors serves as educators, counsellors and facilitators to access services.

At the 2016 AIDS Conference in Durban, the Get to Zero and Be a Hero Campaign will showcase the success stories of the ROLi, share the KeyPop Score Card to those who seek creative solutions in ending HIV and its risk factors and advocate the use of it to leave no key population left behind in the fight against drugs, crime and HIV and AIDS. The initiative will also serve as an example of a community designed tool that operationalize the “No One Left Behind Principle” of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda.

Montilla's advocacy started as a President of the Pag-asa Youth Association of the Philippines and as a scholar of the “Feed the Hungry” scholarship program of the Commission  on Filipinos Overseas had helped him transformed his life. As his way of paying back to the government,  he is currently working at the Department of  Social Welfare and Development and is hoping that he can be the voice of disadvantaged and marginalized youth and how his River of Life Initiatives can be scaled up and the KeyPop Scorecard can better be adapted to reach young key populations who need it most.

The Missing Part of the Battle: Youth Voices and Good Practices

At risk youth and their peer-support groups have powerful stake in the local and national response in combating trafficking, exploitation and crime as well as addressing the health and psychosocial outcomes of their victimization and exposure to risks such as HIV and AIDS, drug abuse, and gender based violence.  But due to their lack of representation in the decision making spaces, they have little power to fully shape their own response that is truly meaningful and engaging.

Unable to directly represent their own interest that may be in part due to the lingering stigma of society to their involvement in illicit activities and their own lack of courage to rise above them, their ability to influence relevant policies and effective programs that address their unmet needs is rendered limited or perhaps absent.

With this in plain sight, a large number of victims won’t be able fully rise above their exploitative conditions and resort to more illicit activities for survival, coping and subsistence putting them at the vicious cycle of victimization from traffickers and exploiters who are taking advantage of their vulnerable situations. The opportunity to model very few examples of success stories of change among victims are also not fully develop into a best practice valuable for replication, scale up to be benefited by those who are in need of inspiration and hope. 

The Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay has been in the forefront in promoting youth engagement in all issues affecting them locally, nationally and globally. Through its youth-led initiatives, was a two-time recipient of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) Award in 2003 and 2008 for community driven health and social development initiatives and was selected as a Best Practice of Youth by the YouthActionNet Program of the International Youth Foundation in 2005.

The River of Life Initiatives methodology and the KeyPop Scorecard Process has been designed for this purpose and has been recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the Example of Good Practice  around the world in the 2015 WHO Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations.

Good practice can be accessed at page 23 of WHO document:

Youth Engagement: Scaling Up the Gains Toward 2030 SDGs

Civil society engagement is recognized by National laws such as the RA 398 or the Civil Code that secures civil rights and civil society participation in governance. The RA7160 or the Local Government Code also affirms the role of NGOs and POs and the Republic Act 9208 (Anti Trafficking in Persons) also have provisions for community engagement in which the National Strategic Action Plan against TIP specified the meaningful engagement of victims, survivor and at risk sectors as one of the key strategies.

In particular, the RA 8044 otherwise known as the youth in national building act of 1998 secures the role of Filipino youth in their participation in development. Engagement therefore is an important approach in addressing social issues affecting young people making the national and local response truly a multi-stakeholders initiative by recognizing victims, survivors and those at risk as power holders in keeping the country’s promises to international agreements.

Community-driven approaches have long been in place and are evolving. These are enshrined in the Alma Ata declaration on Primary Health Care of 1978 as well as the World Health Organization on the social determinants of health. In the HIV sector, the greater involvement or meaningful involvement of people living with HIV or GIPA or MIPA has been developed -- both are aimed at discovering and harnessing the inherent human capacities of individuals and communities towards an HIV response that are truly community-owned and community-sustained.

Currently, the initiative is submitted as an entry to the Social Technology Bureau of the Department of Social Welfare and Development to fully operationalize the No One Left Behind Principle of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda in the Philippine response on Drugs, Trafficking and AIDS. 

Through the support of the International AIDS Society, the organizer of the 2016 AIDS Conference, the organization dreams to scale up the Key Population Scorecard and bring the Get to Zero and Be a Hero Campaign to high risk communities in Asia and the Pacific and across the globe.

About John Piermont Montilla

Johnpierre is Regional Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office - VI and leads the National President of the Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay and author of the River of Life Initiatives (ROLi). He is an alumni of the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) under the Community and Human Rights Program for Asia and the Pacific of the U.S. Department of State, Asia 21 Young Leaders Class of 2011 and Laureate Global Fellows of 2005 of the International Youth Foundation.

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