"I went out to find a friend, i found nobody
but when I went out to be a friend i found many"
(i do not know who is the author of this quote that means a lot)
First of 2 parts
Last Sunday November 7, 2010, I was wrapping up to initiate a community visit in two places, (i) is a place where boys hang out for sex and (ii) a place where women work as guest relations officer. My purpose is to interact with "the most unheard voices" of communities who are at risk of HIV. This in order to assess their levels of engagement with their community, their workplaces, and their service providers from NGOs and LGUs. I was in a hurry because I should have information for cities of Manila, Quezon and Pasay before traveling to 8 cities in the Visayas and Mindanao area and another 5 in Luzon.
I arrived in area # 1at 5:30 pm, the place is notorious for young boys selling their bodies for food and money. I entered the place and the business is evident in the lens of a survivor.
The area is full of people young and old, others playing games, singing, dining, shopping, playing computers and etc. Almost every corner there are apparent "negotiations for sex" with boys with age ranging from 12-24. The sight is so hopeless that seems to be a normal business that nobody cares of, nor awareness materials about HIV, human rights and trafficking among others is not found - only a sticker that say "no scandalous acts allowed" that no one seems to bother. I felt so bad that my childhood experience is vicariously keep coming back. But I kept myself reminded to maintain being objective and take the opportunity of organizing these poor boys by finding friends among them.
In one corner, I approached two boys after their failed negotiation with an old man. I sat next to them and both looked at me straight in the eye and walked away.
I approached another boy who seemingly is looking for somebody. I asked him if I can talk to him, he replied "about what", about being why being here and he said "taga DSWD ka ba?" (are you from the social welfare office?). I was bothered by the question and I asked him why ask such a question... he replied because we are afraid of them... then he walked away.
I approached a group of 5 boys, seemingly a gangsters. When they went inside the arcade, other boys went out as quickly as possible. These group seems to show-off their power to others. When they grabbed a chair next to me, i took the opportunity to interact with them. "bakit umalis ang mga iyon?" (why did those boys went out when you arrived?) the older guy replied "amin ang lugar na ito" (this is our place/turf). I introduced myself when his peer whispered something to another. They asked me why I have a piece of folded paper in my hand. Before I can reply... another boy butted in and said "alis tayo" (lets go). So they went straight to a group of old men then they negotiated from afar.
I was so bothered that I looked myself in a mirror, i looked like I cannot be trusted and not one of them felt my intentions and they might feel I am someone in authority or someone trying to obtain information about their behavior or I don't look like a costumer.
I already stayed almost 3 hours, it was difficult for me to interact with these young men because they are busy with their business, games, and negotiations and I do not know my entry point except of pretending to be a costumer. I was so tired and hungry of keep coming back and forth. So I sat down and played one of my favorite computer games "street fighter". Suddenly. a guy, maybe in his late 50's approached me and having an indecent proposal. I replied to him, "that is not my business of going here". He went away looking for someone else.
And suddenly another guy sat beside me and said "may kasama ka?" (do you have a companion)" and I replied "wala" (none). He was silent for a moment and he kept on mumbling. He suddenly introduced himself "ako si Ivan" (I'm Ivan) and i was watching you for almost 1 hour". I asked him why do you watch and follow me? he replied "you look friendly".
"Why are you here" I asked, then he replied he needs money and is looking for someone to trade sex with. I asked him if he is aware of HIV and AIDS and said, he is aware of AIDS but not HIV. He said he is 16 years old, he lives in a slum area and a member of a notorious gang. He asked me if i am a costumer, I said no, but I have been into same work few years back. He then reacted and asked "really" he pondered and asked again how about as a friend, I said hmmm... of course. And because the old men where watching our serious discussion, we went out and find a silent place where we can discuss freely. I forgot my purpose but kept on listening all his issues.
He reminds me that I am loosing the computer game and then I stopped playing. He then started sharing about his life, he said that he is the youngest of 13 siblings, of his being a member of a gang who influenced him in doing the business of sex work. He shared that he aspires of someday not anymore engaging in sex work and focus more on decent work.
After expressing his life concerns. I asked him if he wish to be a member of our association. He asked me of what kind of association and if there is a possibility that he can be hired for work. I explained to him that this a membership of boys and men who transcended sexual abuse, exploitation and violence. He then said "ahhh as a volunteer?. I said, "yes, and when you reach 18, you should pay a membership fee". He then expressed interest and said "Yes I will become member and pay, because myself and my gang needs groups and people like you and if only some one listens to us like you do now, we will not be engaging in this kind of work. There are only two kinds of people who reach us in our hang outs, those who pick and pay us for sex and those who condemn and arrest us for the same" he lamented.
We parted ways after having a soft drink and he thanked me for the time.
The next day, he called up at 4:30 pm, he asked for the time we can meet again for the interview that I asked him to participate. I fetched him at España area and brought him in our office. I introduced him my office mates Bing and Junnel. I did the interview there about his engagement with others in the response to HIV and AIDS - he all scored zero in all assessment areas.
He said, that almost all of his peers in their community and workplace (cruising site) has never been reached by any people about HIV or any IEC materials. There are some according to him giving out condoms but those are the people who pick them up for sex. I then taught him how to do emails and opened an yahoo email account for him.
I offered him to read a news clip about me and I was surprised of his reaction. He he told me... "I trust you and please trust me too because if we will not trust each other, this moment we have known each other will be useless...I plan to introduce you with my gang at Intramuros" he continued.
News clip: from Philippine Star September 24 Issue page F4
Indeed Paulo Freire is correct when he said "dialogue requires intense faith in human beings; their power to make and remake, to create and recreate, faith that the vocation of truly be fully human is the birthright of all people and not the privilege of the elite": See separate blog here: https://aidscompetence.ning.com/profiles/blogs/from-gipa-to-mipa-to...
We then ate dinner together in a nearby street carinderia and he promised that when he will have enough money he will also treat me.
My lessons and reflections:
In a salt visit/dialogue I should:
- Suspend assumptions (they are prostituted, they have problems, they need help, etc) and forgo any specific outcomes (successful visit) or purpose (obtain information). Respect their time and their purpose why they are in their hang out areas, do not rob their time to be replaced by your own purpose.
- When interaction starts, build trust, show your true identity (ID, introduce your name, etc). Keep on listening and facilitate expressions, answer questions briefly, honestly and straightforwardly. Let the person feel you are not the usual people they meet.
- Building human relationship is the primary step in reaching out to others, establish friendship by being a friend is a key to sustained connections. Never initiate a visit just because thats whats required of you by your office or you project but as natural as possible, do it because you have that heart of doing it and the genuine desire to reach out others to raise them above their adversities. That energy will be felt.
Now, I have met a friend, a lifetime relationship more than what is expected of me of my Office.