Everyone has their own way of loving themselves, but the country’s leading HIV advocacy group, LoveYourself, loves by loving others through creating a safe space and community for individuals of all genders.
It is a brainchild of Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (Youth Leadership) and Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World Awardee (Humanitarian Leadership) Ronivin (Vinn) Garcia Pagtakhan, joined by friends who were inspired by the increasing demand and queries through social media on sexually transmitted infections, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), sexuality and gender.
Since 2011, LoveYourself has exponentially grown through social networking. With the able support of a core group of concerned and socially aware professionals and supporters with diverse ideas and preferences, the membership has now grown to almost 1,100 volunteers from all sectors of society.
With the growing number of volunteers, supporters and enlightened individuals, LoveYourself extended its horizon and brought the advocacy to Cebu to cater to more individuals, which led to opening LoveYourself White House Cebu in April 2019. Since then, LoveYourself Cebu has established itself as the community-based organization of choice providing HIV and sexual health-related services with 150 volunteers.
For its second year, LoveYourself White House Cebu holds an online event as its way of celebrating this milestone such as Online Game Night, The Love Pantry (its version of the viral community pantry), a podcast entitled “Spit or Swallow,” to name a few. The organization will also join the Philippine AIDS Candlelight Memorial 2021 on May 16.
Here’s how LoveYourself White House Cebu empowers some of its volunteers:
HIV counselor Stefan has been a volunteer since 2019, just a few months after LoveYourself White House opened. His story as a volunteer started when he found out that a few of his friends needed help after testing positive for HIV.
“For me, I spent so many years out of the country, and it was only when I volunteered in LoveYourself that I really got to know the LGBTQ+ community in Cebu. I have met so many wonderful, talented and caring people who inspire me every day. Being very vocal in my advocacy has also allowed people to come to me when they are in need, so it really thrills me when I see other people’s lives improving by LoveYourself’s work. Often people approach me feeling very afraid and alone, and then White House converts those feelings into love and hope by giving care and showing acceptance.
Stevan Ichael S. Serneo
Sponsors and partnership officer, and HIV counselor Ichael started sharing his time and talent for a cause with LoveYourself in August 2019.
“I am blessed to have a home and a family in this organization. Volunteering at LoveYourself White House empowers me to create ripples of change that hopefully would help mold society to a better one—loving yourself through loving others.”
Lou Dominique Piczon
Beauty queen Lou started volunteering in December 2019 when LoveYourself White House held its very first World AIDS day awareness.
“My good friend, Kuya Ichael, invited me as a model and I have been supporting them in any way I can ever since.”
“It reminds me that I can be an instrument of strength to people who go through these challenging chapters in their lives, even if it means just being there for them emotionally, spiritually and physically while assisting in events that celebrate their being.”
Stephie Venice Zanoria Cabahug
Stephie, a volunteer and a trans advocate, spent her birthday attending the volunteer’s seminar in 2019. Her being a volunteer is her way of giving back to the community, and spending her time wisely instead of doing things that have no importance.
“LoveYourself has empowered me in a lot of ways. One, it has become an avenue for me to get to know a lot of amazing people that I shared the same passion of helping others. Two, it has educated me in important matters like SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression) and HIV. And lastly, LoveYourself has inspired me to become an inspiration to others too!”
Rajene Chatur Menghnani
An active volunteer of his university when he was in college and with a couple of non-government organizations, Rajene started his journey with LoveYourself in November 2019 to help promote safe spaces in the community where people could just let down their guard and just be.
“In terms of empowerment, LoveYourself really encouraged me to bloom as a young leader. My friends and colleagues trust me with responsibilities even if I am younger than them. Also, I can say that after more than a year of volunteering with the organization, I’ve been more comfortable with myself. Going back to promoting safe spaces, with LoveYourself, I found my safe space where I am celebrated for just being me and I think that’s beautiful.”
Head for SafeSpacePH program in Cebu. Robin joined LoveYourself in January 2019 after some of his friends died young due to complications of AIDS. It is his way of honoring their memory as well as to leave a legacy.
“By allowing me to represent the brand in looking for potential partners for the SafeSpacesPH Program. The program is about providing free access to condoms and lubes to all aiming to prevent the spread of STIs including HIV as well as unwanted pregnancy.”
Gabriella Ceniza Carballo
Model volunteer and ally Gabriella started volunteering in 2019 and it started during its “KYS and Play” fashion show. As a nursing graduate, she wants to somehow contribute to the cause in any way she could.
“LoveYourself empowers me so much simply by what it stands for—destigmatizing the experiences of individuals who simply need care, understanding and a safe place. This consistently teaches me to always serve others (medically related or not) with an open mind, heart and an environment full of understanding and safety.”
Head volunteer for special projects and volunteer experience, Ralph is one of the second batch of volunteers.
Though volunteering is not new to him, seeing himself being a part of a group that helps PLHIV (people living with HIV), LGBT and fellow Cebuanos become aware of the importance of getting tested and embracing mental health awareness, makes him happy.
“The organization made me realize to love myself more in order to help and educate more people. Surrounded by a culture of empathy, love and acceptance of every individual no matter the difference is something that the group banners with its ‘dare, care and share’ values.” S