Can teenagers raise awareness about HIV and AIDS?
On a hot Saturday morning, hundreds of students lined up for a university clinic in Cagayan de Oro.
They were in line for a free and voluntary HIV test. The activity is part of our HIV and AIDS awareness campaign, organized by Save the Children and The Red Whistle.
Inside the clinic were local health workers busy with blood tests. Meanwhile in the next room, counselors were doing one-on-one talks with the students before and after their HIV test.
Most counselors were in their 30s or 40s, advocates seasoned by a long trail of experience. Among them, however, was a teenager.
“Being a counselor is not easy,” said EJ Taguba, an 18-year-old HIV awareness advocate. “Because I encounter people who are HIV-ignorant.”
“They were not properly educated about HIV, and I want to change that,” EJ continued.
Being a teenager himself, EJ is able to connect and engage well with his peers.
It’s important to educate the youth about HIV and AIDS, especially since Filipinos ages 15 to 17 are among those at risk, government data shows.
Age not a barrier
We met EJ in Cagayan de Oro, which is among the areas where Save the Children and The Red Whistle conduct HIV and AIDS education programs.
“For me, it’s inspiring to be an HIV counselor. I get to help others on how to handle problems,” EJ shared.
He began his advocacy in 2016 after learning that the Philippine has the world’s fastest growing epidemic.
He underwent training to become a peer educator and an HIV counselor. So far, EJ has counseled both teens and adults in Cagayan de Oro.
“To my fellow teens, we should be aware of HIV and AIDS,” EJ urged.
“As for adults, you should not look down on the young; instead, you should be supporting the youth in their advocacies,” he added.
EJ is also a local celebrity in CDO, gaining a following after winning a talent contest in Northern Mindanao. He uses his popularity to beat misinformation and stigma against HIV. Together, we can do the same!