To break stigma and discrimination, this year’s Philippine International AIDS Candlelight Memorial (PIACM) asked the community to share their distinct, and compelling stories of HIV online through a photo essay contest called “Light Up My HIV Story.”

Nearly 50 stories were collected, and most of them are genuinely moving and inspirational. Some talked about their own HIV journey while some talked about how they become a supporter of the community.

The Light Up My HIV Story photo essay contest winners were announced during the celebration part of the PIACM 2020 event last May 17. Winning the first place was Anthony Louie David with his photo essay entitled: “Unconditional Love.” This entry talks about Anthony’s HIV journey as someone living with HIV. He likened his status into being swallowed up by the waves or play along with it.

Anthony described that he felt like huge waves crashing over him following the death of his partner due to HIV complications and upon knowing that he has HIV. According to him, he was tired and wanted to give up. He was slowly drowning from his thoughts about his HIV status.

“It’s up to us to decide whether to sink to the bottom or to walk on water. But for me, I choose to survive the waves and embrace every splash with a smile in my face,” he said.

Kael Mata’s “Salamat HIV” entry took the second spot. His story focused on how he has faced HIV despite many social injustices he has to face.

With his regained strength, he made a promise to himself that he’ll be a voice to the PLHIV to fight against HIV, stigma, and discrimination. He said in Filipino, “I will constantly bring with me the stories of PLHIV that even living with HIV, we deserve to be loved, cared for, and an accepting family.”  

Alliah Nicole Tabarangao Sayo, who placed third with her “Think POZitive” entry, talked about being optimistic, encouraging, and empowering. Her story revolved around the purpose of her joining the HIV advocacy works.

“In all that I’ve learned from the advocacy, one of the most important things to know is how to become accepting of people no matter who they are,” Alliah said in Filipino.

In this respect, the winners have won ₱25,000.00, ₱15,000.00, and ₱10,000.00.

Judging the photo essay contest are Imee Igpuara Country Product Manager, Camber Pharmaceutical, Inc. by Hetero; Jeffrey Johnson, Senior Vice President – Human Capital Resource Management, Global HR Committee Member, Teleperformance Philippines; Dr. Maria Stella Flores, Senior Program Officer, Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc.; Dr. Maria Lorela Averilla, Country Lead for SKPA – Program Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations; and Dr. Ronivin Pagtakhan, a recipient of the 2018 Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World, Founder and Executive Director of the LoveYourself, Inc.

Light Up was presented by the Department of Health, The Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation, and The LoveYourself, Inc.; sponsored by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Camber Pharmaceutical Inc. by Hetero, Cepheid, Champion Community Centers, Frontrow Cares, Macare Medicals, Inc., Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc., Premiere Condoms, Teleperformance Philippines, and Sustainability of HIV Services for Key Populations in Asia (SKPA); and supported by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, EON Foundation, the National Youth Commission (NYC), Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), PhilHealth, Positibong Marino Philippines, Inc., The Red Whistle, Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines, and UNAIDS.