Two years ago, when Dalton Claudio found out the guy he was dating was cheating on him, he did not seek revenge. Instead, he sought out the nearest HIV testing center he could trust in Manila.
“I found out about LoveYourself Platinum. That time, I was so scared of the result,” the 26-year-old IT consultant confesses, referring to the by-appointment and confidential HIV testing service provided by the non-profit organization LoveYourself.
Afraid that he had been infected with HIV and hurt by his partner’s betrayal, Dalton hesitantly stepped into a room where volunteer LoveYourself counselor Manuel greeted him with a smile. Dalton remembers the counseling conversation fondly. Manuel not only dispelled Dalton’s misconceptions surrounding HIV (no, it cannot be transmitted merely through kissing), but also allayed his worst fears that first-timers often grapple with (living with HIV is already manageable with free medicine and proper adherence to treatment). This singular HIV testing experience with LoveYourself was so helpful that it inspired Dalton to volunteer for the cause.
LoveYourself is a community, not just an organization. You can come to the clinic if you need any help, whether you’re getting an HIV test or if you just need someone to talk to. More than the testing and other clinic services, LoveYourself imparts things like self-worth that are crucial to a person’s life. I think that’s a big impact of what we do.Dalton Claudio, volunteer
Since joining the HIV organization and learning to appreciate his potential, Dalton has spread his wings as an advocate, entrepreneur, and dancer. He became a distributor of Human Nature organic products, started volunteer work in Gawad Kalinga to help others build their own startups, and joined as a dancer in CrewPEX.
Meanwhile, in another city in Manila, Frenzy Importado was also facing HIV head on.
“I remember one time, there was this one guy, he was facing a difficult life. I saw his post on Facebook. He received a reactive result on the HIV test, but he did not have the means to go about treatment, and he already had opportunistic infections,” says the 34-year-old professional, who works in a prestigious learning organization in Makati.
“Based on what I could do, I linked him to The Project Red Ribbon (a care management foundation serving people living with HIV), and because of that, he is alive at the moment. His partner also didn’t want to get tested, but when they learned about it, the partner got tested.”
Frenzy remembers thinking it is the taboo nature of talking about HIV that prevents people from accessing services like testing and treatment. Without the stigma and fear, couples could discuss safer sex and HIV testing in the context of a loving relationship. Frenzy shares that when he took his first HIV test, he did so to check his status before entering into a relationship a few years back. “It’s important that I know my status before I commit with someone for the long term.”
He adds, “HIV should be really talked about already without instilling fear. For me, it’s always good to talk about these things in a very positive way to engage more people to get tested and treated. The approach should be really positive, otherwise the proper knowledge is not passed on.”
Joining forces for Incognito
Armed with their own experiences dealing with the fear of HIV, Dalton and Frenzy teamed up to head LoveYourself Incognito, the bi-annual HIV testing event that gathers hundreds of clients to know their status in a single location in one day. Incognito offers quicker results of 15 minutes after the blood is taken and provides increased anonymity for clients without needing to get their names during the HIV screening.
Incognito launched to a great start in the summer of 2016. More than 300 clients turned up and obtained their results, with dozens linked to life-saving HIV treatment. But for its second outing in November 2016, Dalton and Frenzy wanted to make it faster and smoother – to deliver a more satisfying experience, so clients would be encouraged to get tested again in the future.
The pair spent two months leading the creation of a new and faster process. Most clients spent less than half an hour from the moment they stepped into the venue until they received their results, which was duly noticed and appreciated.
The pair met their fair share of challenges. Dalton says there were things he wanted to do to further promote the event, but there were limitations he had to deal with. Frenzy, for his part, spent a lot of time in meetings and revising the event process, while balancing his office workload.
Despite these setbacks, Dalton and Frenzy saw fantastic feedback: The Incognito event garnered an impressive 4.9/5 average rating from the 210 clients that got tested during the event. Most clients praised the fast testing process, the smooth and clear directions during the event, and the friendly volunteer counselors that helped them every step of the way.
To improve the HIV testing process, Dalton channeled the mantra of his personal heroes Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg. From the billionaire investor Warren Buffet, Dalton learned the importance of simplicity. “Buffet is very rich, but his car is relatively simple. And he has a mantra that eschews complexity: ‘If it doesn’t add value or growth, don’t pursue it,’” says Dalton.
“My biggest dream in life is to follow the footsteps of Zuckerberg. Build something that a lot of people will use and has a lot of impact on people. Something that is not just for fleeting entertainment,” he adds.
“Incognito was meant to be ground zero for experiments that would then be applied to the clinic. By improving clinic processes in Incognito, we can help more people,” Dalton shares, with a beaming look of satisfaction on his face.
Meanwhile, Frenzy is pleased that his hard work will improve the HIV testing experience for hundreds, if not thousands, of clients in the coming years.
“I wanted that the HIV testing experience was more meaningful and enriching for clients. Not because it is a free HIV test, it should be done haphazardly, rather we should provide the best service for them.”Frenzy Importado, volunteer
He adds, “Aside from our volunteers being warm and hospitable, our approach is what makes us different versus the others. If we provide the service, it should be a step up, with more care.
For Frenzy, the key to fighting the HIV epidemic comes down to dispelling fear, assisting each person brave enough to take the test, and making sure they receive a memorably delightful HIV testing experience.
“There are people who don’t know what to do, but if you can be a guide for them, they will be enlightened. They will no longer fear HIV or lose hope if they do get a positive result since we have treatment facilities and people willing to help. For me, it’s always good to talk about HIV/AIDS in a very optimistic way, to engage more people to get tested and treated. The approach should be really optimistic,” Frenzy concludes.
Text by Michael Jamias
Photos courtesy of Dalton Claudio & Frenzy Importado
LoveYourself Volunteer Spotlight is a monthly feature on the cause- and service-oriented members of LoveYourself. We will be chatting with volunteers from all walks of life – all united in one cause. Keep checking every month to meet the different faces of LoveYourself.
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