I must admit, there were times when coming to work was tough.
When my organization — ACHIEVE, or Action for Health Initiatives, Inc. — was in its infancy, we lost our first group of advocates to AIDS. This was a decade ago, when affordable, life-saving medicines to treat HIV and AIDS weren’t readily available in the Philippines.
We work with Filipinos, living with HIV/AIDS, who work abroad. These are professionals, domestic workers, caregivers and others. We also help their spouses and partners, some of whom are also living with HIV/AIDS.
We spent a lot of the early years in hospitals, visiting our advocates. We had to use part of our reserve funds to cover their health care costs. Many didn’t have jobs or insurance, and their families often turned their backs on them.
The memories of those years — and of that first group of men and women — keep our mission alive today.
ACHIEVE continues to build relationships with migrant workers when they return to the Philippines from jobs in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Upon their return, many face huge challenges: Hospitals may refuse treatment, lawyers may not defend them, and employers may not hire them.
Despite a national law – the AIDS Prevention and Control Act – that’s supposed to protect people living with HIV, discrimination persists.
That’s why we’ve focused our efforts on convincing lawyers and legal organizations to provide our advocates free legal assistance. I’m proud to say the Levi Strauss Foundation supports this important work.
In fact, the Levi Strauss Foundation has been instrumental in helping us push for HIV/AIDS policy reform. The foundation understands when people living with HIV/AIDS face discrimination, it’s a violation of their right to health care.
Right now, ACHIEVE is reviewing how Filipinos living with HIV/AIDS utilize that national law from 1998. Most don’t. Either they can’t afford legal fees or don’t trust the justice system. And some are afraid of further discrimination.
All’s not lost, though. With support from Levi Strauss Foundation and others, we are training legal groups to integrate HIV/AIDS into their legal assistance programs.
Our migrant advocates are leading healthier, longer and better lives, partly as a result of our work. It’s energizing to see many become agents of change within their own communities.
I’m motivated by the hope that ACHIEVE’s efforts will help provide access to justice for Filipinos living with HIV/AIDS. There’s a lot of work to do, but we are in it for the long haul. The Levi Strauss Foundation is, too.