Written by Jay*
MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato— *Jay’s story is about HIV or human immunodeficiency virus in a public high school. The dreaded virus was not openly discussed in their school, perhaps even in the entire province, until CheckMySchool uncovered it and took it up as a serious school issue.
Jay, who is a high school student leader and a male bisexual, participated in and supported the CheckMySchool’s awareness-raising efforts. In his story, he remembers his friend and classmate, Sherry, who suffered from an HIV-related disease and died last December 2017 at the age of 19.
Because the story touches on a very sensitive issue, the name of the author and his school are not disclosed. It also uses the fictitious name, Sherry, to refer to the female student with HIV.
A grade 11 student smiles to the camera with his friend despite being bedridden for months. Diagnosed in September 2017, he is still battling with the infectious disease as of writing.
No one answered.
“She’s absent, Ma’am,” a voice from the back responded.
When I wrote this piece, it had been weeks since that bubbly, vigorous classmate of mine had not been attending classes. Our classroom had been unusually quiet because of her absence. But the reason why she stopped coming to school still makes me shiver.
Our school authorities understandably give more attention to problems in school safety, shortage of classrooms and textbooks, and other familiar causes of the deteriorating quality of education. But they tend to overlook other equally important concerns, such as health, particularly sexual health.
I think most of the educators, at least in our province, live in a cloud of ignorance. For a long time, they’re in a state of denial that HIV/AIDS (or the human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome) exists in schools. It exists not just in our classroom, but in many other classrooms in many schools in our province.
A colorfully-painted high school in Midsayap, North Cotabato, ready for the opening of classes for school year 2018-2019.
HIV, according to my research, is considered a pandemic disease which could advance to AIDS overtime. It is a life-threatening disease that could cause sudden death by damaging the brain and the spinal cord.
This alarming plight was finally brought out in the open in our school when a non-government initiative, CheckMySchool (CMS), discovered it in their monitoring visit. CMS volunteers recorded a case of HIV/AIDS–– my former classmate, Sherry. One of our teachers positively confirmed that she’s been infected.
As young as 14 (grade 8), students nowadays engage in sexual intercourse out of curiosity. Lack of knowledge about the consequences of reckless sexual activities exposes them to risks of getting and passing on sexually-transmitted diseases. What’s frightening is that not everyone has early symptoms of HIV/AIDS. We may not realize that we’re already infected until we get tested.
Our province has one of the highest rate of HIV increase, based on latest data from Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP). I suspect that this virus has been spreading in schools and has infected many students. But these cases are more likely not reported or hidden from public knowledge. What I’m most concerned with as a student is not seeing active school-based effort to promote awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Our rural health unit (RHU) set up a clinic intended for HIV/AIDS testing, but no one I know has visited it.
The situation started to change when CheckMySchool monitors openly discussed and reported this issue. They did not stop until something was done about it.
CMS Coordinator Ramel Palapo pushes for HIV awareness in schools through series of training and seminars for students, parents, and teachers.
Through Ramel Palapo, CMS North Cotabato coordinator, the HIV issue among the students was raised not only to school authorities but also to the whole community. He tirelessly pushed for more awareness campaigns.
As a result, the FPOP, together with the municipal health officer and DepEd Cotabato nurses, conducted seminars on HIV-AIDS. Aside from the students, the teachers and parents were also called to participate in the seminars. Trainings were organized, especially for women and female students, on how to protect themselves from getting infected. Mr. Palapo, who is a nurse by profession, also served as a resource person for the training.
We are grateful to CheckMySchool for pushing our school community and the proper authorities to respond to this issue. Your intervention was an eye-opener for the school authorities, and unified their efforts in addressing the issue head-on. The impact of having an HIV/AIDS conscious community will greatly benefit us. CheckMySchool, you are awesomely cool!
This issue is admittedly not as simple as answering test papers, but I believe awareness is a vital part of the solution. As an institution responsible for educating the children of the nation, the school must be on the frontline in promoting consciousness about this disease. It must reach not only the students, but all members of the community. Even you–– yes, you reading this story–– must be HIV-AIDS conscious.
POSTSCRIPT: Sherry contracted HIV not only because of sexual adventurism at a young age. Based on gathered information, she also got involved with men who gave her money in exchange for sex. Among them were police and soldiers.
Two gay boys from other schools, one grade 12 and the other just finished senior high school, were also reported to have been infected with HIV. They died of the disease one after another, in August and December last year, as verified by the Municipal Health Office.
These were some of the cases that prompted the CheckMySchool group in North Cotabato to raise the alarm on HIV in schools.
If there’s any issue, problem or anything that you think needs improvement in your school, let us know if CMS can help. Go to http://www.checkmyschool.org/cms-can-help/.