Illness has not stopped them living normal lives. It has, however, kept them from their families, especially during Christmas.
Esther, Archie, and Nick all share the same sentiment: Christmas is not the same without their loved ones to celebrate it with.
Sentiments are not the only thing they have in common. The three are among persons brave enough to come out and admit they have HIV.
Esther Nahum has been staying at the Bahay Lingap since she tested positive for HIV in 1989.
Her first two years at the half-way house were the most difficult in her life. It was during those days when she tried to conceal her condition from her parents.
Because of her decision to stay away, the very people who should have been comforting her were not there. Fortunately, the people at Bahay Lingap consoled her.
“Seven years na akong nagse-celebrate ng Christmas dito sa Bahay Lingap. Hindi na ako umuuwi sa Negros (Occidental) dahil iniiwasan kong makita ng mga tao, lalo na ng mga magulang kong naaawa sa akin,” she related. “Nagsakripisyo ako, tiniis kong hindi makita ang mga magulang ko sa loob ng dalawang taon. ‘Yun din ang mga panahon na sinasanay ko sila na hindi ako makita, kasi oras na mawala ako, hindi na gaanong masakit sa kanila.”
When thay eventually learned of her condition, Esther’s parents, on their own came to visit her.
The eldest in a brood of 10, she dreamt of sending all her younger brothers and sisters to school. This dream pushed her to try her luck in Angeles City, where she ended up working as a commercial sex worker in a night club.
It took a while for her parents to accept her profession, but eventually, love for their daughter prevailed.
“Ang alam ng tatay ko..waitress lang ako doon. Hindi niya alam na nagpapalabas din ako sa customer kasi mas malaki ang kinikita, eh,” Esther confessed.
But fear of God eventually made her decide to leave the job. Unfortunately, her decision to reform came too late…she was already infected with HIV.
“Naging mature ang outlook ko sa buhay dahil sa sakit ko. Hindi sumagi sa isip ko ang mang-hawa ng ibang tao. May takot pa rin ako sa Diyos,” she mused.
There was little choice but to form friendships with other HIV and AIDS afflicted individuals. Her best friend Beth, died in July after a lingering bout with pneumonia.
An organization called Pinoy Plus (Positive Living through Utmost Support/Services) has brought together HIV positive individuals in the country. It was launched in 1994 with a total of 30 members.
Esther said many individuals afflicted with the disease are still afraid to come out in the open for fear of discrimination and rejection.
Majority of them celebrate Christmas without their families and relatives.
“Sila ang mga taong may malungkot na Pasko. Ang iba sa kanila ay nangamatay nang hindi man lang dinalaw ng relatives nila. Iniiwanan lang sila sa San Lazaro tapos wala ng bumibisita sa kanila,” she narrated.
At 30, Esther prefers to stay single. She has no plans of marrying, unlike another HIV positive friend, Liza Enriquez.
Among her apprehensions are problems which she may experience if she gets married and has a baby.
“Ayokong mag-kaanak dahil ayokong maranasan ng bata ang naranasan ni Joan na lumaking walang ina o kamag-anak na nag-aalaga. Dahil isa ako sa tumatayong ina ng bata, nakita ko ang paghihirap niya bago namatay,” she shared.
Joan was the first pediatric AIDS case admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital. She was born to an HIV positive mother in 1989. Her condition eventually developed into full-blow AIDS in 1993, and since then she has had on-and-off pneumonia attacks.
The young girl permanently stayed at the hospital’s AIDS ward after her mother died of complications from AIDS last year. Eventually, Joan succumbed to pneumonia secondary to AIDS in July.
As health educator, Esther dreams of meeting other people with HIV and AIDS from other parts of the world. She intends to get additional training on how to educate people concerning AIDS in order to touch more lives.
And this is why she constantly prays to God to give her a longer life to accomplish these goals. One of them is providing livelihood to other patients “para hindi naman sila kawawa habang kaya pa nilang suportahan ang sarili nila.”
Because there are very few job opportunities for persons with HIV, some are forced to accept laundry jobs for affluent patients in San Lazaro.
“Naranasan ko na rin ang mag-labada kahit may sakit ako, masuportahan ko lang ang pangangailangan ko,” Esther confided.
Presently, she is receiving a meager P2,000 allowance from the Department of Health’s AIDS Unit where she serves as health educator.
The woman also keeps busy with card-making, a seasonal occupation, and crocheting bags and face towels. These projects are funded by the Australian Embassy through the San Lazaro Hospital.
The products are sold to medical representatives and some non-governmental organizations. According to Esther, they are paid P20 per card; P20 to P45 for hand-made bags; and crocheted bags and towels sell for P40. Profits are equally divided among persons with HIV.
Archie Rivera, 29, also believes that family support plays an important role in his struggle with AIDS, which he contracted two years ago.
Like his friend Esther, he hopes he can go on living despite the stigma on people living with HIV.
“Malakas pa sana ako sa mga darating na Christmas para magampanan ko ang pagtulong sa tao,” he said wistfully.
His ultimate goal is to prepare himself for that time when he has to face his Creator. Archie also wants to be given more time to help educate persons living with HIV.
Archie feels sad that despite government’s campaign to prevent the spread of the disease, many Filipinos remain unaware of HIV/AIDS.
“Ang ibang tao kasi binabalewala ang AIDS,” Archie noted.
The former factory worker has also become one of the DOH’s health educator.
Unfortunately, when he lost his job, he also missed out on Christmas parties and bonuses.
Nick Fuentes was living a good live in California until he got infected in 1985. Worse, his wife could not accept his being homosexual.
Although he has given up on his role as husband, in his heart he still wants to be father to two beautiful children whom he misses so much.
He decided to return home after learning he had HIV. And like Esther and Archie, Nick is also seriously pursuing a career as AIDS educator to make people aware that HIV/AIDS is not a joke but a serious condition.
Nick’s only wish for Christmas is to be with his mother and children in the United States.
“Whenever I pray, I ask God to give me more time to be with my kids,” he shared.
Nevertheless, being apart from his family is a sacrifice he is willing to endure. What is important is that he is alive.
“Buhay pa rin ako at nilalabanan ang sakit,” he declared with conviction.
Christmas today and those in the coming years will never be the same for Esther, Archie, and Nick. But life goes on. They only wish people would understand them, instead of hate them.
It’s never too late to show them that we care. A touch and simple greetings will lift their spirits this yuletide season and all the days to come.
This came out in the December 25, 1995 issue of People’s Journal.