The River of Life Initiatives or ROLi is a survivor engagement initiative that offers a fun-filled learning package implemented through periodic self assessments, creative workshops, group brainstorming and games using a metaphor called the "River of Life". Like a river, life has two sides, the danger and the safer sides and at the end is the ocean of dreams, aspirations and opportunities.

Facilitated by survivors and service delivery champions, it inspires the driving and pursuing of own behavior change aiming at getting risk behaviors to "zero" by crossing the safer side of the River of Life and clear the way toward dreams and aspirations.

Through a grant from the American Embassy in Manila through the International Exchange Alumni's Alumni Talks Program, ROLi is rolled-out in the cities of Olongapo, Davao, Cebu and Manila in the Philippines through its grassroots get to Zero and Be a Hero Campaign: Zero HIV, Zero Drugs and Zero Crime.

ROLi was selected by the World Health Organization as one of the 2014 Case Study of Good Practices around the world on HIV and young people. (See page 23 at www.who.int/hiv/pub/guidelines/briefs__sw_2014.pdf).

Background

The River of Life Initiatives or ROLi is a survivor engagement initiative of the Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay (Peers for Positive Living) originally developed for prevention of HIV among its male sex worker constituency in southern Philippines. In 2012, through the Starbucks Youth Action Grants under the YouthActionNet Program of the International Youth Foundation, the initiative has grown into a venture where behavior change is implmented in ways that are fun, inspiring and income generating. ROLi is devoted for the prevention of HIV,  drug abuse and other risk behaviors of young people particulalry in environments of violence, crime, and exploitation and is currently implemented in partnership with the Peers Enabling Each other's Recovery Support (PEERS) Network Philippines.

The Initiatives is anchored on the organization's SELF strategic framework formulated in 2012 during the third strategic planning of the organization for strategic cycle 2013-2015 that aims to develop an evidence-based method in promoting a health-oriented and a rights-based, client-centered, and community-driven approach for behavior change and crises intervention. The framework blends Stewardship, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Fellowship with the belief that positive change can only happen, sustained and rolled-out through empowerment and transformation of the individual self and the peer group where s/he belongs with the help of available social assets in the community.

  • Stewardship: I Take Responsibility - aimed at developing competent change communicators who inculcates a sense of accountability toward own and peers' behavior through the maintenance of the change they have developed through the years and through meaningful enggement in activities that restore self integrity and public trust.
  • Entrepreneurship: I’m Back on My Feet - aimed at developing innovative social entrepreneurs who secure a sense of self-sufficiency in maintaining each above poverty threshold through meaningful engagement in gainful and dignified sources of industry, livelihood and mission-driven social business promoting positive social change.
  • Leadership: I Take the Lead - aimed at developing empowering leaders among the most marginalized, ostracised and neglected who establishes a sense of belonging to self and peer group who can bring out and represent voices through meaningful engagement in all aspects of decision-making in their spheres of influence.
  • Fellowship: I Pay It Forward - aimed at developing inspiring fellows who achieved the change they long aspired and value a sense of paying forward by reaching to others in the place where they once have been and meaningfully engaged in the development of successor generation of change makers.

The ROLi methodology operationalizes the SELF framework which contain a set life skills building tools and peer-facilitated and adult-supervised activities implemented all-year-round using a creative self-assessment toolkit comprised of a customized self assessment of risk behaviors, and River of Life templates and an "I" journal workbook . Using the tools, ROLi transforms life experiences into a metaphor that represents life into a River with two sides, one the danger side and the other the safer side and at the end of the river is the ocean that represents the dreams.

The individual output provides clients a visual that illustrates own risk status that is shared with trusted counselors valuble for one-on-one sessions for HIV testing, drug use and abuse counselling.  The group output provides a visual that illustrates the risk status of the peer group and shows who among the members are located at the safer side (members who can help) and who are located at the danger side (members who needs help). From there on, brainstorming and peer helping activities are stimulated by tasking those members at the safer side to reach out those in the danger side until such a time that all members arrive in the safe side of the river of life.

Consolidated group outputs are also used for ROLi dialogues with duty bearers that seeks to establish mutual trust and joint planning. This help health and law enforcement authorities adjust their services, policies and programs to address the unique needs being shared. ROLi case studies of inspiring stories of change are also developed and exhibited during knowledge fairs and conferences and ROLi merchandises sold and auctioned for a price during  a Get to Zero and Be a Hero showcase and marketplace - a social business and entrepreneurship component of the initiative.

Through the ROLi activities, individuals and their respective peer groups are enabled to initiate self assessments of their risks allowing them to improve their health and help-seeking behaviors and accountability toward own and peer groups behavior change. The annual dream building summits help in rebuilding dreams that has long aspired. Periodic workshops help build mutual trust with duty-bearers that establish a sense of security and safety in their bid to sustainably access health services, crises intervention and peer support in pursuing their own behavior change. Facilitated by survivors and champions inspires participants that change is possible and dreams can still be achieved but only through the individual's own effort in crossing his own River of Life.

The ROLi was selected as a case study of good practice in 2014 by the World Health Organization for prevention of HIV and was an Official  Global Village Activity at the 20th AIDS Conference in Melbourne in July 2014 through a Get to Zero and Be a Hero Marketplace Booth.

History

ROLi took it roots during the drug use and abuse prevention for prostituted youth in Iloilo, Estancia, Bacolod and Boracay in the period 2005-2009 supported by the UNICEF 6th Country Program for Children and UNODC's Global Youth Network Asia-Pacific Program. Conceived by former survivors of male prostituion in Iloilo in the year 2007, the tools were pioneered by the Iloilo Chapter of KGPP which was developed out of their frustrations that once project ends, behavior change also ceases to happen or negative behaviors relapses; the knowledge and skills acquired through years are left to become wasted as it remains among themselves without the capacity in rolling them out to others.

With a simple idea in mind to drive behavior change even after every project's term, the first tool was dedicated to street youth and was termed the  "Self-measurement of Change Tools”. The tools later was developed with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank through the Constellation for Life Competence (formerly AIDS Competence) based in Thailand and was renamed the River of Life Tools. It was presented at the 5th Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Conference in Beijing China in 2009 and was selected as one of the Official Global Village Activity during the 19th  International AIDS Conference in Washington DC at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. from July 22 – 27, 2012.

Through the Starbucks Shared Planet Youth Action Grants under the YouthActionNet Program of the Intyernational Youth Foundation, through the organization's Behavior Change Entrepreneurship Strategic Planning, ROLi  has crystallized as a new methodology towards as a rights-based, victim-centered and survivor-driven framework of action in combating trafficking among youth and in addressing core health and psycho-social issues on HIV, drugs and clandestine behaviors. The program was selected good practice of the  Philippine NGO Support Program or PHANSuP - a linking organization of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and was piloted in Zamboanga, Davao, Cebu, Bacolod, and Manila in 2012 that reached 77 grassroots groups of people who use drugs, male and female sex workers, street youth, gays and transgender across the country through the Community Engagement Strengthening  for the Philippine HIV Response (CES4PHR) project of the Philippine National AIDS Council and PHANSuP.