In 2014 after the UNITAR CIFAL-supported workshop entitled "Enhancing a victim-centered approach, the River of Life Initiatives was adopted to address gender-based violence and its health and psycho-social consequences among boys and men and their sexual partners especially among victims and survivors of drugs, HIV, and human trafficking in the Philippines.

The ROLi methodology was developed in 2012 by John Piermont Montilla, founder of Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay that employs the "Meaningful Engagement of People At-risk" or MEPA process for its behavior change communications work. Inspired by the GIPA/MIPA and Denver Principles, MEPA aims in putting collective personal experiences of “victimization and survivorship” into a unique methodology in engaging peers in helping each rise up their dark past and address their vulnerabilities.

Using the ROLi Young Key Population Scorecard Tool, it offers strategies and tactics integrated with elements of game playing in the context of risk reduction (e.g., risk scoring, competition, collaborative work, and completion of tasks and quests) that help drive behavior change and interaction with service providers.

In 2014, ROLi was selected by the World Health Organization as a good practice example of service delivery to key populations in the consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations.

November 29, 2014

ROLi Champions: John Piermont Montilla, 2014 IVLP alumni, Juno Pegarido Global Fund site implementation officer, Melvin Cabaluna, PEERS Network Cebu Chapter President, and Dr. Ilya Abellanosa

As Cebu City tackles to close the prevention gaps on its HIV and drug abuse efforts, the Cebu City Health Department engages 30 emerging leaders from people who inject drugs and PEERS Network Youth Leaders in promoting a health-oriented approach in mitigating the negative impact of drug use and abuse and a rights-based, client-centered and community-driven HIV and drug abuse prevention through the River of Life Initiatives (ROLi) methodology.

Through the ALUMNI TALKS program of the International Exchange Alumni of the U. S. Department of State, John Piermont Montilla, 2014 IVLP alumni and KGPP National President, Juno Pegarido Global Fund site implementation officer, Melvin Cabaluna, PEERS Network Cebu Chapter President, and Dr. Ilya Abellanosa, local champion jointly undertakes the River of Life Initiatives (ROLi) caravan with key populations made vulnerable by illicit drugs on November 29, 2014 at the Cebu City Health Department.

The activity is the 4th annual workshop since the  founding of the first community-based group of people who inject drugs in the country - the We Are One (WAO) for a Drug-free and AIDS-free Cebu established on December 16, 2012 through the Community Engagement Strengthening  for the Philippine HIV Response (CES4PHR) project of the Philippine NGO Support Program (PHANSuP), a linking organization of the Philippine HIV/AIDS Alliance in the Philippines and the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) after Cebu was selected as one of the five pilot site in the scale up of the ROLi learning package in the Philippines.

Through the series of dialogue with stakeholders under the Alumni Talks program which started in May 2014, prevention of crime was incorporated in the ROLi learning package. This was taken into serious consideration after possession of drug paraphernalia among peer educators were found to be a major barrier in the HIV prevention efforts in the city which rendered the WAO organization to go defunct as members were being apprehended by drug enforcement agencies during raids forcing the City Health Department to select and train new peer educators. 

Officer and members of PEERS Network Cebu with Dr. Ilya Abellanosa holding their individual river of life outputs

The Alumni Talks intend to inspire new leaders from PEERS Network Cebu and newly selected survivors with leadership potential from community groups of persons who inject drugs through the ROLi experience that will relive the WAO aspiration of having a community organization who will take the lead and engage in working with service providers and law enforcement agencies in the prevention of HIV and drug abuse among young people in key Barangays affected by drugs in the City. 

According to a report from police regional office VI, there are 74 of 80 barangays in Cebu City that are affected by drug-trafficking and according to the 5th Medium Term Development Plan (2011-2016), Cebu is one of the hardest hit of new cases of HIV infection particulalry among people who use drugs through injection. The document also noted that injecting drug use starts as early as 12 years of age with a median age of 19 years and suggested that prevention interventions should cover children and young people. With this statistics, ROLi seeks to complement the already available health interventions provided by the city government as well as current project interventions from non government organizations to curb the spread of HIV infection among injecting drug users in the city through a health-oriented approach. 

New leaders from survivors of drug use with Dr. Ilya Abellanosa holding their individual river of life outputs

The "Sapa sang Kinabuhi" a Bisayan term for the "River of Life" coined by original WAO members were agreed to be customized by the new core group of leaders to include prevention of possession of drugs and paraphernalias in the self assessment tools. This ensure that HIV prevention activities does not violate the Republic Act 9165 otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. This also creates a more holistic approach in addressing the well-being of those afflicted and those at risk and through the engagement of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency or PDEA as a key stakeholder in the prevention of HIV in Cebu. 

Richmond Jimenez with Dr. Ilya Abellanosa and Juno Pegarido at the City Health Department of Cebu City

In his earlier visit, International Exchange Alumni coordinator Mr. Richmond Jimenez discussed with Dr. Ilya Abellanosa about funding for livelihood opportunities that are valuable to support the HIV and drug abuse prevention programs of the city for young people from the American Embassy in Manila through its International Exchange Alumni.

The caravan is a prelude to the 2014 World AIDS Day campaign and the 2015 and Beyond Post-MDG Agenda for most marginalized and excluded Key Populations in the Philippines under the larger Key Population Engagement Program of the Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay (KGPP) Inc. through the Peers Enabling Each other's Recovery Support (PEERS) Network Philippines.

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