Chloe Reynaldo is a new generation of leadership
Chloe S. Reynaldo is now 17 years-old. Since she was 15 years-old the honour student from the Philippines has been using her talent for public speaking to inform her peers about adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
Among the topics that she discusses while speaking at various high schools in Aklan province are sexually transmitted infections, HIV and other issues relating to young people. She considers that her advocacy is not limited to high-school students but includes their families as well. Chloe was one of five panelists who participated in the Asia-Pacific launch of the State of the World Population Report 2015 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which took place in Bangkok.
UNAIDS interviewed her about what it’s like being a young peer-educator, where often the people she talks to are older than her.
(The views and opinions expressed in interviews or commentaries are those of the interviewees and contributors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of UNAIDS).
UNAIDS: You are helping to raise awareness about HIV among your peers. Why do you think this is important?
Chloe: I think it’s really important precisely because a lot of kids my age don’t really feel like it’s very important. One of the problems I face while talking to young people is their apathy to these issues. People say to me all the time that “It’s too early for young people to be thinking about that” or “You’re giving us the wrong ideas”. But, I say “You are going to get those ideas anyway. It’s going to happen so we’re giving you the information to protect yourselves.”
As peer educators, as much as we’d like to be able to protect all young people we’re not going to be able to watch their every move and tell them what’s right and what’s wrong so I think it’s really important that they have the information they need to make informed decisions. It’s not just about protecting themselves from HIV but it’s also health in general. Sexual and reproductive health, avoidance of early pregnancies and stuff like that.
UNAIDS: What made you decide that you wanted to be a peer educator?
Chloe: It actually happened last year. Every province in the Philippines sends representatives from schools to become U4U Teen Trail facilitators. The programme which is run by the Commission on Population and UNFPA aims to give appropriate health information to young people. They pick out who they believe has the potential to become good peer educators and send them to trainings.
One of the things that has made me want to continue being a peer educator is the importance of the advocacy itself, because I really admire being able to help people and being able to talk to them about their lives and their struggles. I get to meet a lot of people and I’m very grateful for this chance.
UNAIDS: Is there any particular incident that made you want to do this?
Chloe: Yes. It is the story of Carla. When Typhoon “Frank” hit the Philippines, Carla was 8 years old. Her house was too far from the evacuation centre and so she and her family stayed at their house. Her mother was very sick at the time. They soon ran out of food and water and her mother’s health was deteriorating. So, Carla walked two miles to the evacuation centre to get food for her mother. At the centre, Carla was ignored because she was just a little girl. She was made to wait and was given no priority. When she finally got the food, Carla walked back home. When she got home, her mother had already died.
This is what keeps me going. We are kids but we have a lot to offer, we have a lot of power to bring about change.
UNAIDS: So as a peer educator what do you do? What do you talk about?
Chloe: As peer educators we talk to fellow high school students mostly. Sometimes we have community-wide activities where we have a mix of students from different schools in the municipality and we also have sessions with pregnant mothers, fathers and sometimes we also have activities with elderly people. A popular joke among us is that if you promise food everybody will come. So we always serve food at our sessions and people come happily.
As a peer educator, I spread knowledge. We talk to teenagers about all types of things from ‘how to connect better with your parents’ to more technical things like ‘how to avoid STIs’ and ‘how to protect yourself’,’ what your sexual reproductive rights are’ and about adolescent sexual and reproductive health in emergency settings.
UNAIDS: As a young person talking about serious and complex topics, what are the challenges that you face?
Chloe: Coming from a religious country there are some challenges. For example, I started last year at the youth health summit as a trainee. There we participants who agreed with a statement had to line up at one side and those who disagreed lined up on the opposite side. For the most part every statement was unanimous when there were common questions like “Is HIV contagious?” and everyone would line up at the same side to disagree.Then a statement was made -“safe abortion should be available to women.” I thought I had people following me to agree but then when I looked back, I was the only person there who agreed with the statement. The facilitator later told me that there were religious groups among us that were actually angry at my decision. They were whispering about me behind my back. I had to clarify that I disagreed with the concept of abortion but I believed that women are going to do it anyway and hence it is important that they were provided safe places to get abortions.
UNAIDS: What do your parents feel about your work? Do they have any concerns?
Chloe: My parents get shocked with the terminology I use such as sex and condoms. They are concerned that I might get heckled because the teenage boys I talk to are older than me. I am a girl so they do worry about my safety. Sometimes I travel to faraway places. Last year I went to a mountainous area and our car broke down. They worry about these kinds of circumstances. They also worry that I may not be taken seriously because after all I’m only 15!
Do you see yourself continuing to be a peer educator in the future?
Chloe: Yeah I think so. Last June I had a training on adolescent sexual reproductive health in emergencies. It was a national training. I shared what I learnt there at the local colleges in my town. I may not be a peer educator forever but but I’m already conducting trainings and actually training people to be peer educators. That’s probably what I will do. I want to become a neurosurgeon and alongside that, I can be a mentor and continue my advocacy work.