HIV education workshop facilitators and participants at Newell High School, Jamaica

The beautiful Caribbean island nation of Jamaica is renowned for its turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and unique musical styles. Less well known is that the population of this stunning country is plagued by one of the highest rates of HIV in the Caribbean. An extraordinary partnership between an Australian nurse and several local organizations sought to address this issue through an innovative suite of programs designed to empower Jamaicans protect themselves from HIV.

In 2013, Beth Thompson took a leave of absence from her nursing position at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital and accepted an assignment at Mandeville Hospital in Manchester Parish, Jamaica. There she met Breds, an NGO that promotes education and healthcare in Jamaica’s under-developed south coast.

With the support of the Alfred Hospital, Beth and Breds developed a training program to educate women on the intricately related dual-dangers of domestic violence and HIV. Beth reports that TeachAIDS formed the “backbone” of the training sessions.  She notes that the TeachAIDS materials were ideal for this purpose as they are appropriate for people of all ages and backgrounds, they convey information in a fun and engaging way, and they make the information easy to retain.

Beth and Breds collaborated with Eve For Life, Woman's Inc Crisis Centre, MAC AIDS Fund, and the Treasure Beach Women's Group to roll out the training program in several locations in St. Elizabeth Parish. In addition to high school students and members of a women’s group, a group of HIV positive “mentor mums” trained by Eve for Life participated in the workshops.  These mentor mums will continue to spread HIV prevention messages to members of their communities.

The collaboration demonstrates the inspirational potential of building the capacity of local organizations and individuals.  Beth notes that the local partners and workshop participants quickly came to own the project: “once educated they were able to take control of the project, make it their own, and run it their way.  They were so creative!”.

Beth joins a global community of committed health professionals who use TeachAIDS to provide HIV and AIDS education at clinics, youth centers, and workshops around the world. She plans to return to Jamaica later in 2015 to continue this work.

We applaud this remarkable collaboration between Beth and her many local partners for their tireless work to help the people of Jamaica protect themselves from HIV, and for bringing TeachAIDS to the magnificent shores of Jamaica.

Photo: HIV education workshop facilitators and participants at Newell High School, Jamaica
TeachAIDS' new office on University Avenue, Palo Alto, California
A few weeks ago, TeachAIDS said goodbye to its California Avenue office and moved to a truly beautiful new space on bustling University Avenue in the heart of Palo Alto. The new office is located in a historical building with cathedral ceilings and a gorgeous view of the downtown. As with our previous office, the new space is donated to TeachAIDS by a very generous long-term supporter.

The change of scenery has been very exciting for all members of the TeachAIDS California office. TeachAIDS Founder and CEO, Dr. Piya Sorcar, notes, “The new office is perfect for our next phase. The natural sunlight inspires the team every day, the period elegance lends itself to old-fashioned hard work, while the location right in the heart of the Silicon Valley centers us at the leading edge of world class technology.” Dr. Sorcar adds that she is delighted to now call University Avenue home, “we could not be happier with the space or the location and are immensely grateful to our generous donor!”

Earlier in the year and on the other side of the globe, TeachAIDS also moved offices in India, from Bangalore to Hyderabad. Business tycoon and film icon Nagarjuna Akkineni has kindly donated space at the prestigious Annapurna Studios, one of India’s biggest, most successful and entrepreneurial film studios. Thanks to this space, we have unparalleled access to the who’s who of Indian celebrities, directors and production teams. Akkineni says, “we are so pleased to be able to support the important work of TeachAIDS by offering space in Annapurna Studios. We have enjoyed working with TeachAIDS for many years and have been immensely impressed by their nationwide development and distribution efforts.”

The support of our donors and networks in the US, India and around the world makes what TeachAIDS achieves possible. We are immensely grateful for the unwavering generosity of all of our donors: from the local restaurant that recently donated food for a TeachAIDS staff party to the cultural icons who take time out of their busy schedules in the spotlight to support TeachAIDS, to the extraordinary generosity of our office space donors. With their support, we continue to work toward making high-quality HIV education software freely available around the world.

Photo: TeachAIDS' new office on University Avenue, Palo Alto, California

Girls of Rainbow Homes residential homes for vulnerable urban youth, Hyderabad, India
TeachAIDS is proud to work with United Way of Hyderabad (UWH) to bring HIV education to the vulnerable urban children of Rainbow Homes.

United Way is a nonprofit that seeks to advance the common good by “mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world.” Throughout the world, citizens have established almost 4,000 chapters of United Way, organizing millions of volunteers in support of local health, education and livelihood initiatives. Under the umbrella of United Way of India, UHW strives to “create long-term social change that produces healthy, well-educated and financially-stable individuals and families.”

UWH’s projects include supporting education activities at Rainbow Home’s ten Hyderabad residential homes for urban street children at risk of sexual and physical abuse. These facilities seek to “ensure a safe and happy childhood” for vulnerable children by providing shelter, nutrition, education and health care.

Recognizing that HIV prevention is critical for the long-term health of these children, UWH and Rainbow Homes identified HIV education as a vital part of their learning curriculum. Together, they showed the TeachAIDS Telugu software at a Hyderabad Rainbow Homes’ residential home for girls.

Over 30 young adolescent girls viewed the TeachAIDS software over several sessions. The girls greatly enjoyed learning from Nagarjuna Akkineni and Navdeep Pallapollu, two of the many cultural icons who kindly donated their voices and likeness to the software. The Rainbow Homes viewings perfectly complemented other TeachAIDS’ screenings in Andhra Pradesh and across India, including numerous screenings among at-risk boys and annual screenings on several major television stations since 2011.

In the Behind the Scenes of TeachAIDS video, actress and social activist Amala Akkineni comments on the ability of the celebrities, combined with high quality materials, to reach young people. “If you come to one of those viewings you’ll see how the children are glued to the television. They get it so fast because the material is fantastic....TeachAIDS has cracked the puzzle of bringing a very serious subject to the mind of a child by using the celebrity”.

TeachAIDS is honored to connect with United Way of Hyderabad and Rainbow Homes, both of which provide critical services for the betterment of society, and is grateful for the generous support of cultural icons in India and across the world.

Photo: Girls of Rainbow Homes residential homes for vulnerable urban youth, Hyderabad, India
TEDWomen 2015 was a three day conference on the power of women and girls to be creators and change-makers

Following the TEDxWomen presentation Dr. Piya Sorcar delivered in 2014, the TeachAIDS founder and CEO was invited to present to the 2015 TEDWomen conference in Monterey, California.

TEDWomen is a three-day TED special event conference on the power of women and girls to be creators and change-makers.  More than 40 speakers offered insights and perspectives around the 2015 theme of "Momentum".  Nearly 240 TEDx events in 68 countries participated, resulting in a truly global conversation.

In 2014 Dr. Sorcar presented on developing culturally sensitive, accurate HIV education materials. This year, she was part of a panel session entitled The 19th Minute, a reference to what happens after the “power-packed 18 minutes” Ted talks are known for. Dr. Sorcar shared new research discovered over the past couple years along with the exponential growth into 75+ nations.

Speakers at the 2015 TEDWomen conference included former president and Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter, actor and activist Jane Fonda, tennis legend Billy Jean King, comedian and actor Lily Tomlin, as well as activists, artists and visionaries from all over the world.

TeachAIDS is honored to have been featured among this inspirational line up. Sharing ideas and stories is central to the philosophy of TeachAIDS, and we fully support TED’s agenda to make ideas accessible and spark conversation.  We hope such important global conversation continues for many years to come.

Photo: TEDWomen 2015 was a three-day conference on the power of women and girls to be creators and change-makers

Samburu Girls Foundation in north-central Kenya
“One powerful moment was when I realized the girls did not fully comprehend the gravity and reality of AIDS as a serious health condition. The TeachAIDS material created a safe space for questions that enabled and empowered these girls to learn how to respect their bodies.”--Tia Rudd, health educator

The Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF) is run by Josephine Kulea, a child rights activist and the 2013 UN Person of the year in Kenya.  Ms. Kulea is a member of the Samburu clan in north-central Kenya and was raised in a culture where early child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and a practice called  “beading” are commonplace. “Beading is a centuries-old tradition of the Samburu.  While the young males (morans) wait to be married (up to 15 years after their circumcision rites), they are allowed to select an unmarried girl from within their clan for an exclusive but temporary sexual relationship. After negotiations with her family are complete, the moran presents her with a collar of red beads, which marks her as “taken.” Girls as young as 4 years old have been beaded,” says Tia Rudd, an MPH student at University of Nevada and former Peace Corps volunteer. Ms. Rudd traveled to Kenya to lead an empowerment training program for girls protected in an SGF safe house.

Ms. Kulea’s inspiration came from her courageous mother who would feed and care for young girls fleeing from early marriage or FGM. She would watch her mother care for these children in their one-room hut and promised herself that one day, when she was old enough, she too would protect these children. Ms. Kulea soon began to safeguard young girls as they escaped the practices of FGM and beading. Eventually, as the number of girls she cared for grew, she founded SGF.

Today, when a child reaches out for support, Ms. Kulea immediately sends a vehicle for the rescue. The child is brought to one of the SGF safe houses, where she can stay until the organization is able to send her to a primary or secondary school. Many of these girls already have children of their own.

Ms. Kulea requested that Ms. Rudd incorporate sexual and reproductive health topics into the empowerment program.  Many Kenyan parents, teachers and health officials are reluctant to speak openly about sex, making school-based sex and HIV/AIDS education nearly impossible to access.  Ms. Rudd was excited to discover the TeachAIDS software online and learn that the educational material was evidence-based and had been tried-and-tested for high retention among learners.

Given that there was a single laptop and 20 girls in the program, they took turns watching the animations. “They loved the interactive animations and spent 4 hours sharing and interacting with the material.”

Over the years, TeachAIDS has showcased the efforts of several commendable organizations like the Samburu Girls Foundation who are working across Kenya to improve educational efforts. Some of these include A Better Education Club to educate children in regions inhabited by the Taita tribeDignitas Project as part of their leadership programming in Mathare; and Arché-ONLUS in its rural school education outreach efforts.

The TeachAIDS materials will be used again this summer at the SGF. We applaud local heroes such as Ms. Kulea and Ms. Rudd who have worked strategically and tirelessly to provide basic education and protect children's rights.

Photo: Samburu Girls Foundation in north-central Kenya