Bethany’s laptop was teeming with ants by the end of her stay in Vang Vieng, Laos.  Bethany had been volunteering with Fruit Friends, a nonprofit enterprise that works hand-in-hand with remote villagers to provide educational, agricultural and entrepreneurial opportunities.  She quickly learned that insects were part of the daily life - including a protein rich element of the diet - of the Laotian people.

Having heard about TeachAids through family, Bethany had been determined to provide HIV education to her colleagues in Laos since her arrival. Aware that her computer was unlikely to survive more than a few days longer, she quickly tuned into the TeachAids YouTube channel.

Bethany screened the female Indian-English language version of the TeachAids tutorials for the business manager, house manager, and interns of Fruit Friends, among other staff members.  Through the animations, she was able to assist her colleagues to answer some of their own pressing questions about HIV, including whether sharing razor blades and cooking knives can increase a person’s risk of HIV. Bethany noted that her colleagues were very happy to have the opportunity to discuss HIV. “They had so many questions and they had not had an opportunity to ask anyone these questions before. HIV is not something that is commonly discussed in Laos,” she observed, “but being aware of basic HIV facts in order to steer clear of contracting the infection is very important”.

Although Laos is classified as a low HIV prevalence country, the HIV infection is rapidly increasing, with remote areas particularly vulnerable to this disease.  Many villages are so remote that it takes several days to reach them by foot, and they are completely cut off from the outside world during the wet season. Along with stigmas that preclude the open discussion of HIV, these conditions makes providing targeting HIV education is extremely difficult.

Realizing that the Fruit Friends staff are very well placed to deliver HIV education to the villages with which they work, Bethany saw an important opportunity to equip them with the knowledge they need to empower villagers to protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV.

“Fruit Friends staff are well respected and well liked, so they are the perfect conduit to spark this discussion across the villages in which they work”

We applaud Bethany and our partners at Fruit Friends and other organizations like The Samburu Girls Foundation, Action for the Needy, and the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust who are simultaneously inducing change in their local communities and elevating their commitment to HIV prevention efforts worldwide. Their dedication leads them to overcome challenges such as a lack of electricity, cultural stigmas and even plagues of ants to make this possible.

Photo: Bethany (far right) delivered HIV education to the staff of Fruit Friends

HIV awareness remains low in Bolivia, while stigma surrounding this condition is pervasive

Stanford student Jill Huckels was baffled to see a child refusing to take his daily HIV medication on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The young boy had contracted HIV perinatally but been kept unaware of his HIV status by his parents to prevent the bullying and discrimination that typically follow a diagnosis of HIV. Consequently, he was unable to grasp the importance of the medications he was encouraged to take daily, and risked serious deterioration of his health.

Jill noted that the lack of HIV knowledge, and the stigma associated with this condition, is pervasive throughout Bolivia and likely contributes to the increasing incidence of HIV infection in many communities throughout this country.  With this in mind, on a recent Impact Abroad service-learning trip she and seven of her classmates endeavored to promote sexual health education in Cochabamba. Aiming to spark a conversation that would be highly informative while reducing the stigma associated with HIV, they implemented a suite of programs designed to engage all members of the community.

Having been introduced to the TeachAids materials through TeachAids Founder and CEO Dr. Piya Sorcar’s Research-Based Interventions in Global Health class at Stanford University, Jill was eager to integrate the animated tutorials into their sexual health education program. She and her team partnered with the Bolivian chapter of La Casa de Los Niños, which seeks to promote the education, recovery and reintegration of disadvantaged and children through community outreach programs. Together, they were able to reach over eighty children who were afflicted with disease, separated from their parents, or displaced from their homes.

“These children have endured homelessness, violence, abuse, and abandonment. We aimed to give them hope that there is something they can actively do about their health,” Jill shared.

The eagerness of the children to learn about HIV led Jill to and her classmates coordinated two movie nights to screen the video versions of the TeachAids software for the broader community. As they planned these events, they faced major resource constraints. Unwilling to allow these challenges to prevent the dissemination of this important information, Jill created an intimate theater using a projector and a white blanket to accommodate parents and their young ones on the first night and teenagers on the second. “The movie screenings were crucial in instigating a community-wide dialogue on HIV,” Jill explains, “and the children could hardly contain their excitement during the animations.”

Jill and her team did not stop there. They initiated a sexual health fair in a community park, and facing even greater resource constraints, displayed the TeachAids tutorial for dozens of children on a laptop.  The children crowded around the makeshift fifteen-inch cinema and avidly shouted answers to the questions posed in ‘Doctors Challenge’ section of the animation.

Jill is optimistic that despite the stigma and lack of awareness associated with HIV, the national discussion required to combat HIV is possible. She noted that “this is the decade where Bolivians, for the first time, are willing to hear about HIV.”

We applaud the efforts of Jill and her Stanford classmates in taking these creative and meaningful steps towards making HIV education available in a nation acutely affected by HIV. The Stanford community nurtured TeachAids in its earliest days, and incredibly dedicated Stanford professors, students, and student groups continue to be critical partners in propagating TeachAids HIV prevention education materials throughout the world.

Photo:  HIV awareness remains low in Bolivia, while stigma surrounding this condition is pervasive

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It is with great joy that we announce the release of the Tibetan language HIV education materials in time for the auspicious occasion of Losar or Tibetan New Year. These materials are the result of an intensive collaboration with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and several other committed partners. The animations are now available online for free and will be distributed to Tibetan schools, universities and health care facilities as soon as this month.

In 2015, HIV was identified by the CTA as a growing threat to Tibetans around the world and a priority for the Tibetan Department of Health. Recognizing that education is the key to prevention, Health Kalon Dr. Tsering Wangchuk approached TeachAids and requested assistance in developing culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible HIV education materials.

The animated education materials feature the universally respected Dr. Tsetan Dorji Sadutshang, personal physician to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Chief Medical Officer of the prestigious Delek Hospital as a wise doctor; and beloved singer and songwriter Phurbu T. Namgyal as an inquisitive student with many concerns about HIV transmission. During the research and testing phases, both cultural icons were identified as highly influential and deeply respected amongst the Tibetan community worldwide. Despite their intense work and travel schedules, both Dr. Sadutshang and Mr. Namgyal made huge efforts to devote significant time over months of work towards the development and high quality production of these animations.

Dr. Sadutshang cited His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s globally renowned kindness as his inspiration for becoming involved with TeachAids. He noted, “it’s about a universal responsibility that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has always been talking about and that’s just not about taking care of only yourself, but taking care of everyone else around you, including all living beings, your environment and the entire universe. Be kind to others and help anyone you can.” Phurbu T. Namgyal echoed these sentiments, reflecting that there has been a “need for social leaders to propel efforts to protect Tibetans from HIV”.  Namgyal went on to say that “these education materials will be extremely beneficial for my people, especially those inside Tibet”, and added, “I am so happy to be a part of it!”

Sikyong (Prime Minister) Lobsang Sangay offered an impassioned Message of Hope to accompany these materials, reflecting on the lessons learned in the 34 years since HIV was identified and reminding Tibetans that “there is no cure for HIV and AIDS but it is preventable. We have learned that the single best way to stop the spread of HIV is through education”.

Health Kalon Dr. Tsering Wangchuk complemented this message with an inspiring Call to Action urging Tibetans to learn to protect themselves and their loved ones and to treat people living with HIV with kindness, respect and dignity. The TeachAids materials have also been graciously supported by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who commended the compassion that guides the development of the HIV education software.

TeachAids has been overjoyed with the support we have received from the Tibetan community. Along with respected politicians, renowned medical personnel and cultural icons, we have received generous assistance from teachers, students, monastery staff and many experts from the Health Department at the Central Tibetan Administration. The development of these materials has truly been a remarkable demonstration of the strength and unity of the Tibetan community, and we are humbled to have been a part of this effort.

We encourage Tibetans around the world to watch these materials and learn how to protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV. In addition to being available for free on the TeachAids website, the animations will be shown on Tibet Online TV numerous times between February 5th through the 15th.

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“There is no cure for HIV and AIDS but it is preventable. We have learned that the single best way to stop the spread of HIV is through education”- Dr. Lobsang Sangay.

The Honorable Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Sikyong (Prime Minister) of Tibet, has graciously offered a Message of Hope in English and Tibetan to be incorporated into the Tibetan language version of the TeachAids HIV animations. During this short video, Prime Minister Sangay reflects on the lessons learned over the 34 years since HIV was first identified. He notes that while many lives have been lost, Tibetans “can now look forward, not backward,” armed with more knowledge than ever before.

Prime Minister Sangay was elected to the post of Sikyong in 2011. As the political successor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prime Minister Sangay is an internationally respected advocate for nonviolent resolution of oppression. In transferring the role of political leadership of Tibet to Prime Minister Sangay, His Holiness the Dalai Lama noted that “When I was young, an elderly regent Takdrag Rinpoche handed over Sikyong to me, and today I am handing over Sikyong to young Lobsang Sangay… In doing this I have fulfilled my long-cherished goal.”

Born in a Tibetan settlement near Darjeerling, India, Prime Minister Sangay holds dual Bachelor degrees in English Literature and Law from Delhi University. As a Fulbright Scholar, he received Master's and Doctorate degrees in Law from Harvard University. Widely recognized as a world expert on international human rights law and democratic constitutionalism, Prime Minister Sangay has spoken at hundreds of seminars and won a number of prestigious international awards. He was the recipient of the Leadership Award from Regional New England Amnesty International and the Peace and Justice Award from the Peace Commission of City of Cambridge. In addition, he was recognized with the Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse by the College Historical Society of Trinity College, Dublin; and recently received the 2015 Salisbury University Presidential Medal for Distinguished Community Leadership.

During his tenure as Sikyong, Prime Minister Sangay has sought to unify the Tibetan diaspora and promote strategic nonviolent resistance. A firm believer that the future of the Tibetan population is in the hands of today’s youth, Prime Minister Sangay has implemented broad policies for equitable, high-quality education and health care, as well as strategies to promote youth empowerment.

In furtherance of his commitment to the future of Tibet, Prime Minister Sangay is dedicated to ensuring that all Tibetans have access to high quality HIV education materials, including the “remarkable tools” developed by TeachAids “designed for the Tibetan people and Tibetan children”. Prime Minister Sangay appeals to Tibetans to educate themselves about HIV and “ so that our children, your son and daughter, your nephews and niece will be… a healthy Tibetan”.

In addition to the generous support they have offered TeachAids in the development of the Tibetan language HIV education materials, Prime Minister Sangay’s administration has agreed to distribute more than 10,000 copies of the Tibetan language software to clinics, schools and hospitals in Tibetan communities throughout India, Nepal and Bhutan, as well as inside of Tibet. We thank Prime Minister Sangay for his personal dedication to HIV prevention and for mobilizing support from his office to make this initiative a reality. Together, we will make high quality health education available to millions of Tibetans around the world.

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“We Tibetans are strong, united and resourceful people. We tireless resist the many threats to our language, culture and heritage, and strive to create a harmonious and peaceful community. One threat for which we haven’t, until now, had the tools to resist is the growing risk of HIV in our community. There is no cure, but with the right knowledge we can prevent HIV”. - Dr. Tsering Wangchuk.

With the TeachAids Tibetan language HIV education animations set to be released in time for the Tibetan New Year (Losar), Dr. Tsering Wangchuk, Health Kalon (Minister) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) delivers a special “Call to Action” in English and Tibetan encouraging Tibetans around the world to learn from the TeachAids materials and share this critical knowledge with their loved ones. Warning that HIV can “ravage families, communities and nations,” Dr. Wangchuk proclaims that “preventing the spread of this disease is among the most important actions we can take to ensure that the Tibetan people remain strong and resilient. This is an urgent imperative in protecting our community and a necessary step in preserving our community”.

Dr. Wangchuk has served as Health Kalon since 2011, prior to which he was a respected practicing doctor in Tibetan settlement health centers in the Indian states of Odisha, West Bengal and Karnataka. Unanimously approved for the position of Health Kalon by the Tibetan parliament, Dr. Wangchuk is the youngest person to serve in Sikyong (Prime Minister) Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s first Kashag (cabinet), and the first medical doctor to serve as Kalon in the CTA.

Throughout his tenure as Health Kalon, Dr. Wangchuk has been concerned about the rising HIV rates in Tibetan communities around the world. Citing alarming statistics that show a sharp increase in new reports of HIV in recent years and “a serious lack of localized HIV education materials available to educate the population,” After much research, Dr. Wangchuk reached out to TeachAids in to request urgent assistance through a partnership between TeachAids and the CTA.

In addition to his concerns about the rising incidence of HIV, Dr. Wangchuk noted that the cultural stigmas and sensitivities associated with HIV amongst Tibetans had led to “stigma and fear” and the ostracization of people living with HIV. In his Call to Action video message, Dr. Wangchuk urges Tibetans to draw on the compassion that underscores the Tibetan culture, noting that “treating people living with HIV with care and respect is paramount. We are a dignified people, and HIV and AIDS must not change the way we relate to one another.”

As the head of the Central Tibetan Administration’s Health Department, Dr. Wangchuk and his staff are dedicated to improving health care and access for Tibetan communities both inside and outside of Tibet. Along with Sikyong Sangay and other members of the Kashag, Dr. Wangchuk launched the Tibetan Medicare System in 2012 to provide comprehensive healthcare to exiled Tibetans living in the Indian subcontinent. He has also conducted extensive public health awareness campaigns on hygiene and sanitation; hepatitis B; tuberculosis and reproductive health.

Dr. Wangchuk’s dedication to empowering the people of Tibet to protect themselves from HIV has been evident from the moment he first contacted TeachAids and is manifest in his commitment to distributing more than 10,000 copies of these materials to schools, universities and health clinics.

We are grateful for the generous support Dr. Wangchuk and his staff extended throughout the development of the Tibetan language HIV education materials, and we join him in encouraging Tibetans around the world to “watch the video. Interact with the software. Learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones.... Talk to your friends, your siblings, your parents and your neighbors about HIV… Together, we can stop the spread of HIV and AIDS”.