TeachAids – A Look Back At How It All Began
This World AIDS Day, we thought we’d take a look at how our education initiative began.
In 2009, children across the state of Andra Pradesh were expelled from schools for being HIV positive. In fact, over the years, numerous instances of children being expelled from school had been reported from Gurgaon and Latur to Perunkaranai, Madurai and Hyderabad.
The challenge with providing information at the school level is that the content is often misconstrued as sex education and therefore culturally dismissed by teachers and parents. Moreover, most of the information dissemination typically occurs at the urban and adult levels, while only a mere trickle of facts, if at all, reaches the rural, tribal and young adult population. This is compounded by the lack of educational material at a school-level. Alongside breakthroughs in healthcare, addressing the myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease is incredibly important.
Amala Akkineni, award-winning actress and social activist, recounts a public debate that were held in the aftermath of one of these reports, where both parties (those supporting and condemning expulsion) discussed their points of view. What occurred was an important, invaluable dialogue and what arose was the consensus that more educational material was necessary to bridge the informational divide. Sixty percent of those favoring expulsion agreed to looking at HIV education which could be used to educate the children. However, at the time, no culturally and age-appropriate education existed in the state.
In what can only be described as serendipitous, Ms. Amala Akkineni and Dr. Piya Sorcar met a few days after this public debate in 2009.
Coincidentally, Dr. Sorcar was visiting India at the time and had spoken with Akkineni Nagarjuna, a renowned Indian film actor, producer and entrepreneur about the work of TeachAids and a potential collaboration for the HIV effort. Unbeknownst to Dr. Sorcar, Mr. Nagarjuna’s wife, Ms. Akkineni was at a loss after attending the public debates searching for culturally-appropriate HIV education for the children of India. She was determined to help the seropositive children get back into school in Hyderabad. Ms. Akkineni was urged by her husband to meet with Dr. Sorcar, and the rest is history. What emerged from that first encounter was a strong sisterhood and a powerful force for change.
Ms. Akkineni and Dr. Sorcar’s shared mission to protect the right to children’s education and preserve their dignity while doing so, led them to begin their work in their meeting ground – Andhra Pradesh. Over a few intense years of their concerted effort, TeachAids proactive localized HIV prevention software was distributed across the state’s population of over 84 million and from this epicenter spread to the rest of the nation.
Social stigma towards young adults who are HIV-positive places them at an immediate disadvantage for no fault of their own. Expulsion from school completely alters their life trajectory. They lose out on important, life-transforming experiences that shape their future and their economic potential. They are also additionally burdened with feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness that affect their mental wellbeing. What contributes heavily to social stigma is a gap in understanding. For far too long, information that is outdated, incomplete, and asymmetric has disproportionately targeted those living with HIV.
Dr. Sorcar and her team conducted several rounds of review of the textual information but translation of the material to schoolchildren was a whole other task. Many persons along the chain of communication (such as teachers and health workers) also lack the ability to relay the information in a comprehensive and cohesive manner. In order to solve for this, the team conducted train-the-trainer sessions and equipped those in influential positions to enable iterative learning. With more information, schools and parents were able to comprehend the nature of the disease, and were more willing to reintegrate HIV-positive children into the school system.
Over the past year, TeachAids was able to successfully roll out education nationwide in India. Simultaneously, their efforts were scaled to use in 82 countries worldwide.
- In Botswana, UNICEF and Ministry of Education name June 15th “TeachAids Day”
- In Dharamsala, TeachAids content educates 1000s of Tibetan refugees
- In Chile, the Ministry of Education and CESI implement TeachAids content into classrooms
- In Laos, local nonprofit educates leadership using TeachAids content
- In Jamaica, high school teacher integrates TeachAids content into classrooms
- In South Korea, the Ministry of Science and Technology funds pilot TeachAids content
- In Rwanda, thousands learn about HIV prevention while watching World Cup matches
- In Guatemala, Peace Corps and Ministry of Health use TeachAids software
- UNESCO makes TeachAids’ more than 100 unique software packages available worldwide
From midwives to industry giants, and newspapers to teachers, TeachAids worked with national and local entities to ensure the information was placed in the hands of critical stakeholders who could influence a widespread change in thinking and behavior, thereby transforming the lives of young adults and realising TeachAids’ vision.