My first week there was mainly spent teaching classes to the children. We would often be handed textbooks minutes (or if we were lucky hours) before class started and were asked to teach students a variety of subjects ranging from English to Science. One particular class, fourth grade science, stands out in my mind not only because the children were especially enthusiastic but the subject matter discussed was so different than what I was used to. We spent the first half of the class teaching the children about the importance of good oral hygiene, following the course outlined in the book that called for discussion about brushing one’s teeth and avoiding sugary foods. The second half of the class was spent covering the rest of the chapter, which was surprisingly dedicated to HIV/AIDS. I remember being taken aback because I hadn’t learned about this disease until 8th grade and yet the children were able answer questions about what the acronyms stood for and other aspects of the disease. I thought it was incredibly important that they were educated about HIV given its prevalence, but also felt bad because the reality of their environment forced them to learn it at such a premature age.
I had been working on devising a new education model over the past few months based more on narratives and interactive learning rather than being completely lecture based. It was my hope that students would be better at retaining knowledge if they were required to take what they had heard in lecture and apply it in a creative setting. For example, I wanted to lecture the students about how HIV/AIDS was transmitted and then have them create posters and perform skits using the information they just received. I devised a pre-lecture and post-lecture survey which I would use to measure the efficacy of the project.
I spoke with the principal of the school as well as the head of the orphanage who acted as the guardian for the children to obtain consent. It took a few days for them to find a time to work for all of the students that were the appropriate age because many were in different classes. I carried out the project, splitting the students into two groups: a lecture based group and a narrative based group. I spent approximately the same time with each group, lecturing them about HIV/AIDS and including a more interactive component for the narrative based group. I enjoyed teaching both sections and loved seeing the art projects that the narrative based group created and hearing the questions the lecture based group had. After the students completed their post lecture surveys I made sure to do a narrative based lecture with the initially lecture only students because I felt that it was equally as important for them to receive the information in that form. Additionally, the concept of markers and construction paper was foreign to them and they were eager to use these foreign materials.
I’m currently working on analyzing the results and hope to find some interesting correlations. I felt that this project was especially necessary given the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the area surrounding Wema and also found that I spent a lot of my time dispelling a lot of false notions the students had about the disease such as how it was transmitted.
Given that many of the students’ parents died from AIDS, this is an extremely relevant topic and something that deserves a lot of attention. At the request of Paul Farmer’s assistant and the heads of the orphanage, we are currently working with a local organization to test the children for HIV as well as get them necessary treatment and counseling should they test positive. While it will ultimately be tough if they are diagnosed with HIV, they will have adequate treatment and counseling which will save lives in the long run. Fortunately, there is a lot of support on the ground and I’m eager to find out how the testing goes. I hope that the information they learned about the disease from their textbooks and through lectures like the one I gave will help to eliminate stigmas against HIV and foster more understanding.