Collaborating in the Classroom to Teach Students about HIV and AIDS

By Sarah Shaw


Last August, I remember opening an email from Oscar about the upcoming Peace Corps HIV/AIDS training, requesting that I invite a counterpart or two. I had no idea who to invite, and I wasn’t feeling too confident after the two counterparts I invited to the Project Development training didn’t show up. I asked my school’s coordinator for advice, and within the next month, the names of my future counterparts changed about four times.

On the first day of the taller, I met my counterparts for the first time, two Ethics teachers. We became fast friends as we discussed slang words for “penis” and “vagina,” helped each other put condoms on a wooden dildo, and discussed the different terms for sexual identity—many of which they’d never heard of before. By the end of the training, we were like a family—really. In our novela-like role-play, a husband had been cheating on his wife and one day she discovered she had HIV. My two counterparts were the married couple and I was their distraught (and perhaps adopted) daughter.

One of my counterparts was very enthusiastic about the training. She asked me to collaborate with her in eighth through tenth grade classes at our school in La Boquilla. La Boquilla is a marginalized, strata 1 community, and consequently, its population is more vulnerable to teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Because there are no health and sex education classes in the school’s curriculum, students are left even more susceptible to these circumstances.

We planned a two-hour session, consisting of: a presentation, various activities, a question and answer session, a condom demonstration and a quiz. We gave the presentation to six classes of students during the normal school hours.

Although many students were surprised to see me with a wooden penis in my hand instead of a set of English flash cards, they quickly adjusted to the new classroom environment. They expressed genuine interest and curiosity. When many asked me questions like, “How do lesbians have sex?” I didn’t laugh or scoff, but instead, it opened up a new dialogue. When several boys sneakily put the condoms in their pockets, instead of on the practice plátano, I explained that I would love to give them all condoms, but there simply weren’t enough. They learned a lot about a topic that is mainly ignored, highly misunderstood, and much more important than tag questions and may vs. might.

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Because our presentations with the morning jornada students were so successful, I asked my other counterpart if she’d like to collaborate with me in the afternoon. Unfortunately, she told me that the students wouldn’t use condoms because they like “carne a carne,” and the taller wouldn’t be worth it. I was a bit disappointed to hear this, but it reminded me that…

The key to success is through teamwork. In Peace Corps, finding an ambitious, creative, hard-working local counterpart is worth gold. Without Danis, I could never have led these classes. If you manage to find one of these star counterparts, don’t let them go!


Tips for planning and executing a successful HIV/AIDS taller at your school:

  1. Invite a trustworthy counterpart to the Peace Corps HIV/AIDS workshop who is interested in the subject. I would recommend the school psychologist or an Ethics teacher (since Health teachers don’t tend to exist in our schools.)
  1. Start planning during the Peace Corps training session.
  1. Schedule the taller to take place during your counterpart’s normal class schedule. That way, all the students will be attending.
  1. Check to see if you need permission from the parents. (My school did not require it, but other schools might.)
  1. Make the presentation interactive. Utilize the resources, activities and presentations that Peace Corps will share with you after the training, and there’s a good chance you can ask for permission to use dildos and condoms from the Peace Corps office, as well.

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