Project Update: Breaking through Taboo in Sri Lankan Institutions

In the weeks following the U.S. Alumni TIES in Atlanta with the theme “The New Frontiers of Global Public Health,” exchange alumnus Trinidad Hernandez developed a project to confront the stigma surrounding HIV in Sri Lanka. His Teacher Communication Project for Public Health received a U.S. Alumni TIES Small Grant in April 2017. Below, you can see Trinidad’s update on how the project has developed so far and take part in the activities he has built to challenge the taboo surrounding open discussion of sexual health in Sri Lanka.

Trinidad is an alumnus of the English Language Fellow Program. You can read more about his project and other U.S. Alumni TIES Small Grant winners in our previous post here.

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The Teacher Communication Project for Public Health at the Pasdunrata National College of Education in Kalutara, Sri Lanka has kicked off, supported by a U.S. Alumni TIES small grant under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State. This project at one of Sri Lanka’s largest residential teacher training colleges aims to promote open communication about public health issues in government schools and local communities, especially important yet sensitive issues like those related to sexual health that generate negative responses and harmful misconceptions.

The project began with a puppet performance by the Sri Lankan arts organization Power of Play, which used a hilarious modern take on Sri Lankan folk tales featuring the famous know-it-all character Mahadena Mutta to raise the awareness of an adult audience about the facts about the treatment and prevention of HIV. The following day brought a full-day HIV Camp facilitated by The Grassroots Trust, Lanka Plus, and Positive Hopes Alliance, local organizations that support people living with HIV, to provide another model of how taboo subjects surrounding health can be brought to the forefront in an engaging yet culturally aware manner. Currently, a two-day communication workshop provided by Power of Play is enabling each class of 35 preservice teachers to practice strategies for promoting open communication in schools and communities, and a capstone workshop asks participants to devise a project plan for implementing their new tools and strategies in schools and communities in their future professional internships and to record video statements as reflections on their personal experience participating in the various project activities.

Helped by the famous Sri Lankan folk characters Mahadena Mutta and his pupils and a heavy dose of humor, project participants watched a puppet performance to peek into a village community mulling over their own misconceptions about HIV treatment and prevention. For many, it was the first time they had ever seen a full puppet show.

All project participants were able to experience a model of open communication about sensitive, even taboo health topics during a full-day HIV camp, facilitated in part by Sri Lankans living with HIV.

The performance of a five-sentence story was developed by participants during the two-day communication workshop. The workshop supported teachers’ practice of various creative methods for promoting communication about any topic.

The full-day capstone workshop is an opportunity for groups of participants to select communication tools and strategies they would like to implement in their own community projects on a locally-important health issue to be implemented in their 2018 third year professional internships.

Thank you to Trinidad Hernandez for composing and contributing this piece to the U.S. Alumni TIES Medium blog.

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