Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Implementing Freirean Perspectives in HIV-AIDS Education among Preliterate Guatemalan Maya Immigrants

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Implementing Freirean Perspectives in HIV-AIDS Education among Preliterate Guatemalan Maya Immigrants

Article excerpt

The focus of this study was on a HIV-AIDS education project undertaken as a facet of a broader Family Literacy Program (FLP), implemented within a Guatemalan Maya immigrant community in south Florida. Project participants had typically experienced between 0-3 years of formal education in their home countries, had limited reading and writing skills in any language, and lived in an area designated by Public Health Agencies as an HIV-AIDS "hot zone" where the spread of the disease was unusually high (Barton, 2004). The Maya were typically not included in County Public Health statistics, which were limited to the categories of White, Black, and Latino, thereby making the Maya publicly invisible in this crisis, even though they were, perhaps, the most vulnerable population.

This article is based on two years of action research conducted in the context of the HIV-AIDS education project. The project was spearheaded by an HIV-AIDS educator (referred to as "the project educator" in this article) who had been trained and certified by the American Red Cross and the State and County Departments of Public Health. She was supported by the Director (referred to as "the director" in this article) of the Family Literacy Program that had operated within the community for the past 13 years. (Both of them will be referred to as "the educators" in this article.) The project, still in operation, consists of a series of instructional sessions developed from American Red Cross materials but adapted, through extensive research, to address the cultural backgrounds of the diverse audiences which, in the first two years, totaled 1,424 participants. This is the first of multiple studies surrounding this program. As such, it was guided by the following questions that were intentionally broad-based, exploratory and descriptive in nature.

(1) What were the unique challenges of implementing an HIV-AIDS education project within this community?

(2) How were those challenges addressed?

(3) To what extent did a Freirean perspective on education contribute to the project's effectiveness?

It must be noted that the term "challenges" used in this article refers not to impediments or obstacles, but rather to factors or realities that prevented a "business as usual" approach to program implementation. As such, a challenge served as an impetus to engage in creativity and adaptability.

Theoretical Framework

This study drew on three interrelated theoretical perspectives in its examination of the implementation of the HIV-AIDS education project: a Freirean perspective of literacy development (Freire, 1996; Freire & Macedo, 1987), a sociological perspective of health (Wermuth, 2003), and critical action research (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Kemmis & McTaggart, 2000). The project was based on materials provided by the American Red Cross that explicitly advocated (in its instructor training materials) a dialogic approach to instruction, underscoring the urgency for effective education through the engagement of participants. A movement away from a traditional "banking" approach that typically alienates students to one that would draw on the experiences and concerns of the participants also necessitated an in-depth understanding of the culture(s) of the target population. In order to "situate the educational event--curriculum, process and product--within the lives and culture of people attaining the literacy" (Purcell-Gates & Waterman, 2000, p. 11), the first six months of this action research project were devoted to the project educator's own education as she conducted research on the community, the culture of the people, their sociocultural needs and realities, and the culture(s) and politics of Guatemala. This laid the groundwork for cultural authenticity/congruency in the manner and languages in which new ideas were presented; the venues for instructional sessions were also grounded in the reality of participants' lives and comfort zones. …

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