Piya Sorcar: Providing Health Education and Breaking Taboos for the World — For Free
Couldn't load media player!
Apr 11, 2015
Awakin Call With Piya Sorcar
Audrey: Today's theme is health education and breaking taboo's in the world and for me it has been inspiring to learn about Piya's journey and how she has focused so deeply on the quality of creating this type of work and exposure and breaking these social and cultural norm to help people in their health and to share sensitive information that is really important in different parts of the world.
Today some of the questions as we engage in this conversation or reflect on in this process is perhaps thinking about what are the experiences you've had in taking on some of the culturally sensitive or taboo topics, and what strategies has allowed you to take on the issues and what strategies allowed you to align with your audience in order to communicate successfully or not, about culturally sensitive topics?
Today we have the pleasure of our and remarkable moderator Prita, I thought we could start off by having her kick off our circle or by having you share a few thoughts on today's conversation as you've engaged in conversation with Piya.
Prita also is an an amazing woman who has worked as Obama's lawyer during his first term and has now started a Non-profit at MIT technology for social emergence and also just and incredible person who had been on the volunteering end of these calls. Prita thank you so much! And would you like to share first your thoughts on today's conversation?
Prita: Thank you so much I've had the incredible pleasure of meeting Piya about 10 days ago in person as we were thinking about this call, as I was hearing so many aspects of her journey that are so inspiring. In terms of the theme of today's call, I think what has really touched and something I think a lot about is how to combine the head and the heart. And Piya's approach, which we will hear about today, to creating culturally appropriate information and communicating that appropriately is really an incredible combination of the two . The kind of rigor and careful attention to details. All of the qualities of the head that she brings to it combines with the incredible heart that motivate this. And the desire to touch people where they are and reach them,rather than asking then to reach out to you. Over the years I've personally been thinking about in terms of communication. Especially so many of the values that the ServiceSpace community and those involved are inspiring to help bring forth. Often we are in a different space than the mainstream community is, so how to best communicate that? I think a lot of that is this notion of holding space, meeting people where they are, not talk at them, and rather hearing. It is rather a deep listening and giving people what they need to emerge. I'm really excited about that!
PritaOur special guest speaker is Dr. Piya Sorcar, she is Founder and CEO of a non-profit called TeachAIDS. Founded in 2009 and creates educational technology that aims to solve numerous persistent problem especially focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention around the world, Today its software is being used in governments, NGO's and healthcare institutions and more than 70 counties around the world, including India and S. Africa., China and the US. She was able to give this software away for free and has been funded and supported by numerous institutions and organizations in order to do that.
Prior to TeachAIDS, Piya was the Founding member of a few other technology non-profit start ups. She has also been a screenplay consultant for many international award-winning children's educational programs, and was nominated for a Regional Emmy Award for Lead Actress. And comes from a long line of artist in her family and excited to hear a little about how the art has influenced her.
She received her PhD and Masters from Stanford University. She is originally from Colorado. Notably the MIT technology Review named her the top its TR35 list of top 35 innovators in the world under 35. We are excited and honored to have her here. So, Hi Piya!
Piya: Hello! It's an absolute delight to be here! And thank you so very much for the opportunity! To share our story Audrey and Prita for the very kind words you've been saying! I'm so grateful for allowing us to talk a little more about our work.
Prita: How about we start with you sharing how you did you got interested in HIV AIDS prevention in India and how did this become the issue you became to focus your energy on?
Piya: It was in late 2005-2006 that I read these articles where they reports that came out of India that would be the next hot zone for people living with HIV/ AIDS. What was curious was the despite millions of dollars that were poured in to prevention efforts, the reports were saying that there was limited learning and basic issues around HIV/AID were unknown. I was curious to know if it were the media that was sensationalizing this or if it were the research that was conducted. I ran my own research in India and found the exactly the same results.
People had basic questions around if you could get HIV from coughing on someone or sneezing on someone. There were so many misunderstandings. The number one question that came back was around a cure. What stage can HIV be cured, and how come some countries have the cure and others don’t? When in fact there is no cure. And again this is after hundred’s of millions of dollars were poured into trying to solve this issue, and it turned out when it is a difficult topic such as HIV-it is extremely difficult to talk about, let alone teach about. When you're talking about IV drug use and sex work and take all these taboo topics and put them together-you come up with needing to talk about HIV.
In India in particular sex education had been banned across multiple states and because of that AIDS education was either watered down of not given. Since they couldn’t provide HIV education in an comprehensive way through school-they were using the mass media. But there are so many challenges in using mass media. When you think about using radio jingles, or billboards or commercials to try to provide a very comprehensive and accurate message it doesn’t work
If you think about as basic as math education, we don’t learn 2+2 is this on one billboard and 3+4 is this on another. We learn it very systematically through school. So you can see the inherit problems in trying to provide around HIV teaching and other taboo topics around the world -and in particular at that time in India. Prita: Tell me why that surprised you- when you learned that India was a hot zone? That was 18 years after the AIDS epidemic started being known globally, why was that a surprise to you and why did you choose to throw yourself into that research?
Piya: The biggest surprise was that we had so many experts in the field, working on the problem at that point and so much money that was being poured into it. When they identified India as a hot zone, what the experts were saying is that they had already tackled this problem in countries such as south Africa, and they would be able to take the lesson learned from these different locations and domains and apply it to India. So this shouldn’t be exploding as a problem in India. And when we found that all this money had been poured in to it and applied to the problem, when we had all these brilliant minds and that people were still not learning, that just didn’t make sense and I wanted to learn more.
Prita: Interesting, so please describe what you started to do about it and how TeachAIDS came about and what it does?
Piya: TeachAIDS as you described it, we have created these interactive software modules to teach about HIV and deal with a lot of the persistent problems that we found and tried to provide this kind of information. The challenges were in that we were finding places that were providing some education, but it wasn’t complete education. In most of places they were eliminating the most taboo sections,that really needed to be talked about and discussed in various groups. In other locations it was an issue around accurate information, and there was a lot of this myths that were around stigma that were being perpetuated.
Also, there were other issues around the types of graphics that were being used to teach about this topic. There were place were sex educations wasn’t banned, but educators felt so uncomfortable teaching about this topic that they were burning materials on the street. Feeling like this was not something they knew about enough to talk about. They also didn’t want to talk about something that was life threatening. So looking at what kinds of images we wold be able to use, that would both maximize comfort and maximize learning and therefore maximize efficacy in trying to communicate these types of messages.
There were all kinds of issues around communication and translations. It turns out there are many problems in communicating these types of messages, in many languages there aren’t the words that you need. To be able to to communicate and effectively talk about this. And a lot issues around trust and around these education modules. A lot of youth for example would say that they were receiving information their parents or perhaps from their teachers, but felt they don't know enough.
We had to battle all these different issues, in trying to come up with solutions that would then work.
Prita: How did you gain that trust and how did you battle that communication issue/ the taboo issue?
Piya: To give and example, when I was talking about the graphics, we tested all kinds of images what were being used in the field, including creating our own kinds of images Everything from explicit medical illustrations, which communicated everything exactly what you wanted to show, but in a lot of cases these were the images that were uncomfortable and would be banned and burned in different locations all the way through stick figures. The stick figures were extremely comfortable to look at, although there is only so much information you can communicate through them.
In trying to look at all these kinds of images what we discovered was that it was these 2D simple Disney style characters that would maximize comfort but that we were also able to communicate enough information that people would be able to learn from those materials. With issues around discomfort- we learned and what research also shows is that , girls like to learn from other females and boys like to learn from males. We ended up creating different gender materials where there would be a male learner that would learn from male doctor characters and similarly we had female versions.
The other thing is who was delivering that information. We worked with a number of cultural icons who were extremely respected across different parts of the world,. In India for instance Amitabh Bachchan , Amol Balika, and different kinds of actors like this that people have great respect for-who are in the animated materials, so the characters are of them. The trust that then people have of these individuals in their personal lives, has shown to transfer to how they feel about the materials, and how much they then trust those materials.
Prita:That's fascinating, as you described in terms of the visuals, making them comfortable and accessible for people. The kind of messenger whether it is make or female doctor, or cultural icons, or other people that came help bring that message home to people who need it.
Piya: The other thing is using a biology base, to being able to communicate the basics around HIV. When you think about HIV- it is a virus, and we learn about viruses in biology all the time. Therefore, really thinking about how we can pull away from actions related to HIV and not talk about moral judgment and and issues around that, but to go back to the basics around biology. Couple that with culturally appropriate euphemisms in order to communicate these types of messages around HIV preventions, treatment and transmission.
Prita: When you took on this topic, did you get any push back from people immediately around you, your social circle, family or even in the field? People thinking -what is a girl like you doing in this area?
Piya: Absolutely, and the things that they were saying were exactly what I had faced, when I picked this topic initially the first reaction I faced was: is this still really a problem, is HIV a problem? It had been a problem for 25 years, how could this be a problem still in the world and that was one thing.
The other issues was that, is there a reason she is picking this subject? Is SHE HIV infected or is her husband infected? That there must be a reason why someone would select a topic that had a relationship with so many issues around stigma. Honestly I didn’t even know anyone who was HIV positive when I first started this work. I was truly and interesting problem that I wanted to see if we could learn more about and hopefully be able to solve.
Prita : So it sounded like it was the problem itself that appealed to your heart, there was this research study saying India was a hot zone, you threw your mind energy into understanding that. Did your own research in unraveling it- But it is one thing to see the problem and research it- It is whole other thing to make the leap and decide to devote yourself full time to it!
That in my mind requires more than just a head base engagement, so what about his whole endeavor- bringing education awareness around this whole issue, what about it touched your heart enough for you to go all in?
Piya: I would say that it is something that happened when I was a young child. My parents really instilled in me the value of education. We had been doing non-profit work for a very very long time in my family. I come from a family of arts. My parents wanted to teach us about Indian culture and our roots when my sister and I when we were growing up in the US. My father started creating these culturally relevant animated productions. He would sing songs, write and compose them, and it taught us where we came from and about our family. It Taught us to be really appreciative of the sacrifices our family had made for us to have the opportunities that we had, Both at the time and obviously later in life.
As a part of that work, my sister and I became very engrossed in the productions that went on. When huge awards that at top international film festivals around the world-these film productions have been shown on televisions on PBS, for over 25 years. I really felt like my life really went full circle in terms of understanding the importance of education at a very young age that was instilled by my parents, and then that leading up to what I'm dong now.
I was in economic consulting when I graduated college and I loved the work. All if it was more the head than the heart. At the time we went to India, for five weeks and my sister and I performed as part of my parents productions. We were in 21 shows, I the course of those five weeks. I remember looking at India, and the different people and seeing the different types of kindness and generosity in people. That just reminded just how huge the world is and how much bigger it is than just me. So when I got back to working in consulting I quit a few days later . I then decided to go into non-profit relief efforts in particular related to the field education.
Prita: What kinds of productions were you doing with your family in India?
Piya: Large scale theater shows, with dancing singing and acting,- multimedia productions to entertain various folks, but also the exciting thing about it was that each of those productions were created to raise money for different non-profits. To be able to inspire the work that they are doing and to inspire us to take actions after learning about the incredible work that was being done.
Prita: It sounds like multimedia presentations, and education through that has been a little bit a part of your heritage.
Piya: Exactly. It is interesting, my life went full circle. To think that I was acting in these animated productions that my father so pain painstakingly put together when I was young. The fact that the research now demonstrates that these kids of cartoons and images are the best ways to teach about these taboo topics has been really interesting and such a blessing.
Prita: You talked about having these huge cultural icons helping spread the message, how did you get on their radar? How were you able to bring in such talents?
Piya: The first reason we wanted to do that was of course from a marketing standpoint, but the research had indicated that when you use trusted icons- people learn more. They care more, they trust the information more, so I knew we needed to get people who really resonated with the population that we cared about teaching and working with.
In terms of bringing the various celebrities on, its been incredible to see how the power of love and generosity and friendship can bring these things into fruition. The first person that I brought on that was Shobhana Agarwal. This was through meeting a neighbor of mine who knew someone who did a lot of work in these kinds of productions. Then the more people learned about the work we were doing and the research base, the efficacy around it , the more they were willing to make introductions to more people. It was really just hard work, patience and persistence. As well as the generosity of various people who learned about what we were doing. Who were all in and who were willing to donate their time and efforts. Also in many cases their resources to make this happen for people around the world.
Prita: When you researched this issue and you found out that people were not getting enough information or the correct information, what led you to think that a technology solution would be the way to go versus live performances, or all kinds of other things, or teacher training, there are so many ways one can tackle this issue, am curious to know what led you to technology?
Prita: I think that is an important question. Many people just jump to technology as initial solution to different kinds of social problems or other problems. We did look at many of the different methods you just named off, because I wasn’t sure if it were teachers teaching other teachers, or young people teaching teachers or what it would look like. Whether it would be through music, or the arts , or some other form, but it turned out, that when we looked at the different kinds of problems associated with teaching taboo topics in particular and HIV being associated with many different taboos, technology, was able to solve many the problems that had persisted.
An example of that would be around acceptance of the materials, there were many teachers that were uncomfortable teaching about the topic because of discomfort around materials or lack of knowledge. With technology software it could be entirely self driven. If there were teachers that wanted to teach about it, and be apart of the learning experience they could, but it wasn't required. Another issue was around accuracy around the information as I was describing earlier. A lot of times the information was the topic incomplete, inconsistent and inaccurate. But when you're talking about technology, we could make sure there were virtual teachers, and the same information was provided to learners all of the time. Then the issues around gender comfort, the discomfort from learning from educators of the opposite sex. We created the technology again for a virtual teacher and that offered gender concordance.
There were other issues at looking at learning effects. When you use technology you can be very precise, tracking how much people have learned, how have they then used this information, how have they disseminated the information, and how has that changed their attitudes and behaviors. Of course these other things like being able to bring the trusted icons right into class rooms or their screens or their mobile devices. It is really difficult to bring someone like Amitabh Bachchan to every class, but by creating this private virtual learning we were able to accomplish exactly that.
Prita: Many times when we are talking about children's education we hear that technology is not necessarily a great solution because people need to be with their peers, people need to be physically with the teacher and nothing can replace that interaction. However, I think as you were speaking, maybe with culturally taboo topics what is needed actually is a bit of space. To delve in to that topic, they don’t necessarily want to be with other people. They want to be alone. That is interesting generally in terms of communication, when you're talking about difficult topics just the role of space and privacy and letting people have the time and space to go through their own process in breaking down those taboos.
Piya: Yes and the whole idea of bringing this private learning environment when you can. When we were doing the testing in larger class rooms, a lot of students said they felt comfortable about this because they were learning about HIV alone. The interesting thing was that they were not alone they were sitting in a classroom with their peers they had their teachers roaming the class room. Even when students were listening and watching the information and they knew their peers were doing the same on their devices, they felt this privacy and that space that you were talking about. To learn and grow and think about these kinds of issues. It was really interesting.
The other issue, was being able to give them the language through the technology through which they could as questions, Often times a lot of the language given to the students were ones that they would not want to use in the class room but when we could give them other words like “ high risk fluids” or “no risk fluids” “this is how direct transmission occurs in your body”- we found that after they went through the materials they would then use these new words to then be able to communicate the question they would have had for so long.
Prita: Generally how is this used in the classroom? Is it in the classroom with students watching over a common screen or does each have their own console? How is generally used?
Piya: It is used in so MANY different ways. We don't dictate the way it should or could be used, there are some places that have many different computers. There are individuals that are sitting with one computer, In most cases it is being projected on a wall, or a screen, with hundreds to thousands of people watching at the same time.
One of the most interesting cases was in Rwanda, where they had the world cup games and they had so many thousands of people walking from certain villages to watch the games on these enormous screens that had been set up at a stadium and in between the games, they would watch the teachings and animations. It's been interesting to see the innovative ways that people have been using the information
There are other places where they do not electricity, and you find other people who are empowered to put the information and animations on a computer. Like a lap top and they put that on top of a chair, and you have all these young learners that are watching the animations, and a lot of cases in their local languages for the very first time.
Prita: What is the age of the children that the information is aimed at?
Piya: When we started we aimed young people at Junior High level. Or High School level. What we found was after creating the material and making them available for free, people across all generations are using the material. To army doctors to teach soldiers, to corporation that are using it to teach their companies. To religious leaders who have been wanting to teach about HIV for so long but they didn’t have the tools to teach about it the way that they wanted. Using the biology based approach many of those religious leaders were able to teach their people. In sum- any where from young learning to people who are quite older.
Prita: When you talk about biology based education, it is taken out of the context of sex and talking more in the context of a virus like you mentioned, it's a little more bit more clinical?
Piya: Yes. When you talk about high risk fluids, we actually talk bout the concept of fluids, what are the high risk fluids, tears are fluids, blood in a kind of fluid, so when you start talking about those topics in a more scientific way, when yo are talking about them using a more biology base approaches, people are more welcome to learning about it.
Prita: Have you had any backlash when you come in, and where your software is being offered?
Piya: Not at all, even in places where sex education was banned, the teaching materials have been formally approved. And disseminated across thousands of schools
When we started in India we started in the State of Andhra Pradesh, which at the time had 84 million people, and HIV was such a difficult topic to teach about there the stigma was the highest among all of India. So high that the children there who were HIV Positive were banished from the schools, but after working with the government and the NGO's and building these materials together, the materials have systematically been disseminated across all the schools. The government aided in bringing this. Thankfully the young people who were expelled originally were allowed back into their schools.
Prita: Have you been able to measure the effect of your teaching in terms of what kind of impact it has had?
Piya: Everything that we develop is based on research and is really the core in what, how and why we do it. Each of these countries where we’ve conducted research, we’ve taken on tools and we test them against whatever the standard of materials are in those counties. All of this research has been conducted through Stanford university. The students get various kinds of materials and then we see how much they’ve learned. What they're attitudes are like, and then after going through the materials, again how much have they learned, how much have they retained this information and then we go in again and a few weeks to several months to see how they’ve retained the information. The TeachAIDS materials have shown that they have statistically higher learning effects in learning in all of these different areas, outperforming all of the standard materials they’ve been tested against.
Prita: Is there any way of measuring the impact of knowledge and awareness and comparing that to actions?
Piya: We do look at to see if they’ve sought more information about this. How have their attitudes changed. There’s systematic measures that are conducted in terms of that look at stigma levels and tolerance for these kinds of topics within particular kinds communities and asking them questions such as if they’d be comfortable going to school with someone who was HIV Positive? Or be friends with someone who was HIV Positive? What we've found that the results showed that peoples attitudes changed significantly.
Prita: I would love to talk about your economic model. There are costs to have the materials translated etc. You're offering this out for free. How did you come to that decision and how were you able to make that happen?
Piya: That again was based on the research. We were looking at a large amount the materials that we available at the time. It was interesting to see there was inferior materials, materials that were incomplete or inaccurate, that when they were handed out for free people use them abundantly. Yet there were other material that were of higher quality and even if they cost just a little bit of money, people would go for free every time. A lot of the time it came back to the economics of something costing even something as just a dollar. That is a lot of money even for some of these different regions. Also, another other issue was education it being this black box. When you look at research that is conducted and papers that are published around research for HIV and other kinds of issues like this, what they look at is: was education provided or not? Looking at the effects of that versus looking at what was the quality of the education that was provided? We knew when we looked at these various populations, different NGO' s, government and other types kinds of entities , and the fact that they went for free every time, we knew we wanted to create the highest quality of materials for them. And we needed it to be for free in order for it to maximize its use around the world.
Prita: And how did you finance that?
Piya: We have been extremely fortunate in terms of our financing model. We were are able to receive the money from different corporations and individuals to develop these materials. Additionally, we have thankfully about 300 volunteers, including the cultural icon's I was talking about, who donate their time. What should cost many millions of dollars to create in terms of versions, we can create at a subsidized cost and therefore be able to make it available for free.
Prita: Service space as you know has a very vibrant volunteer ecosystem, how did you go about getting those volunteers and managing them?
Piya: A lot of the volunteers were people who just heard about what we were doing. Once they saw the impact of the work, they also wanted to get their friends involved. Especially when it came to the technical aspects of what we wanted to go, they would reach out to their fiends who had these skills to support the work that we are doing. It has been extremely beneficial to be based out of Silicon Valley where you have those resources. We've had this out pour of support from Google, Facebook as well as connections from other parts of the world. And interestingly, because our material go out to so many millions of learners, to learners from all over the globe, corporations have wanted to sponsor the development of the version. From their standpoint it is is a great marketing opportunity for them to get their logo out in front of so many people. They are materials that will be used persistently over many years. That funding has been incredible, because there is no strings attached , and we can put that directly in development of the materials and making it available for free.
Prita: A lot of the questions I've asked come back to the meticulous research you’ve done in every aspect, can you explain the process a little more? I heard a talk you gave about the meticulous and painstaking process it for example is to translate all the material in a culturally sensitive way. Can you describe what that was like a bit more?
Piya: Sure, it is an extremely complex process and it was grounded in the fact that communication- especially around taboo topics, is so incredibly difficult. What we do for example is start with the base English version. An then we get that translated by experts, people who know how to talk about these issues, in the cultural context that we want to work with, medical experts who know to talk about the biology, and transmission related issues. We basically work this team of translation experts, who would who would take the English version and say translate to a Hindi version. We then take that version which should be bullet proof because of all the amazing experts and individuals working on that translations. We give that version and give it to people who know how to speak both English and Hindi, but have never seen the original English animations and take that Hindi version and back translated to English. They think they are translating it for the first time. So what is really interesting is once we do this, we look at all of these back translations and we see so many inaccuracies in what we thought was the bullet proof version. We then take that translation and go back and forth until the translated version we end up coming up is very similar to the original translation. And we’ve been able to avoid all kinds of disastrous situations in being careful about this translation process. You may remember the number one question was if there was a cure for HIV. So much confusion around 'cure' versus 'treatment'. When we translated the materials in India, the word for 'cure' would sometimes come back as 'treatment' and the word for 'treatment' would come back as 'cure' in the back translations. What we discovered , was word for 'cure' and “treatment” in many different languages in India were the same.
Then were were able to to work with different NGO's's and governments and medical experts to talk about how are we going to teach about this when the word that is being used colloquially that is the same. Subsequently, we were able to identify a lot of these kinds of problems before it went out into the market. And these kinds of problems were perpetuated in the kinds of materials that were already out there. Really what we think about in research is kind of three points:
First- What is core to your product success. And not to settle for anything less than the best. Second-customers and learners may use your product for a variety of different reasons, so high quality in all aspects always pays off. Lastly, To use data where ever you can get it, and where you are not able to- the real innovation is really in inventing a new process for you to do that research yourself.
Prita: What in your background led you to be so sensitive about language and be very careful of this kind of work?
Piya:The idea behind that came from the team of interdisciplinary experts. These are people who are very busy and working on important problems. True that HIV has been a problem for so many decades. What we wanted, was to make sure that if we were using the time of all these experts and cultural icons and hundreds of volunteers that we were doing it right. Additionally, while going thorough this process if we saw something that led to other questions and if we didn’t look deeper into them, then we again would be designing materials that would not be extremely effective. Thus, we wanted to go back to it and think about it in a very deliberate and considerate way.
Prita: How many languages is your software in roughly?
Piya: We now have 26 versions of our animations. Our goal is to create about 80 different language versions for 50 different countries. Our research has shown that if we can do that, then we will be able to serve 90% of the population across the world that needs these materials.
Prita: What is your vision going forward? What's next?
Piya: It has been amazing seeing the momentum behind developing the materials and the process of disseminating these materials. Getting to the last mile in terms of people who need these materials. What I envision is being able to take our model and methodology-which is really where we spent 5 plus years doing the research and perfecting that methodology. Not just being able to provide materials on HIV education, but on many other topics like Tuberculosis and hand washing, to other pertinent topics.
Prita: I'd love to hear your thinking and in your experience with TeachAIDS and teaching your course being involved with technology and social change,-What are some of the best practices you think that have emerged with technology and social design? And the intersection of the two?
Piya: I think there are really two areas that we emphasize in the class and generally with the work that we do. The first is that what ever you are designing should be very considerate and deliberate and be able to use research whenever possible. We have a lot of people in Silicon Valley that come up all sorts of ideas and trends. However they appear more interested in the use of those trends in designing their intervention so they might think they have the solutions before they have even looked more deeply into the problem. Or listened to the various communities and really work with them to really come up with a grass roots solution.
The second thing, is that the golden rule of social change: Thinking about designing these interventions together, talking and working with NGO partners, with cultural icons , governments. Also, definitely with the learners you are working with, that these are the solutions that emerge out of a a very deep understanding and considerate design that you work on together, as supposed having the solutions before you really start.
Prita: How did you involve the community and the blurs? Did you pilot it extensively or how did that happen?
Piya: Originally it started from the research out of Stanford where I had reached out to different schools and started to work with young learners that way. Very soon after it took on a life it its own. As soon as people started seeing what we were doing they wanted get their fiends involved and their kids involved, and so it was really this momentum that drove the work ans still does.
Caller Michele from San Jose: How do you process personal taboos? What taboos of yoru own have you needed to deal with?
Piya: I think the first thing around the taboos, for myself is to understand what that means- in developing the materials one of the biggest lessons that we learned is that instead of challenging the taboos. Because so many of them are rooted in law and they can't be changed- We thought instead- what are ways that we can by pass those taboos to enhance learning and education? In the case with HIV, we are able to do that with a biology based approach. Then coupling that with culturally sensitive animations. For example in some cultures showing kissing is outlawed. Piggybacking off of Bollywood movies- we would show a couple coming close to kissing then pan a tree to two birds in a kissing. Thus, figuring out other ways to tackle those taboos through bypassing them.
Audrey: Are there any moments or instances that have shifted your perspective in the way you operate?
Piya: The first one when I had gone to India to work on this issue- this goes back to when Prita was talking about the head and the heart. When I went into the first community, we learned that these kids had been expelled from school because they were HIV positive, or knew someone who was HIV positive. My heart just broke. You realize what a very serious issue this is. The thought of expelling children from school and they are not going to have the opportunity to learn, develop basic skill because of this. The seriousness was at a much deeper personal level, it became a dance between the head and heart. The more you learned, the more you wanted to do more. The times that are most previous to me are the times when I can witness the kids watch the material in such an innocent way and they giggle and they get it! You realize this is why we do what we do.
Audrey- It is not uncommon to see heart breaking problems and to feel deeply moved but to see a problem and to act on it is really profound. And let your heart lead your head- to create something that is of service to that situation is pretty profound. So Thank you!
Piya: All of us that are working in this feel really blessed, and fortunate for the opportunity to do meaningful work both for others but more importantly even for ourselves.
Audrey: Can you say more about that? How does this work fuel yourself?
Piya: For myself I feel incredibly fortunate to wake up every morning and be so excited and energized to do this work. I feel so few people really have the opportunity to do something they really want in their lives. To be able to do that full time, and to have the support of my family and friends and my amazing husband, and incredible people who have dedicated so many hours to make these materials happen- to bring them into the lives of young people, it's an incredible blessing.
Caller Deven from Orange County: Could share with us a story or two of people who have used these materials and the impact its had on them? What have they shared with you before and after?
Piya: I remember there was this group in Kenya, that was using the materials and they sent us these pictures. The pictures had a tiny little lap top of a chair on top of a table in the front of the room. I remembered asking a coordinator how did the kids even see the materials it is so small? This man said to me-'You don’t even know what you are talking about, this is the very first time these kids have been able to see animation, let alone in their own language! When we are trying to teach about these concepts- we were drawing in the sand, to explain what happens in your body. Or if we're lucky to get a chalk board to explain these different concepts. The fact that they are able to see for the first time what happens when you delve into a person body!” THAT just hit me! The power of the tools that we are making, has a huge an impact in the different communicates that we go to.
There was an army doctor that was serving 300 soldiers, Dr. Pasquale. He had ran the HIV test on his soldiers and realized that many more of the soldier were infected with HIV than he had originally thought. He found our materials online and asked me if we can help get these information/materials to his soldiers. But said he didn't have internet in the community. Would that be OK? And we said yes, absolutely! We have CD's and DVD's, and we can send those to you.
And he sent us this picture of him with the 300 soldiers back in this room learning about topic for the first time. But what was most inspiring was all the educators in the near by communities. They heard that Dr. Pasquale was offering this kind of education and they all came. They stated they want to give their kids this education but felt either too embarrassed or that they didn't know enough information. They asked if he could help them. And so then he started sending us more pictures. This time hundreds of students in the same room, were learning about this topic.
Another story. A now friend saw in his community, his friends and family dying from HIV. He hung these bed sheets to use as screens and went about getting a battery and generator and teach this . He didn’t think to tell us there was no electricity. It's incredible, you can create the materials with all the experts from all the walks of life, but it is really the local heroes that make this happen! They take it to the people and see that the materials and the information is really needed. They understand that knowledge really is power. It is those nameless and faceless people who we never have met, that are so inspiring.
Deven: It's so inspiring and also to see you can get people like Amitabh Bachan on board as well! Way to go!
Piya: It's exciting because we can develop the most robust materials from a research perspective and like Prita was saying- Using our head to do what we think is right , but the main importance is whether people will use it. When you have people like Mr. Bachan that are behind this. People like that, that people trust, they will watch it because there is that trust. They believe in them. And when they give those messages, people listen and they learn and they take it to heart in such a different way. It really transcends the information from being something that is on paper, from something that you see in software, to being really integrated into people hearts and their minds. When it is delivered by the right people. And the celebrities are really busy, but have done it right because they want to do right by the learners. It says it a lot of their commitment to their society.
Deven: I think it also speaks volume to your idea as well!
Audrey: Yes and feel it is this collective effort.
Piya: Yes it is. All I can take credit for is asking the questions intially as to why this wasn't working- but it is really a collective effort in getting this information to millions.
Audrey: Beautiful. It's like you see yourself as an instrument for your work to come through.
Caller Alyssa. Washington State: It appears to me that listening on such a deep level with respect is so important and if that is deeply a part of you, it would permeated out of you through this process to create these kinds of ripples.
Piya: I think that trust, listening and respect are such important aspect of people s lives. I grew up with that in my family. My parents instilled in me. When you realize that people want to do right by each other and help each other. They do care about each other. When you go down to these basic concepts its incredible the power of generosity and how that can translate into a movement to promote education on a large scale. of It is amazing the power of generosity across people.
You can learn so much about listening to people and be a part of a solution by working with them, that is where the magic is Have the people be a part of it. When you really remember the value of deep listening and respect and love -you get addicted to it because you realize the power behind that thought.
Ariyae Half Moon Bay: Piya, you talked earlier on about a practical challenge- one of the challenges around corruption. How did you deal with that?
Piya: There are several levels of that. Anywhere from various entities to wanting a bribe for showing the materials. What has been really powerful in dealing with all kinds of challenges is that we have been surrounded by so many good people, who have all sorts of assets and connections that have been able to un-hook some of those challenges. When we come across things like that we have to find other creative solutions to those problems. In some of these cases there is much deeper behind the story, we try to gain respect and tell our story- have them see the benefit. It's been a story of the power of the people and how they've made it their mission.
Prita: How has this whole experience has impacted you? How has it served and transformed you?
Piya: I have learned from other co-workers and friends in the field, that the process can get exhausting. What can keep you going is to reconnect the reasons why you are doing this. If there is this fulfillment you have within yourself then the work that is happening around the world is really just a side effect of you loving to do the work internally.
What I have seen over and over is that when people see the impact that this is having, it motivates them to do more. Because life is bigger than just myself. People start to say: “I can take these tools that I learned about in school, the technology that I know I'm really good at and I can put that together with the design talents that someone else has. Or the voice talents that someone else has and we can bring all these different talents together and actually solve a problem.” There is something so powerful and motivating in knowing that you life can hopefully have meaning. To think about that everything you've been given to come to that moment in your life where you can give back its pretty empowering!
Prita: What a beautiful note to end on. Piya Thank you so much!!
About Awakin Calls
Awakin Call is a weekly conference call that anyone from around the world can dial into. It is completely free, without any ads or solicitation. Each call features a unique theme and an inspiring guest speaker. Read more ...
Subscribe To Newsletter
To stay updated about guest announcements, fresh content, and other inspiring tidbits, subscribe below and we'll send you a weekly email.