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Project TEACH Instructors' Handbook

By Julie Davids and Val Sowell

November 2002

History of Project TEACH

Project TEACH stands for Treatment Education Activists Combatting HIV. TEACH was initiated in Philadelphia in 1995 by Julie Davids and Jeff Maskovsky, two members of ACT UP Philadelphia, working in collaboration with two local organizations, Philadelphia FIGHT and We the People Living with HIV/AIDS, Inc.

Philadelphia FIGHT brought together people living with HIV and other AIDS activists, clinicians, and researchers to sustain a community research initiative and bring cutting-edge treatment and research information to the impacted communities of Philadelphia. Today it is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the region. We the People, a groundbreaking PWA coalition primarily led by people of color, was a central force for effective community mobilization in struggles for housing, benefits and inclusion of people with HIV in decision-making processes.

As treatment activists and organizations rooted in the day-to-day experiences of people with HIV in Philadelphia, the initiators of Project TEACH designed the program to move towards the stated goals of people most impacted by HIV in the mid-1990s -- current and former drug users, people of color, and women. They felt that crucial medical and HIV-specific information was not reaching their communities, and that they did not have meaningful participation in debates and decisions that impacted their communities. They felt that people were dying because they did not have information that would have saved or prolonged their lives.

Thus, the initial goals of Project TEACH were to ensure that people living with HIV had adequate information to make informed decisions about their health care, had continuing access to information as standards-of-care changed, and could participate in the community advocacy and mobilizations that have shaped the development of HIV/AIDS treatment and care. In order to meet these goals, TEACH has developed a hybrid model of training and support rooted in HIV/AIDS activism, harm reduction, and community building.

Since its inception, Project TEACH has recognized that the potential impact of HIV/AIDS treatment education in hard-hit and underserved communities can be best realized through a process of community building and interactive learning. The initial curriculum was determined by local HIV-positive leaders, the majority of whom were African American people of all sexual orientations who were current or former drug users.

What Is Project TEACH?

Project TEACH began as a 30-hour, 10-session training. Today, the course has expanded to 17 sessions over a two-month period, meeting twice a week, with two semesters each year offering a choice of day or night classes. In general, these are secondary prevention trainings, focusing on how people living with HIV can stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible by preventing opportunistic infections or other complications of HIV as well as preventing the transmission of HIV to others.

The focus of this instructors' handbook is on the basic principles and beliefs of our program, and how we actualize them in the planning, implementation and follow-up of our trainings. For those outside of our region, it may provide an interesting document for comparison with local programs or spark conversation on new initiatives. If so, we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Overview of Project TEACH Curriculum

Of course, there is no way we could cover all the information someone needs for an optimal life with HIV. Our curriculum is designed to provide:

In order to achieve these goals while shoehorning everything into the hours available, we structure our curriculum around four main subject areas: Treatment, Living With HIV, Communication Skills, and Issues and Resources. It should be recognized that in each of these areas, participants learn as much or more from fellow class members as from the lead instructor or guest speaker; each area includes interactive times, work in small groups and pairs, and time for discussion.

Goals within each subject area include:


Living With HIV

Communication Skills

Issues and Resources

Priorities of our curriculum are:

Themes Articulated by Project TEACH Instructors

The curriculum of Project TEACH was developed over the years by people rooted in the experiences of living with HIV and/or participation in AIDS activist struggles. Thus, our materials and approach show the results of a dynamic process that is not based in traditional education methods. We have found it useful to analyze our curriculum based on what we have ended up with, rather than methodically working to develop materials to meet well-defined goals and objectives. We have found that we tend to emphasize several overarching themes throughout the term. Some of these themes find their way into formal curricula; others exist more as oral histories of the matters that have been most important to hundreds of class participants.

Living Well With HIV

Activism and Empowerment

You should stick up for yourself (in the doc's office, in the community, within ACT UP), and there are many skills you can learn to help you do that. It's up to you to decide what works best for you.

But it's important to recognize that what you face is not simply a struggle to get what you need in a confusing but basically fair system. Often the system is not fair. Sometimes, those in power make bad policies intentionally, either because they would rather hurt people with HIV and their communities than alienate their campaign funders, or because they have personal beliefs that further stigmatize or discriminate against people with HIV, people who are gay/lesbian/bi/queer and/or transgendered, and against poor people or people of color.

HIV is political, and often there are political decisions that impact people's health. We need to fight for what people need as individuals, but remember that we have also successfully fought to change the larger systems that create these barriers to individuals getting what they need -- and that is why we continue to need activism and organizing and education.

This is not a complete set of curricula. We have not produced a stand-alone training manual for use as curricula, although we have included several interactive exercises as examples in a longer document. In fact, we support the proposal for treatment activists and treatment educators to produce an independent set of core treatment curricula in the public domain, and would eagerly participate in that process. However, our existing curricula is available if you contact us -- in general, we prefer to have technical assistance agreements with organizations when we share our full set of curricula.

For more information, contact Val Sowell, Project TEACH Coordinator:, (215) 985-4448 x163.

Health Emergency 2003

The Dogwood Center and the Harm Reduction Coalition have jointly released a new report, Health Emergency 2003: The Spread of Drug-Related AIDS and Hepatitis C Among African Americans and Latinos.

Here is the foreword by Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General:

"This powerful report brings home the severity of the problem of AIDS spread through dirty needles. It makes me angry!

"We have got to be about preventing disease! We have better drugs, but we still don't have a vaccine or a cure for this disease. We have watched people die from this disease; now they must learn how to live with HIV/AIDS. But why can't we help prevent this disease by providing clean needles? We do not allow people to get the clean needles that would reduce the spread of HIV disease, yet we spend thousands of dollars to treat each person who develops AIDS, to take care of them, to watch them die. That makes no sense! We have got to be about preventing problems, not fixing things after they are broken.

"Our best scientific research shows that needle exchange programs do not increase drug use, but do reduce the spread of HIV. We need to speak out. Silence about the importance of needle exchange programs is causing the deaths of thousands of our bright young black and Latino men and women. Time is slipping away. Our bright young people are slipping away.

"We must recognize the spread of AIDS through dirty needles as the public health problem that it is. We must accept the scientific data and stand up for needle exchange programs and begin to save precious lives!"

Copies of the report and information about harm reduction, AIDS prevention and drug use are available at: or

Julie Davids and Val Sowell are members of Project TEACH and Philadelphia FIGHT.

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