March 26, 2002

U.N. Asks Cornell for HIV/AIDS Education

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The United Nations is looking to Cornell for help in HIV/AIDS adolescent education around the world.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF, formerly the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) has begun an international project entitled “What Every Adolescent Has a Right to Know,” (RTK) and plans to use the participatory action research (PAR) method to make it effective, according to a University press release.

Combining Forces

Melissa Burns grad, who has been working on RTK, said that in this case, PAR means that there will be more than just an outside group doing research. Youth nongovernmental organizations, local research institutions, and the UNICEF office in each country will be researching the best ways to educate young people about HIV/AIDS.

PAR is “a process that involves the community that you are doing the research about. They help define what the research priorities are, what the questions are, as well as data collection,” said Sara Sywulka, secretary of the Cornell Participatory Action Network (CPARN) and staff person in the division of Nutritional Science.


These research methods build on the philosophy that people know themselves and have the best knowledge of their situations, their actions, and the changes they need to make.

“There is a lot of interaction. [Participants] can ask questions about what they know — people can think out loud,” said Jennifer S. Tiffany, the project director for the Cornell RTK Project and director of the Cornell Parent HIV/AIDS Education Project.

To begin working on RTK, “UNICEF contacted Cornell last summer because they knew of Cornell’s expertise in PAR,” said Sywulka.

According to Tiffany, “there was a huge response at Cornell” in terms of interest in the RTK Project, and so a contract, spelling out Cornell’s responsibilities for UNICEF and RTK, was signed in December that will continue through August.

She explained that there are three main points of the contract: to develop resource materials to better explain the PAR methods to those working on the research; to work directly with each of the 14 countries currently involved in the project to help them develop plans, work through the steps of the research process; and to provide training for these countries in order to give them the tools they need to carry out their research.

So far, the group at Cornell has been meeting weekly this semester to “develop a flexible document that can aid in planning the research,” said Sywulka.

Though the countries involved are all at different stages, Macedonia is the furthest along right now, she noted. A conference call was held a few weeks ago to begin the initial plans for the RTK project in Macedonia.

Burns spoke at that phone call, and she was “surprised at how many people were involved with the conference call. [There was] the group [at Cornell] and in Macedonia, [but also] UNICEF Headquarters in New York, and several other offices around the world listened in,” she said.

Burns said that the research group in Macedonia was “looking for concrete methods for using the youth, and Cornell came up with ice-breaker activities and [other ways to get] youth involvement in the research.”

She emphasized that, “the community of interest are the youth — [they know] where they are, what they need, and what is the best way to contact them.”

In the future, said Sywulka, there will hopefully be more countries involved, but for now, the RTK group at Cornell is working on developing relationships with those already in the process.

Keiko Goto grad, who is also part of the Cornell RTK group said, “I hope that this RTK project will allow young people to become actors rather than passive participants, to identify opportunities and challenges in their own issues, and to take actions for HIV/AIDS and other relevant issues.”

Archived article by Rachel Brenner