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Author: Nesha Z. Haniff
Title: The Pedagogy of Action
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
June 2005

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Source: The Pedagogy of Action

no. ns 2, June 2005


Nesha Z. Haniff, Lecturer, Women's Studies and CAAS, University of Michigan

This pedagogy of action is the kernel of empowering ordinary people to act in their community to address their own pressing problems. But this was clearly a slow and time consuming process, the HIV epidemic had dealt a devastating blow to Africa and the Caribbean was second in the incidence of HIV infection after Africa. I thought maybe this module could be of some use in Africa since there were large numbers of people who were not literate and needed HIV prevention education. At the heart of this methodology is the philosophy that people can take responsibility for themselves if given the right tools, that literacy was not a requirement for education. But who would give them the tools, who would go into the communities to do this. Clearly I had to develop cadres of people who could learn this pedagogy and then go into these communities. I chose then to return to the University of Michigan to teach. The idea was to create these cadres of activists from among the students who would take my classes. I would go to South Africa with the students as a study abroad experience and we would go into the townships and teach community activists there the module.

I was a lecturer in Women's Studies and the Center for Afro-American and African Studies. I considered all my classes feeder classes for the study abroad. I taught a class on the HIV epidemic in the Hispanic and African American Communities, one on Affirmative Action and one on Feminist Theory: A Critique of Western feminism. At the center of all of these classes was the conscientization of the student about race, gender, health and activism. There was a strong critique of the limitation of western ideas as they applied to people of color, and an introduction to a world of ideas on feminism and activism that were sometimes far in advance of the west in both theory and action. Here we would examine for example, the excellent work of The Self Employed Women's Association in India and the work of Ela Bhatt [1]. The affirmative action class would attempt to give voice to those who were silenced by the attack on affirmative action by exposing them to readings that had both historical context and information about the controversy about affirmative action and critiques and discussion that helped the students to think critically. This enabled them to become articulate because they were now able to flex their intellectual muscles with their critical thinking and new knowledge.

The specific agenda for the HIV class was in general to examine an array of issues about the HIV epidemic: problems of poverty, gender and sexual orientation, and the examination of specific information about the spread and incidence of the disease. The students were then taught the module and then asked to present it to a community group outside the university, who would then learn to teach it back. For many students the module at first seemed simple and condescending. After all it was not designed for them, it was designed for non-literate people. There was always a silence when the module was taught to them for the first time, they were always expecting more, more complexity, more difficulty, more knowledge suitable for a university student. That there was a world of people for whom this information was complex was never part of their orb. I was asking them to become a member of a community that was outside the university as part of their university education.

There are schools dedicated to such interactions but the agenda is to teach the student to become a professional person in that community, to be a social worker, to be a clinician, a nurse a teacher etc. Many classes require community participation where the community provides the reality context for the student's education. The greatest beneficiary of all these "projects" is the student. Supervision and time for the student who is being placed to " help" the community. This is done at the largesse of the community organization who is very rarely paid to do this work, that they are getting a "university student" to work with them is seen as payment enough. Many workers in these organizations feel burdened by this, often the students themselves are left to muddle through simply because teaching them requires time that organizations under stress do not have. This does not mean that the experience is not successful for many but as a political commentary it is important to note that the student leaves, completes their education at the university gets their degree and becomes a professional.

I have had many discussions with my students who volunteer at SAPAC, Ozone House, HARC (see references) and so on who are loath to consider that they are beneficiaries at all. They feel that they are good people and that I am challenging their good work. Now I have no objection to good works, but one must be able to distinguish the difference between charity and development. It does look good on a resume when the student writes volunteer at Ozone House or some other such place, it communicates something about that student. Where does the community person get to use the student in that way? Where would it translate into economic benefit for the community? The thinking is that the student's participation was the benefit to the community at the time the student worked without compensation. Studies of such community participation have shown that the students' involvement in these communities will have an impact if the work is for at least two years. One semester is certainly not enough. It is the same privilege of class and education that allowed me to go into Dominica (see references) to conduct my project. This is not an easy pill to swallow for young people who are caring and want to make a difference. The difference between criticism and challenge often becomes blurred. Even though it is emphasized that they should not stop their charity work because it has intrinsic value, it is still difficult, because the intent of the challenge is to make them see how their privilege still makes them beneficiaries even when they are giving. This in part is what Freire refers to as problem posing education. [2] It is about reflection on action and then again action and reflection. The process of conscientization begins with problem posing education. And it is this that is at the core of the class on the pedagogy of empowerment.

The project of the Pedagogy of Action is further praxis. Because the epidemic was so overwhelming in South Africa at the time I thought that this would be a good place to take the module. I was sure that a method to teach non literate people HIV prevention leaving them with the skills to continue the teaching themselves was an intervention that could work there. I did not know this with any certainty, but I felt with the right approach and with students who were well grounded and conscientized, that this intervention would work. The student who is now more thoughtful and reflecting is now taken into an environment that is even more radical. To teach HIV prevention for example in the townships in South Africa is both a frightening and exciting possibility. On the one hand to presume that privileged American students can actually come to South Africa and teach people who speak in many different languages was a kind of arrogance or naiveté, on the other hand it was such a challenge that to achieve it would be an act of transformation for the student and maybe the community. This transformation would be the result of this pedagogy, this pedagogy of action.

The study abroad to South Africa was called the Pedagogy of Action. The students could register for this class and embark on a 6 week course in South Africa that would encompass their working in townships with ngo's who would each select 10 people to be trained in this methodology and commit to three days of learning. In each group there must be a person who could speak both the local language and English. Although English is very commonplace in South Africa, we have learned that people's perceptions of their ability to speak and understand English is grossly exaggerated. This is especially true of the target groups we wanted to reach, in settlements and townships. Therefore steps were put into place to make sure that the language barriers were minimized. Because of the power of English in the world, people were often familiar with the language, but not enough to own and teach these modules.

What was interesting about this project was how the people actually attended these sessions. Through my own contacts with one ngo I would develop contacts with others and tell the one contact of my methodology and the work in the Caribbean. This way I contacted the Red Cross, Hope International, The Chris Hani HIV clinic, Nisaa and so on (see references). All of the people who ran these organizations were trying to do HIV education and found the story of this methodology quite attractive. They all sent their people and provided venues, came and picked up the students and returned them to their abodes. I found this astonishing. I often wondered why they actually went along with this. These were busy people dealing with crises everyday. Why did they take my word. In large part they were happy that I was bringing something to them from the Caribbean, even though I was with the University of Michigan, I was from the Caribbean and the ideas were worked out in the Caribbean. They liked this connection and believed that the similarities between the Caribbean and South Africa were greater than the differences. Never mind that the Caribbean was a staunch anti-apartheid supporter long before the West got on board. I started then with a cultural and political edge and in truth with a program that resonated with these communities.

Facing these groups after having discussed and prepared for months was daunting to the students. They themselves could not see that this would actually happen. The people who came had difficulty with the language, were shy to get up and teach, and were often silent. A great amount of time was spent cajoling them to try, and then one person would haltingly do it, then another and another and slowly they would all do it. Not all of them as well some much better than others but they would try. For them this was revolutionary, the process of getting up and teaching buoyed them and this confidence in their group was reinforced.

The following are reflection pieces by four students at the end of their time in South Africa. The first is Betsy's. She worked in the Lost City a township outside Cape Town and was on the first Study Abroad to South Africa in 2000. When she returned from South Africa Betsy, wrote this piece for the Women's Studies newsletter. Leseliey, one of my student assistants on the first trip and subsequent two, wrote her piece for the South Africa Initiative's Office newsletter. I included as well Audrey's final reflection paper. She went on the 2002 study abroad. This paper was included simply because it exemplified the best example of the reflection and transformation I had ideally wanted for the students who took the class. I have a added a last piece from 2003, from Durban where we worked with primary school children. This was written by Sarah who was placed in the primary school at Cato Crest one of the townships in the Durban area. This was indeed a pure moment of reflection and action.

Betsy [3]

I remember my first day in the Lost City, a township in Cape Town, South Africa. Driving from the comforts of a huge bedroom and elaborate English breakfast, watching the buildings and shop fronts become increasingly dilapidated until our arrival in the Black Townships, my heart rate increased with the miles we drove from home. I felt the five women chosen for our group stare as my classmate and I entered with our nice clothes and Americanized manner. Yet within the first few minutes, I felt as if I had walked into a room of family I was just meeting for the first time. The love and warmth radiated from the group, and, even though a couple of the group had difficulty speaking English, my classmate and I attempted our Xhosa greetings, and the smiles alone banished any sort of initial discomfort.

Thus began my week working with the women in the township. Over those few days, I learned more than I had ever imagined possible. I was part of a group of women who educated over one hundred people in their country about HIV and AIDS. I witnessed a transformation in these women due to the simple process of learning a specific method of teaching about AIDS, gaining confidence and giving what they learned back to their people. The success of the module and its process was astounding.

Many specific components combined to lead to the great accomplishment of the AIDS education. The module and the pedagogy behind it facilitated a transforming empowerment in the women. Requiring the women themselves to become the teachers, the process provided sufficient information to encourage more in-depth thinking, unique to this specific pedagogy.

On a most primary level, our ability to communicate with the women established a basis for their achievement. Together our personalities combined to help create a warm, open environment to which the women most definitely added. Also, our group was able to

overcome the language barrier. With English as their second language, only three of the women in our group could speak fluently. However, the other women corrected the women who presented the module to us in Xhosa, as they also translated so that we could understand.

A more complex element of our HIV/AIDS work has to do with the design of the module itself. Foremost, the module is simple and easy to learn. Because it requires so few resources and practically no skill beyond desire, anyone can teach and learn it. With the straightforward pattern of including only the most basic definitions necessary to acquire a general understanding, participants are not overwhelmed with the scientific details of the diseases, instead, the module provides an outline of the necessary concepts: what the disease is, how to prevent it, and the appropriate reaction toward people with AIDS. Because the tool is so basic in its progression and definitions, it creates a method of education that is easy for both the teachers and their students to learn.

Despite the simplicity of the module, the information included provides the necessary knowledge to answer more complex questions about the disease. The women were able to apply the basic elements of the module to expand their thinking about AIDS. In this way the module serves as more than an informational resource. Rather, the information facilitates application and more complex thinking about the disease. For example, when one woman taught the module, someone in her group of friends asked if HIV could be spread through sharing a toothbrush. While this detail is not discussed specifically in the module, she was able to apply the information that is included to answer the question. She knew that the virus is contracted by blood to blood and semen to blood contact only and that the virus does not live for long outside a human body. Therefore, she was able to answer that only under very rare circumstances could this be possible.

The women's ability to answer complex questions aided in their overall sense of empowerment. The module required this more extended thinking, yet the women did not realize these requirements until they were actually in the process of applying their knowledge. As facilitators of the module, we used a specific tool, based on the premise that anyone can learn this method of teaching.

Instead of gathering information by listening to us, the women became teachers just like us. They were forced to know and understand the information thoroughly enough to pass it on to others in its entirety. Thus, no teacher-student hierarchy was created. Despite our overall education and class differences, we went to the Lost City with the faith that its residents could teach as well as we could. Depending on the women themselves to teach their friends and family facilitated an empowerment that could never have otherwise been taught in a conventional "banking" method of education.

Yvonne,(not her real name)has most fully demonstrated the great power achieved as a result of the module and its pedagogy. She began the first day of training as the shyest and most uneducated of the five women. Because she was not fluent in English, she presented to us in Xhosa, with frequent pauses and little, if any, eye contact. A day later, she continued to have difficulty spelling the acronyms FACTS and LUCK. She became embarrassed and held her hands in front of her mouth for the remainder of the module. The day of her presentation, she led our group to a corner of the township crowded with drunken men. Because of the confidence and empowerment that she had built and the faith she had in the necessity of sharing what she knew, Yvonne was able to teach under the most difficult circumstances. While the men interrupted her with questions, she kept teaching, and really made the group listen to what she had to tell them.

On numerous occasions I have watched students take an exam and forget the majority of the information they had studied by the end of the week. During this time in South Africa I have been so blessed to be a part of a unique form of education, a method that builds on confidence and application. The five women in my group taught themselves about their enormous potential. Our job of showing them the module was only a small step of the journey. As I prepared to leave Cape Town, I felt certain that the women we worked with will not forget what they learned. I have faith that they will continue to add to their knowledge about HIV and AIDS and will continue teaching others. So while it is difficult to say goodbye, I know that my work has been accomplished and that what I am taking away from the experience is more than I could have ever given.

Leseliey [4]

During my first trip to South Africa in 1998, I saw sadness, pain, and death. I served as an assistant to a pediatrician at a hospital in Kwa-Zulu Natal. At that time, thirty seven percent of the children admitted to the pediatric wards of the hospital were HIV positive. I saw babies die every day of AIDS-related illnesses. I cried each night because I felt powerless to make a difference.

However, I did not return to the United States devastated and in tears. I returned to the United States motivated and dedicated to finding out how I, as one world citizen, could make even a small difference. What I had also witnessed while working in the hospital in natal was the courageous work of very committed and dedicated doctors. These doctors worked hard every day, with limited resources to make a difference. Despite the death and despair they witnessed everyday, they were still hopeful. Hope, passion, and courage kept them going; and memories of their hope , passion and courage would bring me back.

And so I was inspired to find a way to return to South Africa and proactively participate in the fight against AIDS. Two years later I found it. Two years later I witnessed first

hand the power of grass roots activism in the fight against AIDS in South Africa.

My next trip to South Africa was during the summer of 2000. I traveled as a student assistant with a study abroad program organized by Professor Nesha Z. Haniff who taught at the Center for Afro-American and African Studies and Women's Studies. This program took a total of 12 students and two student assistants to South Africa to participate in HIV/AIDS education. Collaborative relationships were formed with community based organizations and groups in Black South African Townships in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Students worked with a variety of groups, including groups of women in Lost City, the South African Red Cross, the Zikhuleli Aids Project and Chris Hani Hospital.

With these groups and organizations, we shared the module of HIV education developed by Professor Haniff. Going into townships and teaching citizens of the townships to be teachers, and witnessing the use of the module by residents in teaching their communities was absolutely amazing. I had the privilege of working with traditional healers and elementary school teachers in Langa Township, Cape Town and with volunteers from a South African Gay and lesbian alliance in Johannesburg. Through my experiences with them, I again witnessed hope, passion, courage and dedication. These characteristics led them to the module. Maguboni and Daisy, traditional healers, were vested in the healing of their communities; Vatiswa and Nokuzona, elementary school teachers, in the education of young South Africans; and the volunteers from the gay and lesbian alliance, in the empowerment of gay, lesbian, and bisexual South Africans. Each in their own way, were all committed to learning how to better communicate with their communities about HIV and AIDS.

While spending time with them, and in seeing the impact they made teaching their communities, I witnessed the power of grass roots community activism. The teaching I had the opportunity to see in Vatiswa's standard one class room (the equivalent of US first grade) Is one outstanding example. I returned from the township that day thrilled and astounded at what I saw. With a simple teaching tool, Vatiswa created something extraordinary to educate her students. She prepared posters in three languages, Xhosa, their native Language, Zulu and English, illustrations the children could understand, and brought in condoms and balloons to make sure her students knew the difference and knew what a condom was for! I had never seen anything like it in any classroom in the United States. I had never been a witness to teaching about HIV and AIDS in the way she taught her students. She invested so much in teaching about HIV and AIDS in the way she taught her students. She invested extra time and energy to be trained to teach her students, and additional time and energy to prepare for that teaching session. The module was simply a tool, her passion and dedication manifested the rest.

What Vatiswa and others who learned the module did in their communities was unforgettable. During the six weeks that we were there, U of M students and the second generation teachers that were trained reached over 2,000 South Africans with the HIV prevention module. What is more amazing is that the second generation teachers and the 2,000 that were reached can teach another 2,000.

The hope and courage of South Africans vested in fighting aids in Africa is not helpless as the media would have one believe. Apathy is not the prevalent attitude. South Africans are not helpless and holding their breath for outside intervention. While outside assistance can be welcome and helpful, there are South African leaders and activists making progress in their communities everyday. There are others like Vatiswa. Where the progress of political leaders is lacking, community activists are making a difference.

Audrey [5]

When I was told that the topic for our paper would be faith, I must say I was less than ecstatic at first. Upon hearing the word faith, I usually think immediately of religion. Faith to me, means believing in something you cannot see, hear, touch or taste. Faith is believing that something intangible exists, has existed, or will exist in the future, something that one can 'feel", not in the literal sense, but in the spiritual sense of the word. Using this definition of faith, I can explain why I have never been a person with strong faith in anything. I have always been very oriented to the literal things of the world, the truth, the concrete things that I can point to and say, "look, there it is I can see it." This probably explains my love for and aptitude for science. It is not surprising therefore that I am going into the medical field. Despite all of these thoughts, I have always been aware that having faith can often be a positive thing, and sometimes I wish I had more. I know that as a doctor I will see all kinds of patients and if one of my goals is educating and empowering my patients then I am going to have faith in them. Although I would not say that I had no faith before this trip, I can definitely recall experiences which have instilled in me more faith in people, in the module, and in myself, than before.

It was during the first part of this trip, while teaching in Johannesburg, when I realized what little faith I had, both in the module and in the people that I was working with. As I walked into the room, I did not believe that very many people would be able to teach back. I did not have faith in them, nor did I have faith in myself that I was a good enough teacher to be able to teach, and more importantly empower them. It occurred to me that I was not always going to see the results of my teaching. That I would not always be able to gauge what people had learned and how far the module would reach their community.

Thus, there was nothing concrete there for me to see and believe in. This deficiency in faith began to scare me. I knew that without faith in the people, in the module, and in myself, what I was doing really had no point. As Freire has said, trusting the people, is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change." I knew that without trust in these people, that they could learn to become teachers themselves, I was never

going to get anywhere with what I was doing. Sometimes I would ask myself, "why are you doing this if you don't even believe it will make a difference?" Freire might have called what I was doing "false generosity"

When one does something that seems to be in the interest of the oppressed, but rather serves to maintain the status of the oppressed and the oppressor. I have always been

aware that I will gain more from this trip than the people that I am supposed to be helping, but at this point I was wondering if they were even gaining anything at all. I knew that I could go home and write down on my medical school application that I did HIV education in South Africa, and it would help me get into school, but a feeling of guilt rested inside of me as I knew that without faith in the people I was working with, they would be gaining very little.

I suppose I felt this way because it is hard for me to have faith in something I have no control over. It is hard to have faith in people that have been deprived of an education, as it has always been instilled in me that an education is so important to accomplish anything in life. It was especially hard for me to have faith in people that were speaking a language that I could not understand. When people presented the module in Xhosa while we were in Johannesburg, all I could think of was "what if they are not saying it right, I will never know and I will not be able to correct them." Even when I was teaching in Venda, where I had an interpreter, I was still skeptical. "What if the interpreter is not telling me that they are saying something wrong? What if they are learning it wrong and then they are going to teach it incorrectly? I lacked faith because I lacked "proof", proof that they were actually learning the module and presenting the information correctly. Finally I think the most difficult part was having faith in people that did not have faith in themselves. When we told the people they were going to teach back, no one wanted to do it, and they had little confidence in themselves. For me it was difficult to believe that they were going to find that confidence within themselves that they would need to become teachers. I had not seen it happen before, so I was skeptical that it could happen.

A lot of things changed with a man named Timothy "Teaspoon" Zulu. On the first day of teaching, Teaspoon was the man that had said to us that he would "never wear a condom" because he was an "African man", and a real African man cannot wear a condom. As soon as I heard this, I lost any faith in him that I had in the first place, which probably was not much to begin with. How was I going to change his mind? Nevertheless after a couple of days he would become the most phenomenal teacher I have seen to emerge from our work using the module. I use the term "emerge" to purposefully denote the fact that the teacher inside of him was always there, but it had now been finally given a chance to come out. Teaspoon taught the module in a way I have never seen anyone teach it before or since. He had charisma, confidence. And he knew what he was talking about. If someone would have told me on the first day that teaspoon would be the one to get up in front of the executive board at Monte Casino, a room full of white men, and teach them the module so perfectly that it brought tears to my eyes, I would never have believed them. When I saw Teaspoon do this, I had two feelings: pride and surprise. Pride because I was so proud of what he was accomplishing, and surprise because I had such little faith in him to begin with that I was surprised at what he accomplished. Nevertheless after the feeling of surprise had left, a little bit of faith came to take its place. Teaspoon had proven me wrong, and shown me that I should have had faith from the beginning. Similarly, when teaching in Durban, a woman named Jennifer was extremely nervous to teach back. After the Teaspoon experience though, I had every confidence in her, and sure enough, she taught it beautifully. Not only that, but when she was presenting she even asked people to be quiet and stop talking, because they were not being respectful of her.

Despite these experiences, it was not until just a few weeks ago that I realized the transformation that has taken place inside of me with regards to faith. I was on the airplane to Cape Town, having a conversation with the two women on either side of me. It turned out that one of them was a medical student in Cape Town, which peaked my interest, going into a career in medicine myself. I was curious as to the thoughts of a medical student who will be a doctor in a country where she will inevitably deal with HIV/AIDS every day, so I asked her if it was a priority for her to educate her patients as well as treat them medically. She replied bluntly that that there was no time for education, that too many people were coming to the clinics and that if she had the choice

between seeing a black patient or a white patient, she would rather see a black patient because they do not ask questions. She also said that even if doctors do take the time to educate their patients, it does not matter because they will not listen and learn anyway, they will just keep having unprotected sex. Needless to say, I was appalled by her answer, but this reaction of being appalled made me realize that I did have faith in the people I was working with, for if I did not, I probably would have agreed with her.

She made me recognize the transformation that had taken place inside of me throughout the last few weeks. Instead of agreeing with her, I was asking myself "how dare she assume that these people cannot learn and do not deserve her time?" I thought that maybe if I showed the module to her she would use it with her patients, seeing how simple and easy it was to learn. I presented the module to her on the plane, the whole time of which she seemed very disinterested, and when I finished she brusquely retorted, "that is the same thing we use to educate our patients but most of the time we do not use it because there is no time and it does not work anyway." At this point, I realized the absurdity of the way in which my faith had previously worked. Here I was, trying to teach the module to a young, white medical student who I assumed would want to and could learn the module. I had tons of faith in her, and yet she did not even want to learn it. On the other hand, when I teach the module to people of color with very little education, I have had little faith in them and their ability to learn, when they are the ones eager to learn and capable of learning! Although I pity this woman for choosing a profession in which she is helping no one but herself, I must thank her for helping me realize that I do have faith that I did not even know I had inside of me, and also that I need to place my faith where I have been trained, as a white woman, to believe it does not belong.

Through these experiences, I have come to see that faith is not a matter of science or religion, it is a matter of choice. I can choose to have faith in the people I work with, and it will help them and me in the long run. When I met Mr. Ahmed Kathrada the other day, he said some of the most [profound words that I have ever heard: "there is no such thing as defeat if you are working towards a just cause." I believe this means that there is absolutely no harm, but only good, in believing in people, trusting them, and putting your faith in them. It is a just cause to educate, and especially to empower, and thus no defeat may come from any endeavor to do so. In addition, I have learned from these experiences that I should not need proof to have faith in something. It is quite arrogant to not believe in something that cannot be proven, for who am I to decide what "proof" is? I know other people on the trip who have had an easier time having faith in the module and in the people we are working with, and I believe that this must be due in part to the different experiences that have either instilled or destroyed faith in each person. And I know that as a white person, I have been socially trained to be doubtful of black people and their capabilities. However, I never knew, or possibly wanted to believe, how much this social training really manifested itself in my daily life. I now see it is my responsibility to overcome this, and to have faith in people, for as Freire has so poignantly said, the person who works for the liberation of an oppressed group but continues to regard them as totally ignorant, is doing nothing but false generosity.

Sarah [6]

At first no one spoke, we had to coax them into talking to us. Throughout our whole presentation on HIV/AIDS they were quiet and attentive. Now wanting their participation, we told them they could ask us anything, anything at all. They could ask about where we were from, our funny clothes, music, movie stars, anything.

At this, three young girls in the front row all started to giggle and elbow each other. The yellow-uniformed girl sitting in the middle bravely raised her hand and waited for our professor, Nesha Haniff, to call on her. She directed her question at me and asked, "Can I ask you where you got your blue eyes from?" Not even thinking where the question was coming from I simply replied "my parents gave them to me." Then looking to Nesha for approval, she asked, "well then, can I give you a nickname?" Not really knowing what was coming next, I said sure. Proudly she proclaimed, "Your nickname is Blue-Eyes." I quickly looked around the room and realized that I was the only person that didn't have brown eyes. Before I could think more about the significance of her question, a short storm of questions quickly followed. It was as if the flood gates had burst open and all the students started shouting questions at us.

"Do you know the rapper 50-Cent?"

"Do you live in Hollywood?"

"Are there informal settlements in the United States?"

"Do you have an American dollar with you?"

"Can we see it?"

Brian, Andre, Vera, and I looked at each other and didn't know where to start. Nesha quickly regained the classroom order and instructed the students to raise their hands before asking a question.

A skinny girl raised her hand and directed the next question at Andre. "How come you're black but you don't speak Zulu?" The four of us all started laughing and Andre replied that where he's from in the United States people only speak English. There was a brief gasp of shock from the classroom of South African students and another question quickly followed.

To Vera, one of the students asked, "How come you're white but you like black people?" This time it was the four American students that gasped. Vera responded with, "I like all people, no matter the color of their skin."

Next, a taller boy in the back row questioned Brian with, "How come you're white but you can pronounce our names like Sindesewe and Lerato so well?" Cleverly, Brian asked the classroom of 11-to-14-year olds if they knew how to pronounce the names of their friends. "Of course!" they responded. Brian continued by saying, "Well, I consider us friends and I like to know how to pronounce the names of my friends too."

My time in South Africa was not the typical study abroad. We did not journey across the world and sit in a classroom doing the same university-type thing in another place. This experience in particular embodied the meaning of the "Pedagogy of Action" study abroad. I became conscious of my difference in a sea of brown eyes. My transformation in understanding and celebrating difference happened in moments like this and many others during our travels through Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town.

There were of course other papers but all of them reflected the students' journey towards consciousness. Some were more analytical than others and some of course "got it". I cannot say in all honesty that there was one student who didn't have some epiphany, some were more dramatic and some were small epiphanies, but for that person an epiphany nonetheless. Each student regardless of where they are placed, in the university or in the community starts at a different point, the idea is to begin the process of consciousness wherever that person is. This is necessary for all empowerment regardless of the class and status of the person.

In Sarah's retelling of this story, the children of Cato Crest asked the question differently. It was how come you are White and you love us? Not that you like Black people. They used the word love. That the students in Cato Crest felt this as a result of the pedagogy of action was a moment of fulfillment for me It was a moment when theory became an act. In her piece, Audrey was right to ask for proof that the people were learning what was being taught to them. If the information is incorrect then what is the point to of teaching at all. It is this commitment to content as well method that is critical to the success of pedagogical practice. The process of conscientization is not a romantic quest to liberate the people and liberate the liberators, it is a process that is steeped in rigor, hard work and knowledge. The information on the subject must be correct, and the teacher must put in place techniques to find out the students full understanding of that information. The ultimate test is an indication that the students can think about the subject and answer questions about it, as in Yvonne's case that Betsy described. Despite all her doubts, Audrey did ensure that her students knew the material. Teaspoon's fabulous presentation was not an accident.

Because the module relied on memory and orality, it required repetition, which was often tedious for those who knew the information. A student for example who had to teach various groups for three weeks would be greatly tested to be enthusiastic about this process after hearing the same thing for the hundredth time. Certainly I felt that way and I know that other students felt the same way. However, this was a minority view. Many of the students felt that the exhilaration felt every time somebody owned it far outweighed any struggles, especially in Africa and from speakers whose first language was not English. There was also great enthusiasm watching the way each person appropriated the module, the way they interpreted the fight between the white blood cells and the virus, the way they interpreted the section on stigma and the questions and discussions generated around the module. This they felt was what made them enthusiastic every time.

Orality, not valued in academic circles unless it is recorded is quite fascinating. The great works of western civilization, like Homer and Hesiod, existed for centuries as oral compositions. Homer's stories were long poems that were passed down from one generation after another until the advent of writing, possibly around 750. This oral tradition also implied performance which required both repetition and memory. An educated person was one who was skilled in his language, was witty and wise. This is no different from the African tradition of oral history and performance, where repetition and memory was also essential. I believe that this tradition is what makes these modules work. Indeed it is more complicated for a literate person to learn these modules than a non-literate person. They have to unlearn, the non literate person has nothing to unlearn.

When Timothy presented to the Board of Monte Casino, he wore his best clothes. He was presenting to them what he had learned as an example of the program's worth. Perhaps they would provide some small amount of funding so that Timothy and the others could continue to teach. He had learned the module and the teaching aspect for him was the performance. It was his chance to be on stage and he relished it. He spoke slowly, he rubbed his hands together when he talked about friction. He interpreted for them the meaning of sex for poor people, how it was a past time, how they had no parks or playgrounds and therefore sex was often their only recreation, how difficult it was to tell a man to change this behavior. He was beautiful, he said so many things that were not in the module. And we all got up and cheered him, we gave the director who provided us with transportation and lunches so that we could do this in the community from where many of the workers of Monte Casino came, a certificate and a present. It was one of those moments that the pedagogy of action generated. The director was full of praise and thanked us. We were so happy that a corporation did this and we were so happy that Timothy was so brilliant.

No funding or resources was ever put into this project after we left.

For other groups who were community based and had no corporate attachments, there was no expectation that their future work could be funded by anyone, It was their responsibility and they simply did it as the group in Dominica showed. The problem for Monte casino was that they did not want to give the workers any time while they were at work, their approach was to do the intervention outside of the workplace. This required a budget and organization that was not in place to do such work consistently and so the University of Michigan's presence was one intervention that received a great deal of publicity for their organization.

On the other hand, the L'Oreal factory in Johannesburg allowed their workers to be trained while at the workplace. Because the module was simple and required a short amount of time they were able to train supervisors and some mid management people who found ways to integrate it into their orientation time with workers. Many of the workers who became good teachers also took the module to their churches and communities. This commitment to educating the workers in the workplace was a seminal step and one that should be seriously looked at by other corporations. However the companies will have to weigh the short term loss of work time and wages with the long term problem of a diminishing workforce because of the epidemic in South Africa.

This is another phase of the project that is being more fully developed. This is of particular importance because of the enormous difficulties in reaching male audiences and therefore generating male teachers. Timothy was in a minority. The Global Fund for aids has made workplace education on HIV /AIDS a priority. In the final analysis all of this work on the epidemic requires educated and conscious people in the communities. It cannot be delegated out. The line has to be crossed. Poor societies cannot afford intellectuals who only stay in academia or in institutions. We need to develop more organic intellectuals. Gramsci's ideas which have been somewhat neglected and marginalized need careful re-examination. This pedagogy of action which attempts to transform the students reflects precisely, his idea of the role of the intellectual.

"For Gramsci, literacy became both a referent and mode of critique for developing forms of counterhegemonic education around the political project of creating a society of intellectuals (in the widest sense of the term) who could grasp the importance of developing democratic public spheres as part of the struggle of modern life ... to make people literate to give them a voice...(Boggs, 87).

Empowerment that catch word of today is bandied about all the time, but who is really empowered? I cannot say that the students were not empowered, but so were Vatiswa, Yvonne, Timothy and many others. This was the core of democracy and citizenship. To be an active participant in solving the problems of your community is democracy. To give people the tools to do this is empowerment. If the people do not know how to solve their problems it is because those of us who do know, do not teach them how, and it is our responsibility to find the methods to do this. If they do not know, it is because we have failed them.

Nesha Z. Haniff is a Lecturer IV in the Center for Afro-American and African Studies (CAAS) and the Program on Women's Studies at the University ofMichigan. She holds a Ph.D. in Social Foundations of Education from theUniversity of Michigan and an MPH from the University of Hawaii.  She is theDirector of the Pedagogy of Action HIV/AIDS Education Program and StudyAbroad to South Africa. Professor Haniff's work has focused on empowermentpedagogies and marginalized populations.  She has developed severalinnovative educational modules on topics such as HIV/AIDS, violence, andwomen's reproductive health.

Works Cited, References, and Notes

Ela Bhatt was born in 1933, became a lawyer and then a social worker and in 1968 was the chief of the women's section of the Textile Labour Association in Ahmedabad. In this position she became aware at first hand on the conditions suffered by poor self-employed women in the city and elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia. It was to address this situation that in 1972 Ela Bhatt set up the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA). Within three years SEWA had 7,000 members and was registered as a trade union with the government - a formidable hurdle to have surmounted. By December 1995, its members numbered 218,700, making it the largest single union in India. (taken from

SAPAC was established to meet the growing concerns of the University about the increasing incidents of sexual assault on college campuses. SAPAC has two missions: to provide services to survivors of sexual assault, dating / domestic violence, sexual harassment, stalking, and their significant others; and to provide education and prevention programs to the University community on these issues. Services are available to any university student, their significant others, and staff. Services include a 24-hour crisis line, crisis intervention and follow-up; and advocacy with the university, legal, and medical systems. (taken from

Ozone House is a crisis, support and housing agency for youth and families in crisis or conflict, for youth who have runaway or become homeless, and those in unstable or unsafe situations. We offer an array of free services from emergency shelter, to family counseling, life skills development, to longer term housing support and enrichment/recreational activities. These services help find safety and stability, and develop the skills and confidence needed to make a safe and healthy transition to adulthood. (taken from

The HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC) is a private non-profit organization founded in 1986 by a group of dedicated volunteers in order to provide HIV services to the people of Washtenaw, Jackson, Livingston and Lenawee Counties. HARC has grown steadily since 1986, evolving from a grassroots volunteer-based organization to a prominent AIDS service organization. HARC is the only comprehensive AIDS service organization providing HIV/AIDS prevention, education, outreach, and direct care for people affected by HIV/AIDS in the four-county area. HARC's mission is to provide HIV related services to the community through compassionate direct care, prevention and outreach activities.

(taken from

Dominica was the last of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by Europeans, due chiefly to the fierce resistance of the native Caribs. France ceded possession to Great Britain in 1763, which made the island a colony in 1805. In 1980, two years after independence, Dominica's fortunes improved when a corrupt and tyrannical administration was replaced by that of Mary Eugenia CHARLES, the first female prime minister in the Caribbean, who remained in office for 15 years. Some 3,000 Carib Indians still living on Dominica are the only pre-Columbian population remaining in the eastern Caribbean. (taken from

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, with its 2 964 beds, is the largest acute hospital in the world. It is situated to the south west of Johannesburg, on the southern border of Soweto. The Hospital grounds cover an area of 173 acres, consisting of 429 buildings with a total floor area of 233 785,19²m. It is the only public hospital serving ±3,5 million people in Soweto and it provides half of all the hospital services in Southern Gauteng. Being a specialist hospital, referrals for specialist treatment are received from all over the country, as well as surrounding African States. (taken from

The Nisaa Institute for Women's Development was founded in 1994 by a group of committed women activists. Nisaa is a community based, non-governmental, non-profit organization which focuses on the abuse of women and their children (who are secondary victims of abuse) and women's issues. Nisaa is opposed to all forms of oppression, exploitation and violence against women. Nisaa subscribes to the principle of non-sectarianism and social transformation. The organization is dedicated to promoting and acknowledging women's self and collective empowerment and their contribution to politics, economics, social and community based activities.(taken from

Boggs, Carl. 1976. Gramsci's Marxism. London, England: Pluto Press.

Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Helmore, Kristin. 1997. "Ela Bhatt, Warrior For Women, A Voice For the Poor" Choice, V.6, October, 10-13.

1. See Kristin Helmore, Choices V.10-13, Oct.97).

2. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: 1970).

3. Betsy Havens graduated from U-M with degrees in English and women's studies in 2003.  She is currently a prospective Master's in Public Health degree candidate at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, studying Health Behavior and Health. Education. She continues to do community development work around the issues of sexual health and racial disparities.

4. Leseliey Rose Welch attained her Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Health Behavior and Health Education and certificate in Women's and Reproductive Health from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 2004. Leseliey has been involved in HIV/AIDS work for more than nine years and worked with the Pedagogy of Action Program to South Africa for three years.

5. Audrey Lance graduated in 2003 from the University of Michigan with a BA in Women's Studies. She now attends medical school at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington D.C. and is currently in her second year there. She plans to pursue a residency in Family Medicine after graduation and focus her practice on women's health, and specifically reproductive health. Her interests include women's reproductive health, sexual violence prevention and awareness, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and preventive health. She is presently the School Coordinator for the GW chapter of Medical Students for choice, and the President and Founder of the Sexual Violence Awareness Group, which works to raise awareness and educate future health professionals about sexual assault, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse

6. Sarah Earle graduated in winter of 2004 with a BS in Women's Studies and Biology and is currently applying to Medical School. Once accepted, she will not be attending Medical School until the fall of 2006. Until then she will be pursuing community work focused in the areas of sexual health and reproductive rights

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