Participatory Action Research as a Form of Mutual Aid and Self-Help in Malawi

Vanessa T. Duren-Winfield
Elizabeth A. Barber

DOI: 10.2190/SH.5.3.b


This article examines a participatory action research project that attempted to respect the principles of shared control and the conceptualization of mutual aid/self-help as: "The recruitment of peers in a non-hierarchical setting, and the sharing of common experiences." All too often the interventions of non-governmental organizations in developing countries like Malawi, Sub-Saharan Africa, represent an outsider's top-down approach that shows little respect for indigenous ways of knowing. The Teachers, Children, AIDS, Photovoice Project formed an attempt, instead, to honor local knowledge as U.S.-based researchers and Malawian teachers co-constructed culturally comprehensible HIV/AIDS prevention strategies to be owned by the teachers as knowledge-makers in their own right. Teachers and children engaged with educators from the United States in classroom discussions that reflected personal experience of HIV/AIDS and dispelled common myths, creating a mutual aid learning community in the process. Empowered, one teacher wrote the new strategy of teacher-authored HIV/AIDS big books developed from personal photos into national curriculum.

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