Finding Community in Colombia: HARC Executive Director on Teaching CBPR Abroad

Stephen

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC) Executive Director Jimena Loveluck about her trip to Bogotá, Columbia. Thinking back on her journey, she reflected,

I think it was so wonderful for me, personally, I would say, but also as the director of HARC, to be able to bring that community perspective and be talking as the community partner about the experiences we’ve had doing research together and working with this particular model of community based participatory research and the challenges and successes that we’ve had.

In mid-June she traveled alongside SexLab Director José Bauermeister to Universidad de Los Andes in order to help facilitate a workshop on community based participatory research (CBPR) 1, 2. Organized by psychology professor Diego Lucumi in collaboration with Health Behavior & Health Education faculty member Amy Schulz, the seminar sought to introduce Los Andes students to CBPR and have them begin to think about how to incorporate its tenets into their own research endeavors. Dr. Schulz’s instruction focused on how CBPR is an orientation to research that engages community and academic partners at every step of the process, from study design to implementation, data interpretation, and dissemination. After she outlined these core principles, Ms. Loveluck and Dr. Bauermeister illustrated them using their own academic/organizational partnership as a case study. They explained how the relationship between HARC and the SexLab evolved over time and presented some of the data generated through their partnership. With that data in mind, students were tasked with brainstorming relevant interventions and capacity building strategies that would most benefit partner organizations and the study community. Additionally, Loveluck and Bauermeister offered one-on-one sessions with each student to provide technical assistance and answer individual questions about CBPR. As Loveluck emphasized,

I wanted to show how a community based organization, and not a big one at that– we’re pretty small, but how the resources and expertise of a local academic institution can really benefit the community if the relationship [with the community based organization] is approached in the right manner and if there’s really that true equal partnership.

She further explained how the collaboration has aided HARC’s mission to constantly improve its services while remaining deeply rooted within the community perspective. Although not a traditional means of obtaining client feedback, utilizing academic research has been a powerful asset for HARC when interacting with funders and other stakeholders. As Loveluck elaborated,

And I very specifically in the class used an example of how we’re often being persuaded by our funders to use particular interventions that are supposedly evidence based, effective interventions. And it’s not to say that those aren’t great resources and tools, but a lot of times we need to learn how to adapt those to best fit the needs of our community and our target populations, and sometimes we don’t really have the capacity to do that as a small organization. So the research and the work we’ve been doing with the School of Public Health and the SexLab has allowed us to really refine those interventions and be able to go back to the state, for example, and say, “You know this intervention is great, but we’d like to tweak it this way because according to work we’ve done, the research we’ve done, the information we have, we think this will better meet the needs of our target population.” So partnering with SexLab has really built our capacity as well to not only engage in research, but to use that research to really impact our services and really advocate for interventions that are to be as beneficial as possible for our clients.

Along with discussing the benefits of CBPR, Loveluck and Bauermeister also stressed some of its difficulties, including how to share funding equitably. Students, however, confronted these challenges enthusiastically. For Loveluck, their level of engagement with the material was inspiring,

To see their excitement and to see how they reacted to the work that we’re doing it was an affirmation I think, a really wonderful affirmation that we do really great work and we’re not the biggest organization, and we don’t have all the money in the world, but we’re able to use a lot of expertise and resources to do really great innovative things. And I think that it’s a recognition of our important role, I felt strengthened by the recognition of the expertise that does lie in the community.

After returning to the U.S., Loveluck continues to feel emboldened by her experience. The workshop not only reassured her of the importance of her work, but confirmed the place of CBPR in HARC’s future,

As we look to the future…I think that this is an area we see as growing and really becoming more [of] a part of [HARC] and hopefully beyond just HIV prevention, really maybe thinking about ways to expand [CBPR] into the care side of what we do, working with people living with HIV and medical case management and perhaps other related issues…So I think CBPR, like I said, I think it just affirmed that this is becoming a central focus in helping us determine our future and our future work and hopefully will allow us to continue to expand and do innovative things.

 

 

References

  1. Israel, B., Schulz, A., Parker, E., & Becker, A. (1998). Review of Community-Based Research: Assessing Partnership Approaches to Improve Public Health. Annual Review of Public Health, 18, 173-202.
  1. Minkler, M. (2005). Community-Based Research Partnerships: Challenges and Opportunities. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 82(2), ii3-ii12.
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