Literacy Lives: Training Health Allies


The Community Education Program at Simon Fraser University and our partners are developing Literacy Lives, a pilot program that focuses broadly on improving HIV health indicators in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In the Literacy Lives Certificate in Community Capacity Building, learners will deepen skills, knowledge and practice as community leaders in creating healthy community. Their specialized focus will be on HIV, social determinants of health, and literacy and essential skills. The learning experience will be seamlessly integrated into community projects that learners will identify, plan, implement and evaluate.

Partners include: Literacy BC, Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, B.C. Centre for Disease Control, B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Pacific AIDS Network and SFU’s Research and Evaluation Unit. We are also formally collaborating with community agencies and members.

Program Overview
The pilot offering of the Literacy Lives certificate program will take place over a 6-month period from September 2011 – April 2012.  The certificate is based on a cycle of planning, action, and reflection.  In a supported and mentored learning environment, learners will be responsible for planning, implementing and evaluating community-based projects. Learners will build their capacities and will also share those capacities with the larger community.  The learners’ community projects will improve community literacy and essential skills, social determinants of health and response to HIV, focusing especially on vulnerable populations that experience barriers to HIV care. We intend for this program to be a pathway to other types of training and volunteer opportunities, as well as employment. The long-term objective is for this to become a regularly offered program, in various amended forms as necessary. We are planning to widely share the tools we develop with all interested stakeholders.


Guiding Principles
In collaboration with the Downtown Eastside community, we are creating a program that:

  • Is a free, non-credit program that will be a pathway to other opportunities;
  • Is modeled on an indigenous framework that allows for a holistic and culturally relevant curriculum;
  • Weaves literacy and essential skills into training for HIV and community-strengthening;
  • Is flexible in order to accommodate various learning styles and life circumstances.

Goal and Objectives
The overall goal is to increase literacy, essential skills and community capacity building skills relevant to supporting people with HIV, which will support the following objectives to:

  • Strengthen overall capacities and confidence, and increased connection to the community;
  • Enhance capacities that can lead to volunteer work, other training opportunities and work;
  • Increase community wide integrated literacy and essential skills and HIV awareness;
  • Improve health indicators for people engaging in the training.

Supported Learning
The learning process will be supported through project funds with:

  • Food, transit tickets and financial assistance for childcare;
  • A team including community-based coordinators, community-based tutors/mentors, and instructors, all of whom will support, guide and teach project learners.

To learn more about Literacy Lives, contact Shanthi Besso in the Community Education Program:

[email protected]

This project is generously funded by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.