Helping children’s futures bloom

March 2, 2015

Life for many children around the world, especially girls, is incredibly challenging. You have probably already heard the obstacles. If they are registered for school, they are sometimes pulled out at an early age so they can help support their families by working or caring for their siblings. Some children are allowed to attend school, but only after they have completed their chores — their schoolwork is secondary to the evening household tasks.

The saddest part of these situations is that children may not even be aware of their many future opportunities. Plan International USA is using the Better Life Options and Opportunities Model (BLOOM) to help them see their potential.

BLOOM was first introduced by the Center for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) in 1987, and Plan began using the strategy when it acquired CEDPA in 2012. The strategy is an integrated approach to improving the lives of young people through informal education. Since its launch, hundreds of thousands of adolescents and young people have expanded their opportunities to live healthy, productive lives with the core belief that confidence and high self-esteem are the foundation for personal growth.

At the core of BLOOM is the Choose a Future! (CAF!) life skills curriculum. Through carefully-designed participatory sessions, CAF! teaches young people about sexual and reproductive health, nutrition and hygiene, self-esteem and self-efficacy, life skills, civic responsibility and gender relations. These sessions give young people a better understanding of themselves, improving their self-confidence and the ability to make positive life decisions. The sessions also expand their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health, gender roles and healthy relationships, helping them create a better social environment in which to practice their new life skills.

BLOOM has been adapted and used all over the world including Egypt, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Mali, Nepal, Nigeria, Senegal and southern Africa. The program is adapted to each country to address the issues, obstacles and needs the participants face on a daily basis. It is always implemented in partnership with local leaders and organizations to ensure sustainability.

In the southern African region, BLOOM was implemented between 2007 and 2012. We recently heard from project partners that the CAF! curriculum is still being implemented in various settings. The current program is still facilitated by a former project trainer at a school in Swaziland and is reportedly reaching approximately 150 girls and boys in fourth through seventh grades.

Local organizations, such as iKhambi Drop-in Center, also use CAF! activities for their work with vulnerable children during afterschool hours. Moreover, there is evidence that CAF! activities have been adapted by the YMCA for prison inmates as part of rehabilitation. The activities include decision making, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, communication skills, anger management, goal setting, gender awareness and dealing with cultural stereotypes.

Clearly, the impact of BLOOM goes beyond changing the lives of young people and their parents or guardians. The principles are applicable in many settings. The program also impacts the lives of the facilitators.

One facilitator, Mumcy Nomalungeelo Dlamini Hlophe, was extremely impressed with the program.

“I was greatly privileged to be one of CEDPA’s facilitators at Hillside Primary School,” she said. “This was one of the best programs I ever worked with in my teaching career. It helped empower both the girls and boys we taught. It did not end by empowering the children, but it also empowered the teachers as well. The program encouraged us to deal with sensitive subjects that we were not comfortable to deal with before.

“Furthermore, [the program] created a strong bond between the facilitators and children. They were more free to share any problems, which they never did before. [CAF!] classes became safe spaces for both teachers and children; they came out of their shells and actively participated. A number of children for the first time were brave enough to report cases of abuse from home without any fears.”

Mumcy’s experience with the program is not the exception. We continually hear testimonials of lives that have been changed because of BLOOM.

BLOOM is transformational in all senses of the word. Finding a program that can impact the lives of not only the participants, but also the facilitators, is rare. Having evidence to support that claim is even rarer. After three decades and counting, BLOOM continues to positively impact lives and make futures brighter.