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Project Bloom and its goal to destigmatise mental health 

a year ago

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“Sometimes the best way to solve your own problems is to help someone else”  With the vision to fight the stigma surrounding mental health in Sri Lanka and to provide young people with a platform to connect helping other young people with mental health issues, Lahiruni Poddalgoda, a young social worker launched the Project Bloom in 2017.  “When I discovered volunteering as a 15 year old, volunteering by teaching English for The Warehouse Project by Without Borders, that really inspired me to start my own project. And I’ve been quite passionate about mental health for a long time, so I was lucky that my father was working as the Deputy Director of National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at the time and was able to help me out with the resources I needed to start a little project at NIMH. It was mainly just to really go to the adolescent unit once a week with a little group of my friends from school and spend some time with the kids there so that they get to meet and interact with young people and get a break from the usual adult professionals like the nurses or the psychologists,” explained Lahiruni.  “But eventually in just a few weeks, we had so many people wanting to help out, we realised that we could be doing so much more in the unit, we realised how privileged we were so we created project bloom, started researching into what we could do and started building a volunteer base and training them in creative and holistic approaches to mental health like art and drama therapy based activities, puzzle-related activities, meditation, laughing therapy to name a few,” she added.  Speaking about the initiative, Lahiruni said: “When we first started off we called out for our volunteers to apply to be core team members and created a group of about seven volunteers. Everyone had just gotten out of school at the time so we had quite a turnover through the years. And four of us have been at the back end of Project Bloom organising and running projects for the last two years.”  The team at Project Bloom; go through an application process in which they assess their dedication and passion towards mental health. The current core team members aged 20-21 are undergoing tertiary education in healthcare, mental health, and social services.  Commenting on the work they have done, Lahiruni said: “Project Bloom has been conducting weekly sessions at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) every Sunday since its inception. Project Bloom also prioritises the learning and training of its volunteers and have therefore partnered up with multiple organisations and consultants including the Child Adolescent Family Services (CAFS) and Footsteps for Freedom in order to conduct training workshops for volunteers to enhance their knowledge and skills needed for the sessions. Furthermore, we conducted our two week-long art therapy-based activity training for volunteers and applied it to our work at the adolescent unit under the supervision of a certified art therapist, Professor Elinor Assoulin from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.”  “With the onset of the pandemic, Project Bloom had to sadly cease its onsite operations, and therefore shifted to online means of creating conversation and spreading awareness on topics related to mental health. In January 2021, we partnered with Hutch and the NIMH conducted an online campaign to publicise the 1926 mental health chat service. In July 2021, volunteers came together to work on another campaign ‘Demystifying mental health: Hour by hour’. This campaign was based on a much broader dialogue of ‘Mental health, challenging stigma, and volunteerism’, and the volunteers were involved in multiple ways including research, designing, reflective exploration of experiences and video editing. The idea of the campaign was to create more roles for remote volunteering and expand on the possibilities of what can be done online,” added Lahiruni.  Lahiruni also noted that the volunteers at Project Bloomed have joined at the age where they have completed school and are considering the prospects for higher education, therefore, launching an organisation in the midst of personal turmoil and managing consistency throughout was definitely challenging.  “We are also always on the look for new locations and groups of young people we can use in our sessions to help. We are also trying to compile a shareable curriculum that a trained young person can easily deliver as holistic approaches when helping out other young people in a mental health setting, and this will slowly come together as we research and enrich our activity content over the next couple of years,” stated the Project Bloom team.  Stay in touch with the Project Bloom for their latest updates:  Instagram/Facebook: @projectbloomsl  Web: projectbloom.org.lk  Email: info@projectbloom.org.lk  Phone: +9471 751 3489
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