The growth of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in the school curriculum is a worldwide phenomenon. Schools everywhere are being asked to inspire good citizenship and pre-empt antisocial behaviour in matters such as drugs, alcohol, bullying, eating habits and especially in teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, everybody knows that you have only to tell children not to do something for them to want to do the opposite. Many PSHE strategies consist of quick fix courses with a negative tone which can exacerbate the problems they seek to solve.
Christine Vollmer, creator of the Alive to the World programme, began working in 1985 on a new approach to PSHE. Her intensive study of child development in all its aspects, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual, and her experience as the mother of seven children convinced her that a completely different approach was needed. A key feature would be to show that everything about the human person is connected with everything else: the growth of the body, the impact of the feelings, the depth of the intellect and the longings of the spirit. It would also illustrate how some established patterns of behaviour lead to happiness and fulfillment while others are destructive of both. These have always been basically the same for people everywhere, regardless of the country or age in which they happen to live.
The outcome of a child’s life is dependent not so much on avoiding certain ills as on developing a strong and rounded character, one built up on virtue. Virtue is not something which we are born with but has to be acquired. We do so by building up good habits and this can be done by anybody, regardless of background, with the necessary guidance and support. Building up the willpower of the young is as important as giving them clear goals and developing their common sense.
It may be clear to adults what is good for young people but how does one impart it to them without sounding preachy? How does one encourage them to put into practice behaviour which demands discipline and is often counter-cultural?
Christine Vollmer says “It finally dawned on me that maybe I could just tell them stories, stories which would unfold over twelve school years. And so Alive to the World was born. It tells the tale of some friends who grow up as all children do, with their normal points, good and bad. Little by little they open their eyes to the world about them, to what they can achieve if they try, and to the values of life which bring true peace and happiness. Central to the books would be the precept 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. This simple rule applies in all relationships, whether among friends, in the family or in the community, and it leads seamlessly to all the universal values, such as respect, generosity, perseverance, integrity and responsibility.”
Christine Vollmer gathered about her a team of teachers, psychologists, computer experts and writers. This was the beginning of the Latin American Alliance for the Family (ALAFA) which she set up to help her write and produce the books. The first volume was published under the title Aprediendo a Querer in 2001, and the twelfth appeared in 2005. By 2009, some 65,000 young people had been enrolled in the programme in 14 different Latin American countries. Plans are progressing to take the books into Brazil and Africa.
The UK is the first country in Europe to have launched an Alive to the World programme. Books for Years 4-8 have been piloted in an English school and have been extensively edited for the English market with advice from teachers. Student Books and Teacher Guides for all 5 years are now available.
It is hoped to extend the programme to cover all school age groups in due course.
All the UK Alive to the World books are published by Gracewing.
The Alive to the World programme gives children a context from which they can understand sexual relationships but avoids those personal aspects which are best explained in the privacy of the home. To help parents and guardians talk to their children, Louise Kirk, UK Co-ordinator for Alive to the World, has written a separate guide which complements Alive to the World (please also see Sex & Relationships page).
Christine de Marcellus Vollmer is by birth half English and half French. She was brought up in California and her husband, Alberto J. Vollmer, is Venezuelan. Based in Caracas, she continues to travel widely and is a frequent visitor to Rome, where she sits on the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Academy for Life (the Pope’s advisory committees on family and respect for life). Her work brings her into contact with many of the world’s leading authorities on what makes for a successful society.
In addition to creating Alive to the World and chairing the Alliance for the Family, Christine Vollmer has organised seven international family congresses, undertaken many initiatives in Venezuela and more widely in Latin America, writes a weekly newspaper column and appears often on Venezuelan television.
Louise Kirk read history at Oxford University and worked in London for the House of Lords, the British Academy and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. After her marriage, she taught writing skills and trained as a Natural Family Planning teacher.
It was as mother of four children and a school governor that she took an interest in sex education. Her dismay at the paucity of appropriate materials encouraged her to take up Christine Vollmer’s invitation to bring Alive to the World to England. She led its editing team and has since spoken widely on its use. In May 2013 she was an invited speaker at the World Congress of Families, Sydney. She sits on the Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury’s Commission for the New Evangelisation.