The Western Mail – November 15, 2004
The Pope and the Dalai Lama have endorsed it – and now the revolutionary Peace Mala is about to take over the world.
Devised by teacher Pam Evans and pioneered in her Welsh classroom, the rainbow-coloured bracelet is dedicated to combating prejudice and religious intolerance. Bullying has come to the fore in Wales following the death of ‘suicide pact’ Neath teenager Laura Rhodes, and at Llanelli’s Coedcae Comprehensive School the problem is “effectively tackled head-on” with the help of Peace Mala, said Ms Evans.
The unique project was born as a result of the terrorist attacks in America on September 11, and the bracelet is now being used in many multicultural schools in Llanelli and Swansea as well as on the Shetland Isles and in London. The Prince of Wales has shown a keen interest and the president of Eire and prime minister of New Zealand both wear the bracelet as a statement of their commitment. Now 5,000 Peace Malas have been sent from Coedcae to schools, individuals and VIPs around the world.
Ms Evans, 54, who is head of religious studies and a semi-professional jazz singer, said yesterday, “The kids and I would love it to embrace the world. There are peace and friendship bracelets, it is true, but this is totally different because of its symbolic messages in the knots and beads. It is very much about human rights and celebrating diversity and breaking through fear – and it is an idea that came to me because of a rise in racist taunts in school. Because of my experience – I am a specialist in world faith – I just felt something had to be done. I feel very passionately about tolerance in all forms as well as human rights. So I thought of something simple but effective that would engage the minds of young people – a symbolic bracelet loaded with messages that would be fun to make and wear.”
A youth project set up to promote the Peace Mala includes among its leaders a Muslim student Imran Sheikh, who has experienced racist taunts and abuse. The bracelet was created as a simple representation of the world’s religions living alongside each other in harmony. It comprises 14 coloured beads with a white bead between the symbolic knots.
The word mala is Sanskrit and means garland of flowers. But there is a peace message attached to each Peace Mala bead and all the messages share a common vision for the world. “They are authentic messages from the teachers of all faiths,” said Ms Evans. “We hope that the Peace Mala will stimulate interest and encourage youngsters and adults to find out more about the faiths represented on it. But the Peace Mala is a fashion item to wear on the wrist and also a practical teaching aid which can be used with young people to help promote awareness, tolerance and respect between all communities.”
The first-year intake of pupils at Coedcae all receive lessons on Peace Mala, but activities linked to the ethically-guided non-profit-making organisation continue through key stages 2, 3 and 4. Ms Evans, a member of the Anglican Church in Wales who is also involved with the Buddhist Christian Network, said, “Younger children cannot understand racism. Bad attitudes are collected later – but I would hope bullying of a racial nature is now less at Coedcae and there is no doubt that Peace Mala has helped.”
Celebrities and their jewellery
Celebrities and other famous people are often identified by the bracelets and other jewellery they wear. Madonna, for example, was born a Roman Catholic but has adopted Judaism – and wears a Jewish star as well as a bracelet she refers to as her Kaballah. This is a reference to the arcane works of Jewish mysticism that were first set down in the Middle Ages. Cycling superstar Lance Armstrong, who overcame cancer to win the Tour de France a record six consecutive times, is always seen with a ‘live strong’ yellow wristband. More than seven million of the rubber wristbands – produced by his charity the Lance Armstrong Foundation – have already been sold with the proceeds helping young people with cancer.
Seal of approval
Pope John Paul II has told the Coedcae pupils he is “pleased to learn of your efforts on behalf of world peace”. Monsignor Gabriele Caccia, writing from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, told teacher Pam Evans, “As you continue to teach your pupils at Coedcae School how they can make a real personal contribution to establishing peace in our world (the Holy Father) assures you of his prayers”. And the Dalai Lama has said he is happy to endorse the Peace Mala particularly because it involves the participation of young people. He said, “I wish the Peace Mala continued success.”