South Wales Evening Post – September 9, 2006
article by Kay Byrne
She’s got energy and determination in spades. So when Pam Evans got a bright idea to spread a little harmony around the world, she pulled her finger out and got on with it, as KAY BYRNE found out.
It’s the glib wish of pop stars and beauty queens, and the earnest desire of do-gooding teenagers. For the rest of us, it seems about as attainable as a date with George Clooney or Julia Roberts
But world peace is still firmly in the sights of 56-year-old Pam Evans.
She is the creator of a simple bracelet that is teaching children all over the globe the value of religious tolerance.
The story of the Peace Mala began one day when Pam, a former head of religious studies, was sitting at her computer, worrying about the kids in her class.
It was a few months after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Before the terrorists struck in 2001, the children she taught at Coedcae comprehensive in Llanelli had all got along together nicely.
But afterwards, it wasn’t long before Muslim children were being bullied by some of the other pupils.
“One of my students had gone from being a friendly, sociable boy to someone who was withdrawn and unhappy,” said Pam.
“His new nickname was Taliban. I was horrified and I thought ‘what can I do?’
“I felt angry that young people’s minds were being poisoned by adults with their prejudices. Something inside me said ‘enough is enough’.
“That’s when I had the idea of the Peace Mala, a kit to make a simple bracelet symbolic of tolerance. Each bead represents a major world faith.
“Young children love making things and, at the same time, they can learn that there is a golden rule common to all religions – treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.
“By focusing on what’s known as the golden rule, people of all faiths can co-operate with one another without having to participate or believe in each other’s particular belief system.
“I told everyone about the idea and the response was terrific. I couldn’t believe how positive the response was from all the faith communities.”
Her idea – beautiful in its simplicity – also struck a chord with religious leaders around the world.
The Dalai Lama of Tibet was the first person to endorse the Peace Mala.
He was quickly followed by Pope John Paul II, Sufi master Sheikh Nazim, and Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who is now a patron of the organisation.
“I also wrote to Prince Charles and had a lovely letter back. As a result of that we were encouraged to apply for a Prince’s Trust Millennium Award. We were successful and used part of the money to build our website,” said Pam.
As well as religious leaders, the Peace Mala has also been enthusiastically taken up by politicians and pop stars like Bonnie Tyler and Barbara Dickson.
Bonnie Tyler last year helped launch the bespoke version of the Peace Mala in solid silver.
Pam added: “We would love to get more backing from people from the world of sport and pop music because I think that would really help us get the message across to young people.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson on board? Or get Catherine Zeta Jones to be a patron?”
Pam’s attempts to confront religious prejudice have been opposed by some, though.
“I was one of the first RE teachers to introduce the study of world faiths in Carmarthenshire in 1974. I remember there being a tremendous fuss at the time. Some people were terrified of anything that wasn’t in the Bible.
“My personal philosophy is simple. While I describe myself as a Christian, I keep an open mind on everything and have a profound respect for the teachings of other faiths.
“I am not gullible and I am not away with the fairies, as some people seem to think before they meet me.”
Pam’s interest in faith and spirituality began when she was a teenager growing up in Garden Village, near Gorseinon.
“I was always interested in other cultures. When I was a child I was fascinated by ancient Egypt. I often used to go on the bus to see the mummy at Swansea Museum.”
Pam studied divinity, drama and history at Trinity College Carmarthen, and then trained to be a teacher, taking jobs at Olchfa, Bryngwyn and Coedcae.
“I taught at Llanelli Boys Grammar School, too, where news reader Huw Edwards was one of my pupils. That was probably the best three years of my teaching career. I loved it there and the boys were wonderful.”
Pam has also studied Tibetan Buddhism for many years.
She said: “It is fascinating and profoundly wise. I have huge respect for the Dalai Lama,” she said. “The law of karma makes perfect sense to me – you reap what you sow.
“One of our young supporters told me he went to seek an audience with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, northern India, where His Holiness lives in exile.
“He joined the queue and eventually got to the front. He was very nervous but the Dalai Lama noticed the Peace Mala on his wrist and he beamed and said: ‘You are from Wales!'”
She added: “The Peace Mala has travelled all over the world and keeps popping up in unexpected places.
“I’ve been contacted by schools in the US, Australia and New Zealand asking for information, and I heard the other day that the Mayor of Calcutta wears one.”
Pam is hoping the message will reach into even more far-flung corners of the earth from the Peace Mala headquarters in a converted former post office in Morriston.
It’s on a busy main road, but once you step off the pavement and into the centre, it’s a door into another world of peace, calm and tranquillity.
Almost every room is a shrine to a different faith and the beautiful garden is also laid out to provide an area for each major world religion.
The blue room is the Tibetan room and is used by Peace Mala patron Lama Khyimsar Rinpoche when he visits the centre.
The attic is used for meditation and healing – Pam is also a qualified reiki and seichem master teacher.
She said: “All of us have a natural gift of healing through touch but most of us in this materialistic world have lost touch with our spiritual centre.”
Pam prays in the centre every morning.
She said: “I have always asked for guidance. I pray for my family, friends, former colleagues, and all the children I have taught – I taught for 34 years so there are thousands of them.
“I pray for the suffering world and that those in positions of power will be touched by justice and compassion.
“I also pray that Peace Mala will achieve all that I hope for it.
“We have still got a long way to go, but so many good things have come out of it already. A former pupil is a good example. He joined the Peace Mala youth team, made new friends and regained his confidence. From someone who had been utterly crushed, he became a youth leader and an absolute star. He is studying at Cardiff University now and is set for a great future.”
Other youngsters who have enthusiastically embraced the cause will be rewarded at the first annual Peace Mala Youth Awards ceremony in Cardiff on September 20.
Peace Mala is currently a not-for-profit organisation with a board of directors, but Pam is planning to seek full charitable status.
“The last five years have been an awesome journey and not without dark times,” she said.
“I work with great speed and energy and I get so frustrated when everything else is so slow. There have been a lot of obstacles and difficulties to get through and a lot of hard work.
“But the good part is when you get letters and emails from people across the world saying how wonderful the message of the Peace Mala is.
“I had an email from a man who was having a humanist wedding in Scotland asking for Peace Malas to give to all his guests.
“I also had a very poignant letter from a woman in the West Country. She was only in her 30s but was dying of cancer. It was her child’s birthday party, the last she would ever see. She ordered 30 Peace Mala kits, one for every child at the party. She said she wanted our message of peace to be her legacy to them.
“When I hear things like that, I realise it’s worth carrying on.”
After this article appeared on the South Wales Evening Post website, the following comment was posted:
“It is so wonderful to know that someone like Pam Evans is dedicated to Peace. I wish her all success in the Peace Mala dream of tolerance for all religions and different spiritual paths.”
Cheryl Sullivan, Bridgend South Wales