Recognising Excellence in Positive Activities for Young People that Maximise Youth participation, Empowerment and Potential
Supported by City Parochial Foundation and Lemos&Crane – the Unboxed 2008 awards recognised projects that have excelled in working with young people to achieve a positive goal and purpose.
Our thanks to the City Parochial Foundation for their financial support for the awards. They have been longstanding supporters of the Unboxed project and we are very grateful for their sustained commitment.
More than a hundred organisations entered the first Unboxed awards. Thanks to all of them. Lots of the entries were very good. So good, in fact, that we shortlisted 20 projects.
People involved with most of the shortlisted projects have been interviewed and their insights in the pages below are fascinating. The judges – all experts and committed to working with young people – helped us to select the winners and we appreciate their interest and hard work.
Gerard Lemos Lemos&Crane November 2008
Runners Up: Peace Mala
Summary: Peace Mala – “Creative education that empowers and embraces all.”
Peace Mala is committed to promoting and developing the essential message that each human being is important and special regardless of race, colour, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, size or age. The work of Peace Mala is already evident. Our educational resources make it possible for teachers and youth leaders all around the world to duplicate in their locality what has already been achieved here in the UK. Our compassionate wish is for all people, animals and the environment to be at peace.
“A project that impressed through its ability to work in more remote areas where barriers to tolerance are often harder to overcome.
“A simple idea that has spread widely, even internationally, and changed the minds of many.”
Pam, how did you become involved with Peace Mala?
Originally I was a head of department in a large comprehensive school in Wales. Post-9/11 I expected Islamophobia to increase but actually the bullying I saw in school was extended to all pupils who were ‘different’. Not only that but in the wider community there was hysteria – a local mosque was attacked, a synagogue was defaced. There was just a huge misunderstanding of cultures and faiths in the community; I felt something needed to address that.
What was the inspiration behind Peace Mala?
The golden rule that exists in all religions, cultures and philosophies is ‘treat others as you’d like to be treated’. I wanted to explore ideas of how to get that across to young people without it being academic or preachy. I wanted it to be direct and fun.
How did you get the ball rolling?
I thought of having symbolic bracelets that promoted the message. They re so simple and effective – it’s something you can make, wear and touch so it’s very visible and because of the double rainbow design it’s also very colourful. It’s a constant reminder to treat each other with respect and also to have self-respect. I incorporated peaceful ideas from all major religions across globe on the bracelets, and also included ideas of personal responsibility and choice. The bracelets were a big success and the Peace Mala message really engaged the young people that I taught.
From there it grew and eventually the Prince’s Trust got involved. Prince Charles had launched ‘Respect’ around this time and he very much liked what we were doing. He advised me to get in touch with their Millennium Awards team so we entered Peace Mala with a bid to turn it into a fully-fledged project. I got together with 12 kids from my school and formed a team for our entry. We were successful and were awarded over £14,000 pounds from the trust.
We officially launched Peace Mala afterwards with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the UN Temple of Peace in Cardiff. From there it’s grown and grown, winning several awards along the way. We now work with young people in the USA and Canada who help us promote Peace Mala. The project is also used widely across the UK in schools and youth groups to promote cohesion and encourage greater understanding of different cultures. Three years ago we set up the Peace Mala International Awards for Youth for schools and youth groups who engage with us. We encourage them to come up with creative ideas to raise awareness in their own communities. A panel of judges choose the winners and two prizes are given in each category of senior and junior groups of £400 each.
Were there any obstacles along the way?
People’s ignorance – we had some opposition from a particular faith group who felt threatened by our project. Sadly there are some people who feel that inter-faith dialogue somehow ‘waters down’ their own faith. We’re also sometimes misunderstood as promoting religion or a single religion. I have a background in the Anglican Church but really my personal spiritual path is much wider than that. I’m involved with lots of faiths – Buddhists, Earth Religions, including Pagans and Druids, and the Sufis to mention a few. This project isn’t about promoting religion and it especially isn’t about promoting one religion over another; it’s about representing all cultures and faiths as of equal worth, it’s about unity.
What piece of advice would you give to others who’d like to get involved in this kind of work?
When you are promoting greater understanding and tolerance between communities, you are likely to encounter misunderstandings and ignorance along the way, so be prepared. There have been times when I’ve had a real sense of despair and felt like giving up. However, when I see how a project like Peace Mala can touch people’s minds and hearts, when people engage with it, it’s all worthwhile.