RAF PEACE MALA:
With Elaine, Terry Waite and Vanessa at Peace Mala 2010
Teacher Pam Evans developed the Peace Mala bracelet after 9/11 to promote respect across spectrums of faith and culture in schools. The idea spread. Now the Dali Lama, Archbishop of York and Terry Waite have joined school children and thousands of adults from all walks of life in wearing the multi-coloured beads to show their commitment to the whole human family. I’ve worn one for a number of years, along with Poppy and S.O.P.H.I.E. wristbands.
Working around realigning Manchester gang culture, I’ve had the profound honour of meeting scores of young people who accepted support from caring adults to develop alternatives to the self and soul destroying patterns that were once destroying young lives in our city. One group of young men joined an intensive team building programme that offered alternative models for gang structuring that were marked by respect and cooperation rather than division and rivalry. On the first day, when they were still growlingly suspicious of each other and our adult intention, they asked those of us with Peace Mala’s why we were wearing girly bracelets. After organising a music gig together and other team building stuff over a number of weeks, we dropped into a Royal Air Force base in Lincolnshire to see how much they had grown. The RAF really put them through their paces with climbing, abseiling and other team building activities. But the thing I’ll never forget is the way they learned to handle dangerous equipment.
“This here is a phosphorous flare”, the Flight Sergeant was saying. “I’m wearing this thick glove because if it slips in my hand, it will burn through my skin and bone instantly”.
After igniting his flare at arms length, he turned to the lads.
“Right, they come in various colours and when you stand in line and let yours off, there will be no protective gloves, so be VERY careful. You have to be responsible when handling dangerous situations”.
When the boys formed a conversational huddle, we adult observers wondered if they were intimidated by the potential danger. We needn’t have worried.
They stood in line at the ready and one of the lads turned our way: “This is for you, Rainbow Warriors”, he called.
As they took an arms length, eyes averted position and let their flares off across an open field, our hearts filled with pride to see how far they’d come, which was evident in how they’d worked together to ensure they had the right combination of coloured flares to produce a spectacular Peace Mala rainbow across the field.
A team parachute jump couldn’t top this! Only frightened young people carry knives and guns. We knew these boys would never be afraid again.
Since then, I’ve developed a closer working relationship with the RAF and am delighted to have been invited to become a chaplain in relation to their excellent work with young people.
© Rev. David Gray