05 / 10 / 21
by Rachel Cohen
After hundreds of applications, dozens of interviews, and months of planning, on August 31st ParliaMentors 2021-22 finally began. Spanning across ten days, this year’s induction comprised of fifteen experiential sessions that explored identity, interfaith relations, politics, and social change. All forty-four ParliaMentors, the fifteenth cohort of our UN award-winning programme, came to each session ready to learn, work, and make change together. Here’s a taste of the process we went through.
Building Understanding of One Another
ParliaMentors is not just about making an impact on local communities and British politics. It is also about connecting young people who identify with a wide variety of ethnicities, faiths, and political views, and supporting them as they develop relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. That’s why the first component of the programme focuses on deepening our understanding of our own identities and engaging in dialogue.
In one of the first sessions, the ParliaMentors heard speakers from different faith backgrounds share their personal stories and then asked questions like “what are some parts of your religion that particularly resonate with the way you see the world?” and “how did leaving your community to go to university impact your relationship with your faith?”. After that, we held intensive workshops so that each participant could write their own story of faith and belief, and share it with their university group.
During these workshops, I was incredibly moved to witness the participants so courageously express how they see themselves, how they see the world and how these beliefs have changed throughout their lives. Perhaps even more moving, though, was to see how they responded to one another. Each story was received with such compassion and curiosity that I have no doubt will be the foundation upon which long-lasting friendships will continue to grow.
Later that week, we looked at our personal stories from the perspective of privilege. Amongst other things, we learned that only some of us have never had to wonder where our next meal would come from; only some of us have been able to wear what we want in public without fear of violence. By discussing these differences, participants felt “surprised and saddened at the number of people and their families who go through difficulties on a day-to-day basis” and that as leaders they want to “recognize the injustices that are often hidden by the status quo”. While recognizing their differences, they also discovered something that they have in common: a collective desire to create a just and equal society for everyone.
Following our exploration of personal identity, we shifted our focus towards politics. We were thrilled to be joined by the very inspiring Elliot Colburn MP (Carshalton and Wallington), the SOAS team mentor, who spoke about his personal journey, the issues closest to his heart, and his advice for getting involved in politics. Questions and comments flooded in from the ParliaMentors, who exclaimed that Elliot “helped me feel more confident with wanting to make change” and “showed that it takes a small group of people (or leaders) to make a change on a wider scale”. We also learned all about the British political system, played trivia, and talked about how to make the most out of working with MP mentors throughout the year.
Above all, what each ParliaMentor has in common is a passion for helping other people and building a better world. That’s why much of induction was focused on developing the tools to take that passion and channel it towards making real change in local communities. We worked together to identify issues in our local areas, and to think about how to go from an idea to a project plan. We heard from ParliaMentors alumni Siu Wan about how her team managed to achieve a very successful social action project. Each group excitedly worked together to lay the foundation for what I am confident will ultimately evolve into impactful initiatives within their communities.
As induction came to a close, we held a session for the participants to reflect on the weeks that had passed and to set goals, individually and collectively, for the year to come. It was encouraging to see how much learning had gone on, and to hear their insightful reflections related to politics and changemaking; yet what meant the most, to me at least, was observing the closeness between them.
Whereas at the beginning of induction, some participants expressed finding it difficult to open up over Zoom, by the end they were able to share deeply with one another. Whereas at the beginning of induction, these were strangers meeting on a computer screen, by the end they were friends with inside jokes who stayed on after the session was over just to spend more time together. Whereas at the beginning they were all leaders from different communities, by the end they were unified teams with a collective goal to work together to help other people – and that’s really what ParliaMentors is all about.