The Church UK Digital Channels interviewed Ben Shapiro of The Faith & Belief Forum, with Church UK Interfaith Director, Sister Tracey Prior, and Church member Suellen Moraes, a current ParliaMentors student, to give Liahona readers and Church UK and Ireland members awareness and understanding of the ParliaMentors leadership programme. We hope this article helps those who are interested in knowing something about it and consider participating in it.
ParliaMentors is a programme that was started 15 years ago by The Faith & Belief Forum in connection with Parliament. The programme enables and trains university students, who have different faiths and backgrounds, to know how to make social changes as a group. They are mentored by a Member of Parliament (MP) who helps the students pursue their chosen community project. About 600 ParliaMentors students have already taken part throughout the country and across several faiths.
The organisation of ParliaMentors came from a desire to help students of all faith groups, with clear ability and potential to become leaders, to gain more experience and build networks in leadership. Students can then take those skills into areas that concern them and help bring about the changes they feel are needed.
Suellen (Su) Moraes, a member of the Church and a 3rd-year student about to graduate from the Birmingham City University, applied to the ParliaMentors programme after she curiously investigated a link sent to her by her Stake President via a Young Adults group chat.
Su has been recognised as an outstanding ParliaMentors student, and Sister Tracey Prior and ParliaMentors Programme organiser, Ben Shapiro, wanted to publicly show appreciation for her involvement.
Su, and three other students studying at Birmingham City University, were very aware that there were homeless people in the city. During the Coronavirus pandemic, they recognised that homelessness would be a greater challenge.
Initially, they wanted to collect supplies to give to the homeless, but this wasn’t possible with no one on campus. They kept looking for ways to help, however, and explored the matter through networking.
Su reconnected with a friend who worked with her a few years earlier. She discovered his passion for politics and was amazed at his desire to work for a meaningful cause. That’s when she felt prompted to mention the homeless project, and a partnership emerged. Her friend was able to link Su’s group to a company certified in construction-industry training. She was told that if the group had homeless people. they would train them free of charge.
Su then went to her fellow ParliaMentors students in her assigned group, all from different faiths and all studying other subjects, to get their thoughts on the construction-industry training opportunity.
Su said that her three friends are very determined and resourceful people. She said,
“They are true leaders with pure goodness in their hearts to help others. I am learning so much from them, and it has been a blessing to get to know them. We all pray to different deities, yet we all work together to do good. We have become a family.”
Su added that different personalities and backgrounds made seeing ‘eye to eye’ on some tasks initially uncomfortable.
“Like every group relationship, we went through all the stages before we really came to have a perfect understanding and working relationship with one another.”
During a time of tension, as is expected with projects like these, Su had the idea of getting the group together socially; not to talk about the project but about each other’s ideas and to get to know each other better. After that, Su said, the tension ceased and there was harmony as they focused on being a force for positive change.
Ben Shapiro said he was impressed with how Su handled the situation, knowing it wasn’t easy. He said,
“Situations like these can be the most challenging part of being in ParliaMentors, but it’s also a huge opportunity to learn, teach, and grow.”
The construction-training opportunity is a huge success, and Su’s group are pleased with their efforts. They felt strongly about giving the homeless in their areas skills that would help them in the long run, rather than just providing supplies, which though seemingly simple wasn’t possible during the lockdowns in their area.
Now Su’s group is working with homeless charities to refer individuals to them so they can liaise with the construction company to enrol the candidates into courses.
Ben is very impressed with their efforts, mostly because networking was in socially distanced ways, primarily online.
Sister Prior congratulated Su, saying she was “changing someone’s future, not just today.”
Su’s group is continuing its referral project, even after graduation, to help homeless people to be trained for careers. They started a society at their university, and they hope it will continue with other ParliaMentors participants that follow.
Nine universities currently support the ParliaMentors programme. However, the programme is open to all universities that wish to participate, and it’s not too difficult to get a university or school involved.
University students are put into groups of around five and go through a general three-day training event in the autumn. The student is taught how to recognise what they can do regarding the needs of their community. They learn who are their local MP’s, their powers and how they may help them improve their societies.
An MP is later assigned to mentor the group of students throughout the year and give them insight into making social changes and leadership, while deciding on a community project they plan and do together.
Ben Shapiro says that this programme is a safe place for young people to create change to support a community. He said:
“There will always be the element of tension in any social change. This is a necessary part of growth if you really wish to change things. The programme is a safe place to do that as support is offered to students regularly to help them see the advantages of disagreeing. ParliaMentors is a great place to disagree and work through it well.”
ParliaMentors believe it’s essential to learn how to deal with problems affecting change with the help of peers and university leaders. It provides a chance for a young student with little experience, not to just talk about change but do it and improve people’s lives through coming together.
Ben adds, “the connections made with university leaders, diverse peers, and MPs opens up doors and makes them feel comfortable in those corridors of power. That’s what I want for all the students to get from the programme.”
Ben wants potential participants to know that people who take part, see themselves and their own power differently afterwards. He says,
“They can see something important that needs to change and then feel confident it’s something they can fix because they achieved it before through the programme.”
“That is maybe the most important achievement for us that lead the program, changing the perspective of how someone sees themselves,” Ben continues.
The programme runs throughout the academic year and provides training in various areas, like safeguarding, media, and so on. Meetings are regular and flexible to take account of course exams.
The ParliaMentors’ year ends in spring, and programme graduation takes place at The House of Parliament in the summer.
Ben went on to explain that after graduation, ParliaMentors students go on to bigger things with their exceptional skills. He gave an example of one who went on to create a mental health charity. There are also interfaith projects in which students are invited to participate.
Ben says there is no limit to applications – “the more, the merrier”.
“Every year or two, there is always at least someone from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” concluded Ben.
Best link for more info about the programme and how to apply: https://faithbeliefforum.org/programme/parliamentors
More information on the charity behind the initiative:
Any members interested in volunteering as speakers in schools, or who are teachers who would like to bring some of our interfaith activities into their school, please visit the school part of The Faith & Belief Forum programme: https://faithbeliefforum.org/programmes/.