Written by Adam Desouza
Could you sum up what the aim of the competition was, and your idea?
During induction week, peer mentors had been assigned an exciting challenge to work on with their mentees, based around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In case you are unfamiliar with the SDG’s, they are essentially a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a “blueprint to help achieve a more sustainable future for all by 2030.” The SDG’s encourage all nations to work together in order to eliminate poverty, reduce inequality and stimulate economic growth — all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our forests and oceans.
For more information on the UN’s SDG’s, please click here.
The aim of the competition was to “develop a strategy to raise awareness of one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to students at Newcastle University.” This appeared to be a challenge in itself since any of these amazing goals could have been chosen for our entry. Nevertheless, after witnessing the tragic consequences that plastic pollution is having on our beautiful marine ecosystems, I decided that UN SDG 14 “Life Below Water” would be the perfect goal to raise more awareness on.
Putting on my creative hat, I brainstormed a number of ideas which we could use to raise more awareness of SDG 14. This included a poem about ocean plastic, where I touched upon many critical issues such as microplastics in our food, the accumulation of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the devastating impacts of plastic ingestion by sea life and significantly, how the coronavirus pandemic — with the proliferation of single-use plastic gloves and masks — has exacerbated the situation. Later, I incorporated this poem into a dynamic and thought-provoking video with accompanying music. I recognised that simply creating a poem might not have had the same powerful impact as a video and wanted the final entry to not only touch the hearts of students, but also change their attitudes towards the use of plastic.
The video ended with the slogan: “#Plastic waste is a disgrace: #Plastic users are ocean abusers” which I feel summarises the main aim of our entry well.
How did you feel when you heard you won your recent award/ Special Commendation for Creativity: ‘Life Below Water’?
I was over the moon when I discovered that I had been shortlisted for the Peer Mentor SDG Challenge Award. Over 400+ students had participated in the competition, so I felt truly honoured to have come so far. After being invited to attend the “Peer Mentor Thank You Event” in February, I was very excited to find out how well my entry had fared against the other nominees.
When the respective winners of the SDG Challenge were finally announced — and my name had not yet been mentioned — I was slightly perplexed about what was going on. I wondered whether they had accidentally shortlisted me for an award? However, to my great surprise, it turned out that I had been awarded a “Special Commendation for Creativity.” The SDG Panel stated that although my entry had slightly deviated from the original task, it captivated them to such an extent that they created a special award to recognise all my hard work. To hear such positive comments from everyone was a genuine delight, and I am glad that our entry had the desired impact which I hoped for.
Looking back on the event, there had been several amazing entries. For example, the eventual winner of the SDG Challenge, Tharika Gunasekaran, produced a phenomenal poster on UN SDG 2: “Fight for zero hunger.” Her entry was elegantly presented, with a series of stats and images to raise more awareness about the deeply concerning problem of chronic hunger and potential solutions to help eliminate this i.e. introducing a “fight for zero hunger” module at Newcastle University. Nevertheless, despite only four entries being shortlisted for an award, this does not negate the fact that each and every entry was special and has importantly raised more awareness about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
What did you feel you learnt from this experience?
From this experience, I have developed a number of key transferable skills. For example, I have developed my collaboration and problem-solving skills. I have also learnt to become more creative, innovative and enterprising by seeking out new ideas and ways to overcome some of the greatest challenges we face in society today. Most importantly, our recent success demonstrates that with enough hard work and self-belief, you can achieve anything!
In regards to being a peer mentor, it has helped me to become more socially responsible. During the coronavirus pandemic, students have experienced many personal difficulties, such as the daily struggle of living alone for the first time or having to adapt to online learning. However, through my role as a peer mentor, I have been able to empathise with students from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and support them through this difficult transition.
On the whole, becoming a peer mentor has been a life-changing experience, which has enabled me to grow into a more resilient and courageous individual.
If you could tell future students about this opportunity, what would you suggest?
The SDG Challenge is an amazing opportunity to participate in. There are several transferable skills you will develop on your journey to becoming a peer mentor, and this activity is the perfect way to put these new skills into action. As a result of social distancing and the transition to online learning, it has been very difficult for new students to meet each other and to make friends. This year, more than ever, new students have relied upon the support of a peer mentor to help them overcome various obstacles and feel more settled at university. Hence, the peer mentoring scheme is a rewarding experience — not only for the mentor — but also for the mentees themselves.
If you are struggling to engage with your mentees early on in the year, I would highly recommend participating in the SDG Challenge. It is a great “ice-breaker” exercise to get to know your mentees better, to realise their/your own hidden talents, as well as working collaboratively to raise more awareness of an important global issue. Furthermore, there are also amazing cash prizes on offer to those shortlisted for an award. For example, the winning group of the SDG Challenge received £200!
Since I was awarded the “Special Commendation for Creativity”, I would encourage any future peer mentors looking to take part in this challenge to be bold, brave and innovative. Remember, hundreds of students from all across Newcastle University will be taking part, so try to think outside the box in order to create a positive impression on the SDG panel.
I am very grateful for having been selected as a peer mentor this year and would highly encourage other students to follow suit. It was a highly rewarding and invaluable experience, which I shall never forget.