Pandora’s Box: Clapham-based company spread their message of self empowerment to women across the area


Cassandra Campbell and Donna Solomon are the founders of SELF


By Jack Skelton

If you go through life without ever really knowing yourself, how can you be expected to effectively deal with the problems life raises?

This is the question that Cassandra Campbell and Donna Solomon, founders of Self Empowerment for Life’s Foundation, felt was being ignored in the education of young women.

So they started SELF, a non-profit organisation aimed at encouraging young women aged 14-25 to understand and appreciate concepts such as self-acceptance, self-love, and self-worth and therefore give them the tools they need to succeed in life.

“Our company believes supporting young women is like building a home – if you have a solid foundation then what you build upon it is going to be sustainable,” said Ms Campbell.

“But if you start out in life without that foundation you are more likely to have many negative experiences along the way because you never really know yourself.”

The Clapham-based company began in August last year and have since brought their 12-week workshop Pandora’s Box to young women across south west London.

The title of the programme is taken from the Greek myth, as Ms Campbell wanted a name that reflected the process of fighting through the negatives to allow positivity to emerge.

The first part of the workshop introduces the theory of these self- concepts and allows the young women to identify any issues they may have and where they derive from.

The second half focuses on turning those negative experiences into positive techniques for dealing with problems so they can look at life from a new perspective.

Their small but devoted team of six consists of two directors, Campbell and Solomon, and four young women hired within the past few months.

They recently started bringing their message of self-empowerment to Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton and will soon begin a contract with Lambeth Youth Offending Service.

They also have an ongoing contract with BelEve UK and were involved in that organisation’s employability program, Pathway to Success.

Ms Campbell said the feedback from this first cohort was brilliant and was especially heartened to learn her programme had a positive impact on those young women.

This whirlwind of activity seemed a long way off when Ms Campbell first started writing Pandora’s Box in 2012.

After experiencing and studying counselling herself, she began volunteering for an organisation that worked with young people and quickly realised this was her purpose in life.

She also saw that none of the workshops she was involved in addressed concepts like self-love and self-worth, which had formed a key part of her studies.

“I knew the effect these concepts have on the choices we make in life and felt that all people should have knowledge of them,” said Ms Campbell.

Pandora’s Box was therefore borne out of the counselling theories and self-development practices that Ms Campbell had studied and used to approach her own issues.

“I wanted to put it in a way that was basic enough for young women to understand, so I drew on my own experiences of being that age and how they impacted on me throughout my life,” she added.

Ms Campbell felt that other workshops focused too narrowly on specific issues such as sexual relationships or gangs, instead of more underlying ideas.

“I felt like such workshops and various government policies were more about intervening after these problems had already happened, rather than trying to prevent them in the first place,” she stated.

“This is where Pandora’s Box comes in because it is not just for young women who are having problems, it is for any young woman to help them with their self-development.”

Pandora’s Box is instead for all young women, not just those currently experiencing troubles, in order to give them the self-knowledge that will enable them to deal with any concerns as they occur.

“We are by no means saying we are going to miraculously change their lives so they are never going to have any issues, but we give them the basics to understand who they are,” explained Ms Campbell.

She is certain that an awareness of these concepts allows young women to be more confident in their approach to their friendships and relationships as well as how they feel about themselves.

Each Pandora’s Box session involves a series of exercises and games revolving around themes of self-awareness, self-love etc.

Several exercises involve role-playing certain social situations to challenge the young women to understand how their self-beliefs affect their thoughts and actions.

The fifth session, entitled ‘Beautiful Me’, features a therapist who provides the young women with a massage and teaches them relaxation techniques.

“It is important to take time out and know how to relax, how to honour yourself and learn what beauty means, inside and out,” said Ms Campbell.

The young women are also given a handout at the end of every session consisting of positive words and affirmations for them to take away.

The workshop culminates in a graduation ceremony where each participant is presented with their own personal Pandora’s Box, a certificate and a folder containing all their exercises and action plans for them moving forward.

The young women are also provided with access to professionally qualified external counsellors during and after the workshop.

Ms Campbell was keen to supply this aftercare support to ensure that once the sessions are over, the young women are able to stay in touch with SELF and discuss any issues that may arise.

SELF are also establishing a Pandora’s Box network, currently via their Facebook page, where those of who have completed the workshop can share and discuss their feelings.

“We want to create a space where young women can come and feel they belong, whilst also making new friendships within a support network,” said Ms Campbell.

Although schools currently present the most viable environment for Pandora’s Box, Ms Campbell is confident the workshop’s design means it will work for young women everywhere.

They are also hoping to develop Pandora’s Box into a full programme, which will entail the emotional awareness workshop alongside new sessions focusing on more practical knowledge and skills including budgeting, employment and home maintenance.

Ms Campbell wants to cover even such basic skills as changing a light bulb or what to do in a power cut, which many young people may not know.

“We often only know how to do these things if we were lucky to have parents to teach us,” said Ms Campbell.

SELF’s aim is to take as holistic an approach as possible in their work.

“We cannot cover everything but if we offer support in enough areas to help these young women go on to lead happy, fulfilled lives.”

Although the company currently deals exclusively young women, Ms Campbell is determined to extend the organisation’s remit to young men and adults too.

Most of the obstacles in the way of achieving these ambitions are financial.

Ms Campbell contributed the initial funds and the organisation is now funded mainly through the contracts they have already secured.

Their first two contracts also received funding from Metropolitan Housing and London Youth but SELF are hoping to find alternative revenue sources to secure their future.

Ms Campbell admits that not every young woman is necessarily going to be ready for what SELF has to offer.

“Some will be ready and some will not, all that we can hope is that at some point in the future they can look back on what they have learned at Pandora’s Box and be able to use those tools to improve their lives,” she said in conclusion.

For more information on SELF and their Pandora’s Box workshop visit or on Twitter @PBempowerment and Facebook at Pandora’s Box Empowerment.

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