In celebration of National Writing Day 2021, we put together a summer writing challenge to encourage reflection after a difficult year.
Though the pandemic was tough for everyone, it also inspired compassion, contemplation and true camaraderie in the face of hardship. We wanted to end the school year on a high by inviting students to think about what they’d gained over the course of the pandemic, rather than what they’d lost.
For the ‘Writing to Reflect’ challenge, students were asked to submit a creative writing piece detailing a skill or life lesson they’d learnt outside the classroom and how they thought it would benefit their future.
We enlisted Kayla Feldman, professional writer, director and 2017 Genesis Poetry Slam winner, to be our expert judge. Kayla's work, which tackles themes of identity, family history, mental illness and womanhood, has been commissioned by JW3, Canada Water Theatre and more, and she has regularly featured at London's top spoken word events.
For every submission received, we pledged to make a donation to UNICEF, whose groundbreaking work helps children across the world access essential education.
Well, the results are in.
More than 800 students from all over the world responded to our challenge, helping raise an amazing £825 for UNICEF.
We were overwhelmed with the standard of the submissions we received. On all sorts of subjects, in all manner of forms, entries were poignant, funny and very creative.
Whittling them down to a final 10 was immensely difficult.
But we did, and Kayla has made her decision.
So, may we present: the winner, the runners-up and the final shortlist…
Winner: Kandace, South Island School
Dear racist neighbour,
I’ve been thinking lots about a comment you made the other day that immigrants burden local healthcare which should prioritise people born here. Your comment made me uncomfortable, but I wasn’t sure why.
Later, I saw an Instagram post from the Black Lives Matter movement about critically thinking through my own privileges and assumptions. The uncomfortable feeling returned. So I decided to engage with it. I would now like to ask you three questions.
First, why do you think immigrants should be treated differently? As I was considering this, I realized my lack of encounter with people of different backgrounds or life experiences to me meant I implicitly assumed people dissimilar to me somehow didn’t deserve the same things.
Second, can you imagine an immigrant’s perspective seeking healthcare in a foreign country in a pandemic? Following my embarrassing answer to the first question, I tried to put myself into their shoes and realized if I were in a foreign country during the pandemic surrounded by people different from me, I would feel terrified.
Finally, how might considering different perspectives help you be more empathetic and therefore considerate? Ironically, I want to thank you for your racist remark, which has made me reflect on my own assumptions and set me on the journey to developing the skill of empathy. Empathy not only helps me understand other people’s feelings but also my own, to respond appropriately to situations. I hope you will learn this lesson too.
As an immigrant myself, I am particularly sensitive to conversations around how immigrants supposedly burden local healthcare, and especially because I am white-passing and trained myself to speak with an English accent, I am often struck by how people never seem to mean me when they talk about this “burden”. I wonder why!
Kandace’s piece also got me thinking about how much better the NHS may have been able to handle the pandemic, had they not deported many of their best staff.
Ultimately, the piece makes an excellent point about who is “deserving” of access to healthcare - that is to say, everyone. That we should not consider who receives healthcare based on what they can offer society - rather, we should focus on empathy and our shared humanity.
Kandace is an extraordinary writer, and their directness and focus speaks to the experience of someone who has experienced far more difficulties than most people their age.
I admire your writing, Kandace, and wish you all the best. Keep writing.
Runner-Up: Abigail, Urmston Grammar School
A series of Haiku about what I’ve learned to appreciate over this past year and a half.
A thousand faces,
Once hidden behind laptops,
Smile at each other.
Distorted through microphones
Now sing together.
Forced me to miss three friends’ first
Parties in two years.
I think it’s funny:
We missed plays and concerts, so
We watched them online.
If they text daily
And are more insane than you,
They must be good friends.
Four babies were born
In my family last year!
I couldn’t meet them.
My abuelo says
He’ll travel to England to
See us all again.
The Moral of the Story.
I suppose I learned
That all these things are precious;
I’ll treasure them more.
Without them, life would
Not be as beautiful as
This life truly is.
I would like to give an honourable mention to Abigail, whose mastery of the haiku form is truly admirable. Focusing on gratitude in times of change is so important! Keep writing, Abigail - your tiny poems may change the world some day.
Special Mention: Sam, Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School
I missed our video call yesterday.
When you’re left staring at a blank screen,
Watching a wheel turning endlessly,
Willing it not to crash,
Trying keyboard shortcuts unsuccessfully
You’re reminded of the bad stuff.
And it feels like driving a car to nowhere,
Wheels turning endlessly,
Willing it to stop, to crash
Looking for shortcuts unsuccessfully.
Thinking about the bad stuff.
If lockdown’s taught me anything it’s the importance of connection.
Ask a friend for help and your pain is instantly lessened.
When you’re alone for so long,
You want something to show for it.
But when you’re driving a car to nowhere
You’re less motivated to chauffeur it.
You can want to go and quit and get close to it,
But a group of friends closely knit,
Can help you through the lows and it mostly splits and slows the bits
That are more stones and sticks.
And with a tone shift comes a hope switch,
As they steer your eye over life and focus it
On the pros and bits that glow in it.
You stop noticing the loneliness and slowly it gets better.
And if lockdown’s taught me anything?
It's that you can’t take shortcuts.
Now it’s dawned in us
That more of us need more of us
Staying the course with us.
We can survive the rise and fall of us
With people who see more in us,
And I guess the long and short of us
Is that we need connection.
We wholeheartedly agree with Kayla’s selections.
Kandace’s piece is timely, thoughtful and beautifully-written, whilst Abigail’s haiku’s were clever and poignant.
We’d also like to give an InvestIN special mention to Sam’s brilliant poem, Connectivity Issues.
Sam demonstrated an excellent use of rhythm and form in an engaging piece about the importance of human connection. It was a theme that, after the past 18 months, really struck a chord.
Congratulations Kandace, Abigail and Sam!
Your writing was a pleasure to read; we hope you continue with it.
Shortlisted Entries: Caitlin, Maidstone Grammar School for Girls
i will never take it for granted again
after the year-long day
which saw nights of tears and numbness
a monotonous stretch of regression
of emotions which would only
resurface the next morning
never take for granted the fresh air or bike rides
or coffee with a friend
never take for granted the blessing
that is education and learning;
knowledge seamlessly seeping into the minds
of wide eyed pupils.
i will never take freedom for granted.
now, the essense of it slipping through the cracks
in every brick wall in our neighbourhoods
rushing through sinews into the hearts of civilians
finding freedom in the everyday
reaching for every
opening of opportunity
in the ebb and flow of life
in the gust of wind that flings tresses
forth from the secure recluse
whistling in our ears
like the deafening chant
of the people’s declarations
Tanja, Wembley College
The wonder of some words
I find that one skill I developed outside of school that aids me repeatedly is reading.
Living on a farm near a rural-urban town, casually socializing was difficult. If you wanted to see a friend you'd first have to ask a friend to come visit, ask their and your parents and organize transport from one house to the other. I was shy, and getting to the first step didn’t happen too often.
Of course, reading equipped me with many practical assets such as better grammar and language and a faster reading time. All of which are helpful in any scholastic or work setting.
Reading gave me other things. When I was lonely it gave me a sense of friendship when I couldn't see any friends, feelings to feel instead of my own when my emotions became too overwhelming, and engulfed me in experiences and adventures I believed could be found nowhere else except in the world of ink and paper.
The more I read about people overcoming all odds, loving themselves and being proud of who they were, the more outspoken and friendly I became. I made more friends and gained a great deal of confidence, taking after my most cherished characters. I took chances which I never would have taken before, chances which led to some of my fondest memories and adventures. I believe reading will keep me company if I ever have any lonely times to come and continue to teach me life lessons and give me joy.
Bo Yu, I-shou International School
Hi, my name is Bo Yu, but you can call me Vania.
Learning to be proud of my background is a precious lesson I have acquired; It endows me to beat my drum rather than follow the tempo. I felt embarrassed to have such a name and a culture deviant from that of my other peers. I was more embarrassed than the ones who mispronounced my name. Whether fiercely defending my points during the class debate or performing violin for a Christmas charity ball, I always cringe whenever a teacher, a respected opponent, or the host pronounced my name in various strident ways. I correct them with my western name Vania. But, a school cultural event where we had to present our own culture changed my perspective completely. In the beginning, I panicked about the idea of sharing my culture--the very act of exposing myself as an anomaly. Surprisingly, people were curious about my culture and were kind to me, who now stood out as the only one who knew the Chinese culture; I tried to teach them Chinese and shared some treats I brought from home. They all loved it; I even won the best presentation award at the end of the day. Since then, I have understood the importance of embracing who I am and will continue to present my culture with pride.
Hi, my name is Bo Yu Wang.
Samiha, The Green School for Girls
To celebrate National Writing Day, I want to share my experiences (as a 12-year-old) of at-home baking and how I’ve come a long way since the start of lockdown. I’ve learnt so many things and tried many different recipes helping me win competitions and expanding my knowledge of baking. I’ve even had the local MP - Ruth Cadbury - judge some of my traditional bakes surrounding my Bangladeshi culture and a fusion of the British part of me as well.
I try to make food from all around the world: for example, I’ve learnt of the many ways to master a French macaron; I found out that the weather effects the shell process, that it needs to set for a long time and how to create the perfect texture.
Many of my bakes are made just for fun and through trial and error I’m able to perfect them by using the knowledge I gain from watching tutorials online and trying new recipes. Over lockdown, I’ve been gradually learning to decorate my bakes and make them look as good as they taste.
This skill could benefit me in the future by helping me build a business out of my passion. I hope to share my experiences and bake for events and for anyone who wants to buy my desserts. It could also help me as a side job; apart from being a doctor, I aspire to become a professional baker so I can make my hobbies part of my life in the future.
Amy, City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College
Though it may be abstract, faith is by far the most concrete article to come out of 2020. There's no doubt in particular moments time has felt everlasting, situations beyond repair and most sufficiently a world far from recovery. At times, I myself would reflect and try to imagine a point where my life wasn't purely controlled by a virus. Whilst I was fearful, terrified of how my future would be altered drastically without my consent, the one concept that kept me striving was faith. From the actions of community's, the kindness apparent in strangers and the recognition that a virus wouldn't stand a chance against seven billion fighters, I'd managed to build up more faith than imaginable. Faith in society, faith in recovery, and most surprisingly, faith in myself.
We've discovered a new world. A place where conflicts, centuries worth of pain, and disputes may not be forgotten, but instead overlooked in the better interest of a humanity fighting an objective beyond our power. Personally, as a young person desperate to see peace fluent in my adult life, I've detected with faith one of the most important life lessons of all. Though there will be moments in my life that feel inescapable, times when I see no pathway of resolution, the real truth is that with faith, anything is possible. Twenty twenty has been an experience, one I admit I wouldn't like to repeat, but I'll forever be thankful for the faith instilled in me from this day forward.
Zara, A’soud Global School
I learnt to cherish the little things,
That would normally hardly matter,
Small things that don’t catch the eye,
Things that don’t usually flatter.
I learnt to cherish the little things,
Like the sparks of light in firecrackers,
Or the raindrops that race against car windows,
The laughs that come with banter.
I learnt to cherish the little things,
The fleeting moments of sadness,
It’s the rainy days that give us love for the sun,
It gives us gratitude and gladness.
I learnt to cherish the little things,
Like how my family is always with me,
Their cupped hands are my stepping stones,
A path in my future of guarantee.
I learn to cherish the little things,
Constantly, continuously learning,
Because roads are sometimes rough and uncharted,
And life is short but full of meaning.
I learn to cherish the little things,
And look forward to my future,
Where more of these evanescent memories,
Await me, growing newer.
Odelle, Hasmonean High School for Girls
Dear Past me,
This is a letter from your future self. Quite cliche of a start, I agree, yet I must note that the cliche is sometimes welcome, especially when all we are given is the abnormal. I’m sure you know this more than I after the year you’ve had - you know many more things than you would have known had you experienced this year of your life in a mundane and way.
You’ve become an impatient inpatient in your own home where you learnt independence independently through your in depth self-study which will only help you indefinitely.
You’ve loathed loneliness leading you to learn that you will be liable to lows and will ultimately to be more loving of your loved ones.
You’ve seen the world be scorched by everything short of the sun itself and survived to sublimely ingest the daily news stories and see suitable changes to be striving for.
This year has not been easy, nor was it particularly fun. But I can assure you that without it you would have never been able to see all the places which you can fit in. You wouldn't have learnt.
With tremendous strides in not spoiling what is to come for you, me, us, I ask one favour of you: Do not learn purely as a means of collecting knowledge, but learn to collect the tools in order to change the world.
Herbert Spencer said it best: “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”