Two Singaporeans win in Commonwealth essay competition

This article is more than 12 months old

They took part in Queen's Commonwealth contest

As a primary school pupil, Janine Shum felt like she was invisible.

Her grades were not outstanding, she said, and nor was she particularly talented in sports or music.

So when she decided to enter the Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition this year, it was this experience she drew on - and the authenticity of it scored her the title of junior winner.

Janine, 13, a first-year student in National Junior College's Integrated Programme, submitted a poem written from the perspectives of an Afghan girl and a Singaporean girl.

She said she tried to encapsulate the issues both characters face - the Afghan girl faces persecution for her pursuit of education, while the Singaporean girl feels stifled and lost in the race towards perfection.

Janine said: "They both feel 'disempowered' in different ways. But what they need is the same - to be loved and heard, and to have a good, kind education system to help them grow and be nurtured as a person."

The Singaporean character, she said, came from the heart.

Dr Diana Owen, director-general of the non-profit Royal Over-Seas League and chair of the panel of judges for the junior category, said: "(Janine) gets into the mind of someone in a war-torn country as well as her own and has created a complex structure that works at both levels. It is technically remarkable with a mature, subtle and political approach."

Of the four winners selected out of 12,000 participants this year, two were Singaporean - Janine and 16-year-old Ng Woon Neng, who was runner-up in the senior category.

The other two winners were girls from Pakistan and Canada. The competition has been run by The Royal Commonwealth Society since 1883.

Woon Neng, a Nanyang Girls' High School student, submitted a short story on her view of wealth, health, freedom and happiness.

To her, wealth looks like an impeccably dressed businessman.

Health is an average teenager, Freedom is personified by a fatigued war veteran and happiness takes the form of a child.

Said Woon Neng: "I believe that being happy makes life worthwhile, but it is also a choice.

"That is not to say we do not chase after dreams for more, but perhaps we should also first recognise we do have enough."

The winners will get a free trip to London next month for a week of educational and cultural events, including an award ceremony at Buckingham Palace.