Young writers finding their voice through contest
One of the messages of the tenth annual Samoa Observer Tusitala Short Story competition was that, for young authors, the writing process is as much about finding their own voice as crafting a story.
Young writers submitted entries in English and Samoan and in categories across Years 4-8 and Years 9-13 on the theme: “Journey or Malaga.”
A ceremony to mark the occasion was held on Wednesday at the Samoa Stationery and Books (S.S.A.B.) conference room.
Former Samoa Observer Editor, Mata'afa Keni Lesa said that the competition was founded by the Samoa Observer Editor-in-Chief, Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa with hopes to boost children’s reading and writing skills.
Attendees included the Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, Emily Luck, S.S.A.B. Chief Executive Officer, Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai, Vodafone Samoa CEO, Nofoasaefa Satish Kumar and Samoa Observer Editor (Development), Alexander Rheeney.
The winner of the Year 13 English category was Samoa College’s Head Girl, Mareta Aaone Malifa, with a short story titled: “This Is It.”
“I am surprised that I won the short story competition because my father encouraged me to try,” she said.
“I wrote about my journey story about every draft I wrote a week before the deadline. I chose the title ‘this is it’ because my story was the final draft because if I wasn’t going to finish it then I would not submit a story and around three thousand words.
“For every draft I wrote, I discovered something new about myself and then I wrote about it…but hopefully people who read it will find out that by writing, they’re just discovering something new about themselves.”
The 17-year-old from Tanugamanono and Afega also encouraged other writers to just finish their stories before appraising the quality of their work.
“I thank both my parents –Fuatia and Fata Pito Malifa and my friend Bronwyn and also my sisters.”
The Principal of Itu-o-Tane College, Allie Faletolu told this newspaper that their school had seven winners which is an improvement compared to last year.
Mr. Faletolu acknowledged the sponsors and the founder of the short story competition for initiating a significant idea for young writers to write not only in the English and Samoa languages.
Furthermore, he said their team of student winners travelled all the way from the big island of Savaii.
“We woke up around 2 am then the bus ride took about an hour and a half from Itu-o-Tane to Salelologa [for the ferry] and arrived at the venue by 8 am.
“[I admit it] is not enjoyable but it comes with the guts and courage to get here and if it is where your interest and heart is, you will enjoy it and never think about the difficulties of long bus rides and [ferry trips].”
The Head Judge for the competition, Silafau Professor Sina Vaai, is a Professor of English at the National University of Samoa said that the competition celebrates ten years of its journey.
“How time flies when you’re doing what you love," she said.
Silafau said over the past several years the short story competition has been embraced by enthusiastic principals, teachers and students, and parents keen to see their children succeed in their learning journey.
She congratulated all the students that entered the competition on behalf of other judges.
Professor Silafau clarified that the story entries were identified by code numbers therefore the judges do not know of the writer and school names to ensure no biased marking.
Some of the entries included stories which were written by adult writers, she said.
“On behalf of the judges, I would like to say well done, malo lava for taking up this challenge and completing this task and doing well," Ms. Luck said.
The Australian High Commissioner to Samoa, Emily Luck said that the event is to celebrate the achievements of the contest winners and to encourage mastery of the written word more broadly.
Ms. Luck said that the short story competition is in its tenth year and it is inspiring to see it grow with 762 students from schools across Upolu and Savaii participating this year.
She commended the Samoa Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Gatoaitele Savea Sano Malifa and Samoa Observer Publisher, Muliaga Jean Malifa for this initiative to encourage young people to read and write for pleasure and provide them an opportunity to write freely and express themselves on paper.
“Judging this year’s entries cannot have been an easy task – I do not envy the judges and their difficult job in choosing this year’s winners,” said Ms. Luck.
The Australian High Commissioner acknowledged the teachers and parents of participants.
"Surely beside every inspired student is an inspiring teacher or parent," she said.
“I would also like to commend the sponsors for their ongoing commitment to the promotion of childhood literacy.
“What a great theme for this year’s competition: malaga or journey.
“For many of us, our lives have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and border closures have prevented us from travelling freely.
“I have been told that many of the entries took up the challenge to use their imagination to write on a journey in the past, present, or future. That's the joy of imagination…even though we can’t travel right now, our imagination, descriptive writing can take us anywhere.”
She said that Australia supports improved learning outcomes for all Samoan students through the Education Sector Support Programme.
“It is a programme which commits over AUD$15 million to the Samoan Education Sector over four years. Literacy is one of the priority areas of this programme," the High Commissioner said.
“Literacy is one of the key foundation blocks of any Education System. It goes far beyond learning how to read and write for the purposes of completing educational requirements. It plays a vital role in transforming school students into socially engaged citizens and improves livelihoods. U.N.E.S.C.O.. describes this as the ‘multiplier effect’ of literacy.
“Take for example our hosts here today – where would the Samoa Observer be without its talented team of writers and thinkers. This too could be you one day.”
Ms. Luck said a final word of encouragement, “let me leave you with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi on the importance of lifelong learning… ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.’”
The S.S.A.B. Chief Executive Officer, Tofilau Fiti Leung Wai said that high literacy rates correlates with prosperity and less crime in a society.
“So if our children are well educated, then I believe Samoa will continue to prosper and be stable in the coming years,” said Tofilau.
She said that supporting any competition that promotes literacy is an honour and privilege for her.
“You see, not everyone can or would want to be lawyers, doctors, accountants etc. Others can choose writing as a career, like our aspiring young authors who have submitted short stories to this competition.
“Writing enables us to look deep within our souls and explore and also reflect on our different journeys; like the theme of this year’s competition.
“It can bring out the best of memories that may have been forgotten if it wasn’t for writing. Yes, we can have accountants and economists, but it is the arts such as writing that not only promotes creativity, encourages critical thinking but also helps us remember and have a record of some of the best things that happened to us; like what you have written now on your different journeys!”
Tofilau said that writing is your voice!
“It is your voice and message not just to our Samoan readers here at home but also to the whole wide world!
“Imagine that; you reaching out and speaking to the world through your writing! That’s why some people who are writers also get famous; their message and stories reach the world!
“To the other sponsors of this competition: Eveni Carruthers, Vodafone Samoa and thank you for coming on board to share Samoa Observer’s passion.”
She also thanked the Samoa Observer, “for your persistence and passion.”
“You have given the opportunity to our young writers every year to have their voices heard through their stories.”
The short story competition was sponsored by S.S.A.B., Eveni Carruthers, and Vodafone Samoa.
The judges for the competition include: Fitimaula Donna Ioane, Papalii Momoe Von Reiche and Silafau Professor Sina Vaai, Jenny Bennett-Tuionetoa.
A total of 762 entries were received from 78 schools both primary and college with 25 entries sent via email.
The Upolu Island sent 606 entries which accounts to 80 per cent of the total entries while 156 entries from Savaii which was 20 per cent.
However, 41 winners were from Upolu and 19 from Savaii. In addition, 67 per cent or 40 winners were females while 20 winners were male.
Vaiala Beach had the most entries for a primary school with 101 while Itu-o-Tane College had the most entries for secondary school with 73.
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