Reflecting a rich heritage

THE British Council and the Commonwealth Secretariat recently ran an international short story writing competition based on theme of “Belonging” which received over 3,000 entries from both school children and teachers from Commonwealth countries around the world.

“Bele Bele”, a story by Mohd Sirhajwan Idek from Keningau Vocational College, Sabah, was named as one of the top 10 stories in the teacher’s category. Mohd Sirhajwan’s story is the only one from Southeast Asia to make it to the top 10.

Each Commonwealth country has a rich heritage of storytelling which was refl ected in the competition. Pupils aged seven to 14 years and their teachers were invited to express their experiences and thoughts around the theme in the form of a short story or an illustration.

The competition was judged by children author and former Children’s Laureate, Anne Fine and also by the British Council’s Arts department.

“I valued this opportunity to read stories from so many parts of the world. Few of us realise how deeply our thoughts and attitudes are steeped in our own experience. To read about the more intimate aspects of people’s lives in countries I’d known mostly through political reporting was not just enlightening but at times truly humbling,” Fine said.

“Judging this competition reminded me of its sheer strengths and wonders, as well as making me even more aware of the enormous problems so many nations within it still face. Writing can leave you knowing so much more, both about yourself and about the world that surrounds you,” she added.

“I was inspired to write stories and integrate creative writing into my teaching after being involved in a storybook project initiated by Elizabeth Hope, a teacher trainer for Eltdp (English Language Teacher Development Project) of The British Council in 2012. I believe the project and Commonwealth Class could promote creativity and language skills so I decided to continue the project in my school and named it ‘Wonder Zone’,” Mohd Sirhajwan said.

The Commonwealth Class initiative also enables schools to take part in online debates, competitions and work on projects with the aim of giving young people a unique and hands-on international learning experience based around the Commonwealth family of countries.

“Taking part in the competition reminded me of the signifi cance and beauty of my cultural heritage as someone who grew in a small village of Kota Belud, Sabah. The story that I wrote was an adaptation of Bajau folklore with an inspiring message that everyone could relate to. It was very close to my heart as I represented the Bajau community,” Mohd Sirhajwan said.

“I am planning to incorporate technology into our ‘Wonder Zone’ which I consider as the reinvention of the storybook project launched by the trainers of Eltdp of the British Council in order to meet the need for 21st century education.

“The project aims to develop students’ creativity, writing skills and reading skills in English Language by writing their own short stories, picture books, poems or rhymes.

“The best part of the project is that the students have the chance to share their work with children in primary schools and kindergartens in an interactive and fun manner,” he added.

The winning entries as well as those shortlisted and commended can be accessed via https://schoolsonline. britishcouncil.org/commonwealthclass-story-writing-competition

The winners of the student’s categories will be announced on Jan 23.