For lovers of creative writing, there is nothing more inspirational than spending time celebrating children’s stories. So, when the day for announcing the winners of the second Phoenix Short Stories for Children Competition, and the launch of the Covid-19 story ‘My Hero is You’, arrived last week Friday, everyone who attended this double honour for children were on the edges of their seats throughout the event, paying close attention to proceedings.
As organisers of the joint event, the two of us could not hide our joy as we witnessed events unfolding smoothly. The success of the launch of ‘My Hero is You’ in five Namibian indigenous languages was a real highlight. In addition to appearing in Silozi, Oshiwambo, Herero, Khoekhoegowab and Rukwangali, ‘My Hero is You’ has been translated into over 140 languages, and there are more than 50 adaptations of the story in accessible formats. Adding flavour to the glamorous occasion was the author of ‘My Hero is You’, Helen Patuck, who gave a moving speech on how she conceived the story, and explained the underlying message – ‘how kids can fight Covid-19’. There was no doubt that she is a master of the art in creative writing that appeals to young readers. Helen’s efforts on this occasion were complemented by the coordinators of the local language translations who described their enthusiasm and the excitement, and some challenges they encountered during the whole process. For University of Namibia lecturer Natalia Reino and her student Johannes Kasera, translating ‘My Hero is You’ into Rukwangali gave them the pleasure of contributing to knowledge sharing about Covid-19 pandemic among children in their local language. The joy of reading these stories in different languages was also made possible by the efforts of Loredana Polezzi (Stonybrook University; Honorary professor, Cardiff University), Claire Gorrara (Cardiff University) and Aurelie Wahengo (University of Namibia).
Besides these translations, the Zimbabwe Blind Women Trust facilitated the braille translation of ‘My Hero is You’ for visually impaired young readers so that no one is left out.
As the braille translation was mentioned during the launch, one could see that the participants were emotionally touched.
Of course, this whole event was a ‘double gift’ for children and the overarching event, hosting the launch of ‘My Hero is You’, was the successful Phoenix Short Stories for Children Competition, currently in its second year.
The guest of honour was the well known Namibian writer, historian and librarian Dr Ellen Namhila. Dr Namhila made a wonderful speech recounting her own tale of documenting her parents’ and grandparents’ stories, writing them all down in a black notebook. Her inspirational story brought to reality that we all can write down the stories of our families, the stories of our nations.
Dr Namhila also talked about fire side storytelling when she was younger, and the brightness of the stars and moon on those glorious evenings: she was able to invoke for her audience a truly magical experience. Truly, storytelling and its sense of time and place are often part of the childhood experiences that last to the end of our days, and one of the things of wonder in our lives that sustain us through difficult times.
After very inspirational words, the judges were able to announce the competition winners. These were: Julia Musuuo – ‘George discovers himself in the Great Savannah’ (from Namibia); Nicholas Rawlinson – ‘Draig Ydw Y’ (from Wales); and Zola Dirwai – ‘The Little Plant’ (from Namibia).
Three glorious, heartfelt stories, full of wonder and full of fun! They were pronounced joint winners: there was no overall single winner. If things are equally good, let that be known.
Indeed, the Judges (Tim Davies, Megan Farr, Angela Hofmeyer and Simon Namesho, in addition to this article’s authors) really struggled to get winners down to a mere three! With over 60 entrants and a long list of 15, there were tough decisions to be made, with some extremely good stories in the mix.
Nicholas Rawlinson, one of the winners, quite spontaneously commented: “What an amazing event! Thank you so much, it was an honour to be included. It really was awe-inspiring to listen to the incredible teamwork behind My ‘Hero Is You’, and to hear the thoughts of Helen Patuck, the guest speakers, and the judges. There were so many wonderful comments. I was particularly struck by Dr Namhila’s phrase, “Stories build our character as communities.” The multinational, multicultural community being built by the Phoenix project is a source of great hope.
I’m absolutely thrilled to be one of the winners. I was bowled over by Zola and Julia’s stories, and it was a joy to hear them read. I can’t wait to read the stories in full, and the other entries too.
Congratulations to everyone. What a gift of spirit. I’m sure everyone who shared it can’t wait to pick up a pen and start writing again, to forge those vital connections with ourselves and others.”
Should universities be involved in events like these? We strongly suggest that, yes, they must. Writing is a core skill for adults in learning. Imagination and creation are core skills for adults in learning. Logical construction is a core skill for adults in learning.
Higher education is not just about STEM subjects - arts, humanities and social sciences are accessible, practical subjects that offer these core skills too and benefit our whole society.
And storytelling? Storytelling also embodies these skills and is not to be neglected. Many universities these days prioritise ‘Semester Zero’ type professional student skills, and we honestly think that as part of this time, all students of all backgrounds should be asked to write stories. There are different but plentiful heritages to draw upon from all nations.
In short, these developments attest to the wonderful results of truly international collaborative efforts of institutions and stakeholders focusing on children’s literature.