Tag Archives: The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition

Writing in the library

Charity’s writing tips

Entries for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition close on 1st June.

If you’re struggling with your entry, help is here! 2018 Gold Award-winner Charity, 19, from Kenya shares her top tips for making your essay the best it can be:



There are four topics to choose from. What’s the best way to decide which one to write about?

Choose the topic that you understand best. One which falls closest to home, that you have sufficient information on. Research can also be done to get information on the questions and feel comfortable with them.

Do you have any tips to help you think around the topic you choose?

Firstly, research. Get as much knowledge as you can from books, the internet, people and other sources. Then own the situation given in the question; think of how you as a person could be affected by the topic in question (such as corruption, child labour e.t.c). Make it personal and outline what you would feel about it. Share your emotions as these move readers.

Friends can also be a source of motivation – you can motivate each other to enter the competition. This adds fun to the process. I entered at the same time as a couple of my friends.

Presentation is important – how can you ensure your writing is well presented?

My trick for this is simplicity. Someone once said that simplicity is elegance and this is true even in the presentation of written work. Avoid mixing fonts and putting words in bold in the body of your entry. Only use bold  for the title and the characters (if you are writing a script). The choice of font is also very important. Choose one that is easily read.

Also, space out your work. The distinction between points should be clearly defined. Usage of paragraphs can assist in this. Spacing ensures that your work is decluttered and appealing to the eye.

However, with all this being said, remember that follow instructions is crucial. If a specified presentation format is given, follow that. You donʼt want your entry to end up disqualified.

How can teachers, librarians or even friends help?

They can help by supporting you. This includes providing you with the resources necessary for the submission of the entry (such as an internet connection for electronic entries, or the materials required for mailing). They can also serve as a sounding board; present your ideas to them and together you can decide on what to improve on and what remains unchanged. Friends can also be a source of motivation – you can motivate each other to enter the competition. This adds fun to the process. I entered at the same time as a couple of my friends.

Reading books makes people learn from writers who have been successful in their writing and publication.

How do you think reading books can help?

Reading books makes people learn from writers who have been successful in their writing and publication. One can learn numerous writing styles from different authors. How they construct sentences, how they portray characters, what type of formats they use, how they capture their reading audiences and many more. They can then adapt some of these in their writing.

Reading books also helps one grow individually. This is especially from reading self-help books and motivational ones. Their approach to situations in life change and they see things from other perspectives. This grows a writer as they are able to diversify their writing.

Do entrants have to submit an essay; can you write a poem or script instead?

Not at all! There is a pool of choices to decide from. One can write an essay or a script, a poem, a story just the one they feel most confident in, as long as they keep writing in accordance to the topic chosen. The works of past winners can outline this perfectly.

I recently read a tweet that says,”creativity is a muscle that should be exercised daily, to get results.” Exercise that writing muscle.

What tips do you have for someone wanting to improve their writing skills generally?

They should ensure that they write as much as they can. Daily if possible. This will improve on their skills, way of thinking, usage of language and projection of ideas. I recently read a tweet that says,”creativity is a muscle that should be exercised daily, to get results.” Exercise that writing muscle. They should also strive to read as much as they can and do this diversely. Choose books from a wide scope of varieties and challenge themselves with something new- learn from already established writers.

What’s your top tip for making sure your entry is as brilliant as it can possibly be?

This is easy; write from the heart. Understand your entry utterly and completely. Ask yourself, fictional or non-fictional, can you defend the works of your mind in front of a group of people? Would you be touched by your writing if you were the reader in case? Is your work compelling? If yes, you are good to go, if no, improvements can be done.

If you are over 18 years old, there is the Short Story Competition by the Commonwealth too, so the journey continues.

Is there anything other writing advice you would like to share?

It is okay to be displeased with your work, what is not okay is doing nothing about it. Have the drive to strive to better yourself and your works in all ways. Also, itʼs imperative to understand that your best work could not be the very best from another personʼs point of view, and that is fine. Just as you have best reads and other not-so-good reads. Itʼs like the saying goes, “one manʼs meat is another manʼs poison.” So believe in yourself first. Seek approval from yourself first. One last thing, if you are over 18 years old, there is the Short Story Competition by the Commonwealth too, so the journey continues. All the best in your writing, change the world!


Entries for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition close on 1st June. Find out more about the competition and how to enter using the links below.


Pupils perform at International Literacy Day celebrations in Kenya

Spreading the joy of reading across the world

At London Book Fair, our Head of Programmes Samantha Thomas-Chuula joined Cheltenham Festivals’ Education Director Ali Mawle and The Royal Commonwealth Society Africa’s Regional Youth Coordinator Gideon Commey on a panel discussing the transformative effect that reading for pleasure can have on disadvantaged communities – and how to introduce more people to the joy of reading.

Here, we share some of the key takeaways from their conversation which was led by Jake Hope, Chair of the Youth Libraries Group.


Reading promotion panel
L-R Ali Mawle, Samantha Thomas-Chuula, Gideon Commey and Jake Hope

A love of reading in children and young people can be ignited by a love of reading in their teachers

Cheltenham Festivals’ innovative Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils scheme particularly targets communities where fewer children have reading role models at home. To overcome this challenge, the scheme gives teachers the skills and tools to become reading role models in the classroom. It creates networks of teachers’ reading groups, giving teachers the time and space to discuss the books they are reading. The idea is to ignite (or reignite) a love for books and reading in the teachers – which in turn impacts the children they teach.

Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils at Linden School
A teacher and pupils from Linden School discuss a book as part of the Reading Teachers = Reading Pupils scheme

It is not enough to just have books available – people need to know they are there and why they are useful.

When Book Aid International’s partners in Africa hold International Literacy Day celebrations, they invite people from all sections of the community to attend so they can see what the library and its books make possible, changing perceptions about reading and the library. Parents learn how they can support their children with reading, teachers are introduced to the fact that they can bring their class for reading activities. Libraries often report an increase in usage after these events.

Writing can also promote reading.

Reading plays a key part in entrants’ preparations for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition. Young people are encouraged by their teachers to read more to improve their writing skills before they write their entry for the competition. In addition, taking part in the competition often increases young people’s determination to succeed and as a result, they are often more motivated to read.

The impact of giving the right book to the right child can be life changing.

Through Cheltenham Festivals’ Reading Teachers, Reading Pupils scheme, a pupil who was at risk of exclusion was introduced by his teacher to a book they thought he would enjoy and he was hooked! Today, he is still in school and has set up a lunchtime reading club with friends.

Reading aloud
A pupils reads aloud to her class in Ghana

Books and reading can empower young people to drive change.

The current generation of young people in Africa (where 60% of people are under 25) are a vibrant constituency who are working for change. In Ghana, many young people are setting up their own initiatives to give more people access to books. They are building libraries, creating mobile libraries, developing reading apps as well as simply visiting villages with books. Young people are realising how books have empowered them and are now seeking to give that same opportunity to more people.

Reading promotion events can empower librarians.

Reading promotion events not only change communities’ perceptions about the local library but the librarians that run them too. Local children point librarians out to their parents, teachers consult them for advice. This has a knock on effect – feeling more valued, librarians become more confident and approach their work with more creativity and innovation.


School pupils taking part in Kate Greenaway Shadowing
Every year, pupils in schools across the world read and discuss the books on the Carnegie and Greenaway Medal shortlists

Showing people the benefits of books and reading can bring change in various sections of a community.

As a result of attending reading promotion events or taking part in reading-focussed programmes, schools are setting up their own school libraries and asking their local libraries for help and advice; teachers are using books in their classrooms in new ways and libraries are even attracting additional funding from local government.

Do One Thing!

Everyone can Do One Thing, however small, to help promote reading in their community. Here are a few ideas:

  • Integrate books and reading into what you are already doing. If you’re a teacher, make your lessons more fun with books. If you hold an event, get local authors involved.
  • Get reading with children! There are many organisations that you can volunteer with such as Beanstalk.
  • Hold a ‘bookraise’ on Facebook in which people who have books they no longer need can pleage and donate them. Collect the books and distribute them to people and schools you identify as needing books.

We would like to thank Ali, Gideon and Jake for participating in the panel with us. You can find out more about Reading Teachers=Reading Pupils here, the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition here and the Youth Libraries Group here.


Ghanaian village

Gideon’s story

Meet Gideon Commey, Royal Commonwealth Society Africa’s Regional Youth Coordinator. Gideon grew up in rural Ghana attending a school with no access to books other than the textbook his teacher used in class. Today, he is studying for an MSc at University College London. He hopes to one day become a research activist advising the Ghanaian government on environmental policies.

Gideon believes in the power of books and he will be sharing some of his personal insights and experiences at our London Book Fair seminar discussing the transformative power that books can have on disadvantaged communities. He talked to us about how books helped him get to where he is today and how he believes books and initiatives like the RCS’s Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition can help change the lives of more young people across the world.


Gideon Commey
Gideon in our warehouse

I grew up in a village in Ghana, in the Brong Ahafo region which is more than 12 hours journey from Accra the capital city. All my basic education was in the village and I never got any books to read. Just a textbook in school and even then you don’t get hold of it– the teacher just teaches you from it. So you don’t read anything apart from the notes you take in class.

It is difficult for children growing up in the villages in Ghana. Even if a kid gets into school, a lot of schools are under-resourced – few learning materials, teachers who live too far away to travel to school every day. Yet they are supposed to write the same school examinations as children who are in the best schools. And how do you compete with them? You can’t, you are limited. Without reading something extra, you can’t do anything. Thousands of people [in Ghana] are limited because they can’t crack a book open.


Market in Accra
A market in Accra

How did things change for you?

My dad got transferred to Accra when I was about to enter high school. Because he was an Anglican Priest, he got me into an Anglican school called Adisadel College. I probably also got in because I performed well in the Basic Education Certificate Examination which I wrote in a local school in Accra. And that was the first time I was able to read a book. The first book I read from cover to cover was Things Fall Apart and I was almost 16.

I struggled for the three years that I was in that school because I didn’t have any foundation to build on – there was some basic things that I didn’t know. Even English construction. But I had an interest in books – I wanted to really know more. So I began to fall in love with books. Then, when I graduated and I went to the University of Ghana, that was where my life really changed because we had a huge library. You could spend hours reading.

Then, when I graduated and I went to the University of Ghana, that was where my life really changed because we had a huge library. You could spend hours reading.

It was amazing and I think that’s what shaped my life.

I had a very transforming experience in 2007– I went to Keta, a community in the Volta Region of Ghana and I saw sea level rise as a result of climate change. The sea had taken away a lot of housing but I didn’t understand the phenomenon. I came back to university to do some research on it and watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. That really inspired me to do something about the situation.

I read a lot of books and they transformed my thinking.

I founded the Ghana Youth Environment Movement to advocate on environmental sustainability and empower other young people with the tools to take action on behalf of the environment. I would say that was the vehicle of gaining a scholarship to study here in the UK because the scholarship was based on impact you have had in your local community, not just academic performance. It amazes me sometimes because of where I’ve come from. And it’s just because of reading books and getting to know more.

It amazes me sometimes because of where I’ve come from. And it’s just because of reading books and getting to know more.

Where do you think you would be now if you hadn’t had that opportunity to learn and read when you were younger?

Without books, today I’d probably be a hawker somewhere who thinks I am at the mercy of any political decision that happens around me, I can’t change anything. The hopelessness. Because I wouldn’t see beyond the walls of my environment, I’ll be stuck within that small space.

But books are universal. If you are able to grab it in a village in Ghana and somebody grabs it New York or London, you are on the same level. So they are really transforming.

As part of your role as RCS Africa’s Regional Youth Coordinator, you encourage young people to take part in the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition. What difference do you see the competition –and books – making in the lives of young people in Ghana today?

I think the essay competition is a really very powerful tool. Before, all the entries in Ghana were from international schools. Last year was a breakthrough from us because some schools from the villages participated and they won prizes so that shows you the potential there. If they are getting the resources, they can compete with the best schools anywhere in the world.

I feel that these are the kids we want to get to in the villages [with the essay competition] because when those kids begin to read books it changes their world view, it empowers them. That kid may have no electricity at home, no opportunity to read the news or even listen to the radio but a book can give them the passion, the power, the ability to dream, at least about the solution to their problems and for me, that’s a good step.

That’s what the essay competition can do – it gets the opportunity out there for these children and motivates them.

What hopes do you have for their futures, especially those in rural communities?

I basically put myself in their shoes; how I went through the system. I don’t expect it to be easy for them but I think you use a very important word – hope. In the mist of uncertainty, it is the most important asset. The kids studying in international schools in Ghana are no better than village kids so I have very high aspirations for them. They want to become pilots, they want to become doctors, because that’s what they’ve read in books and they know it is possible. If I have been able to come from that background, then any kid anywhere that gets a little support can do the same. They will make it with hope, but we need to give them the opportunity to overcome their challenges and that is what things like the essay competition and access to books can do.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is open to any young person aged 18 or under living in a Commonwealth country. Entries for this year’s competition close on 1st June. To find out more about the competition and how to enter, click here.

Thanks to the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we’re expanding our work in Ghana – providing more books for children across the country like Gideon. Player have provided £1.85m for our cause so far – and we cannot thank them enough for their support! Find out more

Header image: photo by Lapping on Pixabay.


London Book Fair seminar

Join us at London Book Fair!

Cheltenham Festivals and Book Aid International join forces to show the transformative power of reading in London Book Fair seminar.

If you’re heading to London Book Fair in March, don’t miss our seminar with Cheltenham Festivals’ Education team:

Sharing the transformative power of reading for pleasure in disadvantaged communities

When: 14:30 – 15:30, Thursday 14th March
Where: High Street Theatre

Our Head of Programmes Samantha Thomas-Chuula and Cheltenham Festivals’ Director of Education, Ali Mawle will be joined by the Regional Youth Coordinator for the Royal Commonwealth Society Africa, Gideon Commey. Together they will discuss practical ways that people and organisations in the broader book industry and beyond can work together to overcome the barriers to reading that exist in disadvantaged communities.

Chaired by reading development and children’s books consultant Jake Hope, the panel will share first-hand experiences as they will look at how reading promotion in all its forms from literature festivals and prestigious book awards to school reading initiatives and library book clubs, can keep reading for pleasure on a nation’s agenda and give more people and communities access to the transformational power of books.

For more information, visit the London Book Fair website.


Young writers in Zambia

Write it out!

Submissions for the annual Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition close on 1st June –  in less than two months time!

This writing competition offers all young people in the Commonwealth aged 18 and under the chance to express their hopes for the future, opinions of the present and thoughts on the past through writing. It is a great way for talented young writers you work with to develop their skills and build their confidence.


A writer in Cameroon


This year, organisers of the competition are particularly keen to hear from talented young African writers from a variety of backgrounds.

We spoke to 19-year-old Zambian student Esther Mugalaba, a 2016 runner up, who told us why taking part in the competition is such a worthwhile thing to do:

Esther, one of the 2016 runners up

“To quote T-Nehisi Coates,

The best part of writing is not the communication of knowledge to other people but the acquisition and synthesizing of knowledge for oneself.

Writing, especially competitively, pushes you to dig for information on subjects that you may have otherwise never thought to look out for on your own. This is great because as part of the process, you begin to form valid opinions on so many different things and adopt well-informed views of the world, the importance of which, cannot be overemphasied.

If you have heard about the competition and have thought that you could never write anything good enough to be appreciated or noticed, chances are you are grossly underestimating yourself.

Write it out. Write that poem, write that essay, write that article. Amazing things just may come of it.

You might discover a talent or a passion that will forever define who you are and what your contribution to this world is.”


We hope that you and the young people you work with are inspired to take part. Find out more about the competition and to take part, use the links below.

Writing at Rwinkwavu Community Library

Getting young people’s voices heard

The 2018 Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is now open for submissions!

The competition offers all Commonwealth youth the opportunity to express their hopes for the future, their opinions on the present and thoughts on the past.

This year, the organisers are particularly keen to hear from talented young African writers of all backgrounds – such as those in your schools and libraries!

Here, Coral Fleming from the Royal Commonwealth Society tells us more about the awards and why you should encourage your readers to take part:


Can you tell us a little bit about the awards?

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is used by individuals and teachers to build confidence, develop writing skills, support creativity and encourage critical thinking, using literacy to empower young people to become global citizens.


A young writer in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
A young writer in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Young people from all walks of life are encouraged to enter the competition.


The competition is open to all citizens and residents 18 and under from Commonwealth countries and to residents of Zimbabwe. That means if you are under 18 and from Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia or Zimbabwe, this competition is for you!

Not everyone can win – what are the benefits of entering for those who don’t win?

This competition is a fantastic way for pupils to develop their writing skills outside of schoolwork. We guarantee that every young writer who submits their entry correctly will have their piece read by a judge somewhere in the Commonwealth and will receive a Certificate of Participation.


2017 participants in Nigeria
Everyone who enters the competition will receive a Certificate of Participation, like these students at Abesan Junior College in Nigeria


You will also have the chance to win a Gold, Silver or Bronze Award (which will be shown on your Certificate) – a great confidence boost and perfect for job or further education applications.

Why are you so keen to have entrants from Africa?

The talent of African writers is undeniable; from Kenya’s Grace Ogot to Sierra Leone’s Ishmael Beah, there are so many amazing authors out there.

Every writer started out as a young person with thoughts in their head, dreams in their heart and a pen in their hand. We want to take the African potential and turn it into the next generation of brilliant writers. We want to be part of that journey.

The 2017 awards ceremony took place recently, can you tell us a bit about it?

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition Awards Ceremony was held at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday 21st November. Our four 2017 winners from across the Commonwealth were Annika from Australia, Ariadna from Canada, Hiya from India and Ry from London.


2017 winners
The 2017 winners were presented with their certificates by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. Photo credit: Fergus Burnett


HRH The Duchess of Cornwall presented the winners with their certificates along with their prizes – more than ten books each, generously donated by award winning authors! David Walliams, Anne Fine OBE, Zen Cho and Gyles Brandreth read excerpts of the winning poems and stories alongside the presentation.

The 2018 competition is now open. How can young writers get involved?

After a successful Awards Ceremony we are delighted to launch the 2018 Competition – on the theme of Towards a Common Future. If you like to write and want to share your take on current affairs, click here for more information about the competition and how to enter.