Commonwealth essay competition

Commonwealth essay competition: A poetic take on the world's problems

Tan Wan Gee's poem beat thousands of other works to take second spot in the junior category of The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition 2016.
Tan Wan Gee's poem beat thousands of other works to take second spot in the junior category of The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition 2016.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Temasek JC student pens letter to Santa asking not for presents but equality for those discriminated against

One might almost be forgiven for mistaking student Tan Wan Gee's letter to Santa Claus as the mere musings of a child.

Beginning with "Dear Santa", just as any essential Christmas checklist would, the letter revealed Wan Gee's innermost desires. But instead of asking for presents or Christmas decorations, the 14-year-old was wishing for equality.

Last month, her poem beat thousands of other works to win a top prize in the world's oldest international schools writing competition. Writing about discrimination, the Temasek Junior College student came in runner-up in the junior category of The Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition 2016.

It is not difficult to see why.

TAKING A STAND

If we forever fear the backlash for speaking out for what we believe in, then there will never be progress in society.

TAN WAN GEE, who speaks up unabashedly for those discriminated around the world.

In her striking poem, Wan Gee highlights the world's problems through poetry. In each stanza, she questions issues like the discrimination against various groups, such as rape victims, around the world.

Wan Gee wanted to speak out against discrimination after seeing it being reported in the news.

While walking home in Bedok early this year, Wan Gee witnessed a woman insulting foreign construction workers who were resting by the roadside.

"The woman passed by and gave them a stare, and insulted them under her breath," said Wan Gee.

On TV, when she saw how some Muslims in the United Kingdom were asked to "get out of the country" following the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments, she decided to respond with poetry instead.

  • Excerpt from Tan Wan Gee's entry

  • Are We Really So Different?

    Dear Santa,

    All we want for Christmas,

    is equality.

    Equality

    for those deemed inferior,

    for those deemed unworthy,

    for those deemed shameful,

    for those deemed loathsome,

    just because they do not match society's expectations.

    Difference is a

    mere

    construct

    of our intolerance

    and

    fear

    of what we do not find

    familiar.

    At the end of the day,

    we all share

    the same blood

    the same flesh

    the same origins,

    the same term of

    human.

    Are we really that different after all?

Writing about the onslaught of global Islamophobia in a part of her poem, Wan Gee pens her thoughts from the perspective of a Muslim woman. "I wanted to show that it is not fair to associate everyone with a terrorist just because of the actions of a few extremists," she said. "Especially with the recent terror attacks, fear has been on the rise, sparking a new wave of discrimination against Muslims."

Wan Gee speaks up unabashedly for those discriminated around the world. "If we forever fear the backlash for speaking out for what we believe in, then there will never be progress in society," she added.

The student had planned her poem meticulously, dividing her work into various segments, as a visual reflection of how these issues have divided the world, she said. She also wrote about body-shaming, the pursuit of grades and a range of issues that she considers "touchy".

Braving sensitive topics, Wan Gee had always been a good writer, said her teacher, Ms Kwan Kah Wai, who is the school's head of department for student leadership. "Wan Gee writes with a level of maturity beyond her years. Her writing reflects depth of thought and a sensitivity towards issues that she cares strongly about," she added.

Wan Gee started writing poetry after being exposed to literary modules in school. "Before that, I did not like poetry much," she said. "Through the modules, I discovered poetry is not just about rhyme schemes and I began writing.

"Poetry opened up a way for me to express myself on how I feel about the world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'A poetic take on the world's problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe