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Student from S’pore, 13, makes it to Buckingham Palace after writing thought-provoking poem

What a whirlwind.

Mandy How | November 30, 2018 @ 06:28 pm

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You might remember this poem by Janine Shum:

13-year-old girl writes complex poem that gives voice to S’porean students & Afghanistan girls

If not, it is a poem where Shum takes on two personas — one of a 12-year-old Singaporean girl studying for her PSLEs, and another of a 12-year-old Afghan girl who is to be sold off for marriage.

You can read her award-winning work here:

Source: Fung Sing/Facebook

The genius of this poem is that in can be read three ways: The left column by itself, the right column by itself, and both columns together, from left to right.

And Shum’s delicately crafted words have brought her as far as the Buckingham Palace, where she was subsequently featured on the BBC:

In case you can’t see the video, here’s Shum talking to the Duchess of Cornwall:

Screenshot from BBC

And here she is, receiving the award for The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition from the Duchess herself:

Screenshot from BBC

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is the world’s oldest international schools writing competition.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had previously bagged the same award in the Senior Category (age 14-18).

At the end of the video, Shum’s voiceover says,

“I also came across Malala’s quote: “‘One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.’

And I thought, ‘Well, to someone in Afghanistan that must be very inspirational, because education is such an opportunity.

But for someone in Singapore, they can’t fully relate to that because education is making them feel like they’re invisible and they’re only that number, their grade.”

Meeting someone from Afghanistan

Her art, however, has touched more than the royals.

On Nov. 18, Shum’s mother, Fung Sing, shared an experience where they met an Afghan — or more specifically, a Hazara man — in London, selling pearls at a street market.

Coincidentally, Shum had based her poem on the Hazara people.

Through the course of their conversation, the vendor learnt about Shum’s poem, and teared up talking about the fates of his people.

Here’s an excerpt of what Fung Sing wrote, beginning with the man’s dialogue:

“’There is a lot of suffering. My family is there. I go back to see them… it is dangerous. Two weeks ago, hundreds more of Hazara were killed.’

In my mind’s eye, I saw them. I saw them getting shot, and when I looked up at the man, I was trying not to cry. His eyes were red too.

[…]

‘Not enough people know about the suffering of the Hazara,’ he said. ‘For hundreds of years, we are suffering, we are being wiped out.’

Then he gestured to his sales assistant, who put a pearl necklace around Janine’s neck.

‘This is my gift,’ he said.

‘No, no. Please. I must pay you,’ I said.

‘It is my gift,’ he insisted. He smiled gently at Janine. ‘You wrote about my people; this is for you.’

You can read about their encounter here:

Top image from BBC’s video

About Mandy How

Mandy is a pantry rat. She eats everything in the pantry (except other people's food).

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