Gauri Kumar and Tan Wan Gee / photo:

The prizes for the junior winner and junior runner-up in The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition at London’s Buckingham Palace on Wednesday (28 Oct) was given to two Singaporean students, Gauri Kumar and Tan Wan Gee, respectively.

Both girls are 14, but they were 13 years old when they submitted their essays. The junior category of the annual competition – themed An Inclusive Commonwealth – is open to those under 14 years old, while the senior category is open to those 14 to 18 years old.

In recognition of their achievement, Gauri and Tan Wan Gee were flown to London to take part in the Winners’ Week, a series of educational and cultural events. They were presented with their certificates by the Duchess of Cornwall on behalf of Queen Elizabeth at a special Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Gauri, a Tanglin Trust School student, wrote an untitled essay which explored the challenge of reconciling different identities after struggling to communicate with her relatives because of a language barrier.

“Language barriers are more than they seem, as anyone who has ever tried to relate to their relatives can attest to,” she wrote.

Language has always been a barrier that has loomed over her and her family in conversations. She uses her English and limited Hindi vocabulary to converse with her grandparents, uncles, and cousins, avoiding questions that are in Hindi and using English to reply.

Her school wrote in its Facebook, “Though Gauri is an avid fiction writer, it was her personal story that gripped the judges. Her account is one that many in Singapore can relate to.”

The runner-up Wan Gee, of Temasek Junior College, was rewarded for her poem, “Are We Really So Different? Dear Santa.”, written in the form of letters to Santa Claus from various people, her poems urge equality for those who do not match society’s expectations.

Wan Gee said the Duchess of Cornwall asked her about the inspiration behind her poem at the event.

“She was incredibly nice,” said Wan Gee.

The Royal Commonwealth Society said in its press release that their essays were chosen from almost 7,500 junior entries before being selected by a judging panel.

The competition is open for participants from Commonwealth countries and also from Hong Kong, Ireland, Gambia, and Zimbabwe. About 13,500 entries were received in this year’s competition.

Inessa Rajah (17) from Durban, South Africa, won the top prize for the senior category, and Esther Mungalaba (19) from Lusaka, Zambia, was the runner-up.

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