After careful consideration of each wonderful piece of writing submitted to the competition, we have concluded our winners.
1st Place: Sharon Mala, La Chataigneraie
2nd Place: Leyla Bellare, Campus des Nations
3rd Place: Yala Feikin, La Chataigneraie
Congratulations! You will soon receive your prize from a member of our team at your respective campus.
We are also delighted to announce that we have selected two runner-ups, whose excellent pieces we would also like to showcase. Congratulations to both Yeon Ji Oh and an anonymous submission from La Grande Boissière!
Thank you to everyone for reflecting on the theme: Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. This is a core part of what our Foundation stands for and it was a pleasure to see students engage.
You may read the winners’ pieces below:
Sharon Mala – What Is Justice?
What is justice?
One step forward
Seventy-five steps back
Shattering our plate over and over
Apologizing to its irreparable fractures,
Over and over
Until you can‘t breathe.
What is justice?
Making up for our roots being cleaved
Our lack of family tree
Derek Chauvin’s knee.
Forty years caged making up for four hundred in captivity
Forty years caged making up for the top of a 6-year-olds world
Lynched away from her.
What is justice?
A scale built from the centuries of whips and shackles,
A scale built from the strange fruit hung from southern trees,
A scale built from staying aware, knowing their guns don’t play fair
A scale with no point of balance.
What is justice?
One shot for the arrest
Second shot for the court date
Third shot for the gavel
Jury’s permanent verdict.
Justice is the surface of a fathomless ocean,
Justice is our fight to keep swimming
Despite our fated drowning,
Despite our airways being systematically blocked,
Justice is knowing this is the only path for the unending road to freedom.
OUR STORY – Leyla Bellare
In May of 2012, I was outed to my entire school. I had been emailing Luna, surrounded by my small group of friends sitting on the library floor. She had been bullied out of school a couple of months ago after she had come out, disappearing from her home suddenly one night. A few weeks before we had gotten into contact and she told me she had run away to a youth shelter where she now stayed. We emailed each other often, talking about everything: books, how we were feeling, or the topics we could never openly discuss at school. She would always rant essays about making the world see life from her perspective and I would always complain and update her on what was going on at school. I had talked so loud that day, thinking nobody would hear me—that nobody would pay attention to us as I told my friends about her latest email laughing. But at school, rumors spread like wildfire.
That afternoon there was tension and whispers throughout the halls—at first nothing noticeable. It started with small comments in the corridors indirectly thrown at me. I had ignored them, but soon enough that led to being shoved in the hallways, notes stuck in my locker and slurs yelled in the hallways. My friends began to distance themselves from me, afraid they too would soon be subject to harassment if they continued hanging around me. My home life grew increasingly tense as my parents learned of my new hobby: skipping classes—although they never knew it was to hide from the students who tormented me the most.
On the 23rd of July only two short months after the comments began, a boy in my history class grabbed a chunk of my hair from the back of my head when the teacher left the room. He had pulled on it violently, the back of my head jerking back and smashing into his table as he looked down at me. My classmates stayed silent, watching. Nobody dared to say a word. Not even me.
He told me, “You should look more like a d*ke if you are one—dontcha think?” He had taken out his scissors and put the cold metal to my scalp. I heard a sharp snip as the tension on my head released. I turned slowly to watch blankly as a lock of my long, thick, black hair drifted listlessly to the floor, my stomach churning violently. The teacher had reentered the silent classroom then, and I sat in silence saying nothing.
After that, I was sent to the nurse, although my teacher said nothing about the lock of hair on the floor. My mother had picked me up, fussing over the short patch of hair at the back of my head and shooting me accusing questions as I stayed quiet.
As we walked through the school doors I heard a student call from down the hall: “Being a d*ke is a sin! What kind of mother are you supporting your daughter like that?”
That night my parents had screamed at me, grabbed me and cried in my face. They asked me: “Didn’t we raise you better? Were we not good enough for you?”
“You’re a filthy sinner.” My mother had hissed inches away from my face after a burst of tears seconds before. I had torn myself away to hide in my room, scared of what could happen to me and knowing I was in danger. As I sat in my room I wrote Luna. Then, I got up, packed my bags and shaved my head, leaving my long black hair in a pile on the bathroom floor for my parents to find.
As I walked out the backdoor of my house I left my life behind, bringing only my necessities and a flickering hope that my parents would come to find me, take me back home and tell me they loved me. But they didn’t come to find me.
I found Luna at the youth home where I lived for my two remaining high school years, choosing to go to community college afterwards. My parents never bothered to look for me so I struggled alone. With money. With housing. With my will to live. Although my parents never looked for me, my old classmates did. They would find me everywhere to call me slurs, to laugh and harass me. That part never stopped.
Ro stared out into the audience, the weighted silence filled with unsaid words. There was no applause for the first part of her speech as she slowly scanned the room struggling to gauge everyone’s expressions. She knew the reaction she would get, yet she felt a pang in her chest that her story and suffering wasn’t enough to get a visible reaction out of anyone. Some shifted uncomfortably while many in the back audibly snickered as the silence stretched longer. The teachers leaned against the walls, their expressions unreadable.
“On the night I ran away, I was mad. I was angry at Luna for leaving the school, for if she had never left I would have never been in that situation, I would have never been outed or been disgusting to my classmates and parents. Yet as I sat in my room alone that night before running away I began to think about what she had always said, ‘It’s not our fault we were born the way we are and yet we are shamed by society for it. It’s our school—it’s our parents who should be ashamed. We aren’t to blame for how we love, yet in their eyes, we are still at fault for everything we did not choose.’”
Ro looked up from where she stood on the stage and was startled as she caught sight of herself projected on the big grainy screens on either side of her. She looked so different than she had 7 years ago. Her hair was still buzzed short, unchanged since running away. Tattoos now covered her thin arms and chest, her nose and cheekbones still angled and sharp. But now she held herself differently, more confidently, yet at the same time despondently. As she blinked, she could almost see Luna standing next to her where she always was, that smile she wore when she was about to prove somebody wrong darting across her face as she scanned the audience, her thick dreads swaying around her shoulders as she bounced from foot to foot.
Ro blinked again pushing the image out of her mind and turned back. “Our world needs to change. People who are different from society’s norm live in fear of the mental and physical abuse they could and do endure. I know that fear all too well. The environment you learn in and the house you stay in are the places you learn about the world, about what’s right and what’s wrong. When you live somewhere unsafe and learn in a place where you are harassed and bullied for your sexuality the harmful words thrown at you can stay with you forever. Even when you leave those toxic and destructive environments and experiences behind the crushing feelings of guilt for being who you are can stay with you for the rest of your life, haunting you.”
She swallowed a lump in her throat. “Nobody should ever be responsible for somebody’s trauma and self-hatred that developed because one of you made a harmful comment. Our society needs to change, and to make that happen we all need to do our part. This is how you can do yours. ”
Hours after her speech had ended she sat in the convenience store parking lot, her hands shaking, drowning in the memories and feelings that had resurfaced by walking through the sliding doors of her old high school, a frequent setting for her nightmares. Ro sat on the curb for a while longer until she felt ready to leave. Then, she got on her feet, a small hope that her words had inspired change in someone burning in her chest as she turned her back on the school and began slowly making her way to where Luna’s stone lay.
It was small and unmarked, not even resting in a proper cemetery, the rock simply a sign she was once a person that was loved and needed. The dirt and lichen had begun creeping along its edges, threatening to eat up what remained of her memory.
A hazy memory resurfaced of Ro at age 19, crying alone on that sunny day, the air thick with heat, humidity and guilt. She could almost see the younger version of herself kneeling in front of the clean, glittering stone that was now dull with age and neglect as she blinked back tears.
“I did what you always dreamed of doing. I went back to where it all started to do the things you never got to. I told our story. I’m going to help make a world that you would have felt right in.” She stood, staring down at the rock. “I’m not giving up. I’m living for you.” The silence was the only answer she received as her tears began to slide freely down her cheeks.
The guilt in her chest was just as heavy as always, threatening to crumble down on her and crush her heart for good. She remembered Luna’s crooked smile, the piercing above her left eye. Her long fingers moved through the air gracefully whenever she waxed poetic about the things she loved. The dreadlocks that were always half up and the swaying braids that framed her face. She remembered how they had moved to tickle Ro’s cheeks when Luna moved her face close. How radiant and content she had been, so sure that life was worth living, always reminding Ro of how far they had come and how far they would go. The way she laughed and how happy she had been whenever they were together, their hands intertwined.
But she hadn’t been. She hadn’t been happy. She wouldn’t have killed herself that night if she had been happy—if Ro had been enough for her. Luna had left Ro without any warning, left her wondering what she could have done to make her stay, to make her life worth living. Leaving her with only the memory of their time together and the need to do the things Luna had always dreamed of.
“I’m going to live Luna. The way you should have lived. I’m not going to let the world get to me as it did to you. I’m going to keep telling our story. I’m going to make a world we could have been truly happy in. For both of us.”
Yala Feikin – Nothing But Dirt And Water
There is a child on the side of the road gathering dung in the baking
She looks up to the sky, cursing the sun;
It’s the same sun that watches the black-haired boy fishing his textbook
from a sewer stream,
The nice girls left it there for him;
But the oldest girl goes home to cry each night, nails digging into her
Wishing away her perfect imperfections.
These are the people of the earth,
They aren’t whole or unhurt, but they try when they can,
United in pain, separated by whispers,
They all are made of wishes and dreams.
Look for the man shivering in the snow of a foreign country, holding to
his husband’s warmth,
The last warmth he is likely to feel;
In a corner of an office sits the woman with mahogany skin, she works as
the men play,
Unnoticed and underpaid;
Hear the cries of children torn from their parents at invisible borders
That promised freedom and hope, but left scars.
These are the rules of the world,
They aren’t fair or just, but we all live by them,
United in law, separated by power,
Who is to stop them being broken.
Don’t turn away from the person standing with their fist raised, all
they want is to be heard,
But they are beat back by shadows in suits;
Feel the blood of the children shot down, in school, in the streets, in
Wanting to live with rights, dying without;
Catch the crooked smile of the small girl standing in front of the
leaders as they put her down,
She knows that her truths cut like knives.
These are the powers of the continents,
They aren’t good or evil, but they pull the strings,
United by entitlement, separated by morals,
Rulers fall and the young rise.
Listen to the voices join in a song that we all know, every race and all
The song learnt by living on the earth;
Touch the warmth we all have just under our skin, the defiant beat of
Keeping us alive despite those who’d wish us dead;
Taste the salty ocean made of the tears cried in times of joy and pain,
every one a story
That joins into the melting pot of history.
We are the people of the earth,
We aren’t perfect or the same, but we fight on,
United in living, separated by nothing but dirt and water;
We are the beaten, the ignored, the elevated, the strong,
And we keep reaching for unity.
Anonymous – A Tribute To A Girl
You were my
‘And I knew from that moment when I saw you across that crowded room.’
Of course, I knew. Of course. How could I not?
There are two moments of realizing the truth about yourself. The time you realize it, and the time you are unable to deny it any longer.
I was six. I stood in front of my mirror. I was bare-bodied and had streaked my body with colors from markers. I looked for a long time. That was when I realized it.
Seven years later, I saw you.
It took me a year and a half after that to stand in front of a mirror again. Bare-bodied, again, but empty. Blankly, I repeated the truth to myself.
It should have been great. It should have been a relief to know I could name the thing I felt wrong in myself.
It was none of those things.
For neither you nor I were a ‘he.’
But I could not deny it any more than I could stop breathing.
Because loving you, you beautiful girl made up for the self-loathing of it all.
– Snakes and butterflies in my stomach
Yeon Ji Oh – Comme les Autres
Je ne peux plus respirer
Parce que les mains autour de moi commencent à m’étrangler.
Ella ne sort pas de sa chambre.
Chaque jour, je cours.
Je cours à toute allure, et sans m’arrêter
Pour ne pas être écrasé par cette roue qui tourne non-stop.
C’est qu’aujourd’hui que j’ai réalisé que les mains qui m’étranglaient,
etaient les miens.
Ella ne sort toujours pas de sa chambre.
Je me suis rendu compte que
Même moi, je n’avais pas d’idée de qui était le “vrai Moi”
Parce que chaque jour
Je me cache sous un masque
Avec mes blessures profondes
Et mes rêves brisés cachés au fond de mon âme.
Je ne me retrouve plus
Quand je me regarde dans le miroir
Et c’est pire que n’importe quel cauchemar
Parce que j’en peux pas échapper
J’appelle encore Ella en vaine; elle a disparu
Je cours, je chasse cette chose
Que même moi ne sais pas ce que c’est
Je voudrais trouver les vraies couleurs
Et peindre mon tableau moi même
Et en être fière
Je me suis rendu compte que
Ella avait disparu pour toujours
Je me console en disant que
Ella s’est envolée pour chasser ses rêves
Et j’ai décidé d’en faire le même
En fait, ce n’est pas moi là qui court à toute allure.
J’en veux pas de cette vie,
Je veux m’envoler.
N’est ce pas bizarre qu’on doit se mettre
Dans des moules pour former une autre personne?
Nous vivons en voulant être parfaits
En voulant être aimés
En voulant être acceptés
Mais ces normes ne sont pas l’idéal
En fait mais l’opposé de ce qu’un idéal doit être
Au lieu de nous pousser vers un meilleur futur
Elles nous enferment.
Nous sommes a la fin de journée tous les mêmes
Nous nous demandons les mêmes questions
Je me noie dans la haine,
Et mes sentiments confus
Creusent un terrier de lapin
Et je tombe et rumine
Ce que c’est d’être normal.
A heartfelt thank you to all the participants. We are grateful for your interest and participation.
Ecolint Creative Writing Competition Team