When I think of home I think of comfort, a retreat from the world, a space for family and friends, a place for reflection and introspection. My home is a safe space. My community is largely safe too. Of course there is crime but it doesn’t impinge too much on my life: I can walk to work or to the shops. I walk on the beach and the vlei. I may be vigilant but I am not afraid.
FunDza’s “My Home, My Hood” writing competition was a painful reminder that this is not the case for the majority of young people growing up in communities around our country. Home is frequently a place of isolation, danger and violence. The ‘hood’ is often a space ruled by predators and gangsters. Young people are growing up afraid and stressed in their communities. These stories – some desperately sad, and others shocking in their portrayal of haphazard violence – illustrate this dysfunction aptly. These frequently beautifully rendered stories reduced me to tears at times but they also offered some hope: vividly portraying the resilience and strength of so many young people growing up in challenging circumstances.
I was not alone in being affected by the almost 200 entries to this writing competition. Here are some reflections from others involved in the judging process:
You would think that as a teacher I would find evaluating competitions easy, as I have done a lot of marking in my life. But I always find it difficult, as this essay has these little sparkling metaphors, even if it’s not written so well, and that one is great, but where is the ending – can’t we give it back so they can make it shine! This competition was difficult in that way too, as we had some lovely writing, so choosing the best was a challenge. But it was also difficult to read because of the content. Story after story about our readers’ neighbourhoods described violence, abuse, fear, and danger. I wanted to wave a magic wand, or in some cases support a vigilante group to clear the townships of these vicious perpetrators. But some stories described the brutality of mob ‘justice’, and of course, as some writers pointed out, these gangsters were once innocent young boys, the primary school classmates of the writers. They just joined the most lucrative industry they encountered – crime. The stories are heart-rending. They feel like a call to action: we need to be protecting our young people better – giving them hope, safety, job and educational opportunities. Do read them. There are some fantastically written pieces, and they also open our eyes to the realities so many of our readers are living with daily.
~ Dorothy Dyer
I found the writing entries for the competition very moving and many of them very shocking. Many of the young writers described, in compelling accounts, violence and trauma they had experiences in their ‘hood’ often first hand. They wrote about communities where this kind of violence is the norm not the exception and they told their stories in their unique, authentic voices bringing them to life through dialogue and description often using unusual and striking metaphors. It was very difficult to choose a winner. Some stories the grammar and spelling was weak but the story was powerful. Others began promisingly but then ended disappointingly. Together I think these stories are incredibly valuable in the insights they give into our FunDza readers lives in their communities.
~ Ros Haden
Congratulations to all the writers who entered our competition and submitted such heartfelt stories. I read 20 and just wanted to cry at some of them. Of the 20 that I read only one story was a happy one. The fact that so many young people feel unsafe in their communities is extremely upsetting. The stories themselves revealed the atrocious scenes that young people have seen and the fear that they live in every day, to the extent that some youngsters do not even want to go out and walk their streets. Crime is rife – Life shouldn’t be like this. We have a serious problem in South Africa which needs urgent attention. Thanks to all the young writers for sharing your stories. It was an eye-opening experience. And, my message to the young writers is: Keep writing – there is so much potential in all of you. You can be very proud of your achievements. Well done!
~ Dawn Wilson
When I was grading the competition submissions, I was really struck by the emotion used by the authors. They all really care about their community and want good things to happen to the people who they live beside. There was also fear – fear that things wouldn’t get better, that the people in their communities had stopped caring about their neighbours. It was really moving to have these young people be so invested in their communities and to feel the desire they have for making those communities better places. It makes me hopeful that these young writers will be part of a movement that tries to change the status quo. It was clear from reading the submissions that these writers are full of empathy and feeling, and even though it was heart-breaking to read some of their stories, I also got the sense that they’re not broken, they haven’t given up hope, and that they’ll live to do great things.
~ Kate Heinomen
It feels such a privilege to read through the entries we receive. My first thought is the bravery it can take to submit your personal work. My second thought is how for some, it’s not a simple process to send in their work. Some entrants are spending their lasts funds at an internet cafe, others are travelling to their local library where they’re hoping the WiFi is working. My Home, My Hood was a provoking topic. Coming from a privileged background, some of the entries felt as though I was reading a thriller novel. This is a reflection of the times as most of the stories centred on feeling unsafe or in danger in their communities. Judging them was a sobering task. The stories were incredible, the calibre of writing testament to the depths these aspiring authors reached into to tell their tale of their home, their hood. It was an honour.
~ Shelley Bolle
One essay that touched me was a story written about not feeling safe in the community of Manenberg. How shootings affected the writer’s daily life, the person had experienced shootings just while going to school or the shops. I am inspired by the fact that the writer is praying for change in their community and believes that change is going to happen. The My Home, My Hood competition brought out real stories that we can relate to and I believe its another way that we can get to be in the shoes of our readers and writers, and understand their real-life experiences.
~ Refilwehape Mofokeng
What a joy reading the work of youngsters. I enjoyed the process. The stories were truly heartfelt. There were a few entries that did not match the criteria, or that were poorly written but the majority was brilliant and I could imagine myself in those situations. The winning entries were definitely well deserved.
~ Tamica Mopp
Big congratulations go to the six winners as well as the highly commended and commended entries. Click here to meet the Junior winners and here to meet the Senior winners. All the entries are being uploaded to the fundza.mobi site at present so keep an eye on that if you’d like to read more of them.