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Guest authors inspire insightful student writing

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Guest authors inspire insightful student writing

Photojournalist Nic Dunlop speaking to UWCSEA East High School students about the craft of writing.During Writers’ Fortnight 2017, Grade 9 and 10 students met several guest authors, including writer-in-residence and photojournalist Nic Dunlop and Cambodian spoken word poet Kosal Khiev, as well as guest speakers from Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA). 

Their brief was to interview our guests, to uncover their stories and share them purposefully and responsibly with the community. Whether a feature article, op-ed or photo essay, the students have had to carefully consider which text type will best serve their purpose, and how the values and expectations of the intended audience must be considered in their treatment of the story. 

And for many the learning went beyond the brief: it can be quite provocative to hear a photojournalist reveal that he finds photography limited, perhaps even potentially dangerous, as a storytelling tool. Or to be questioned by an NGO worker about the value of their own involvement in service. Or to hear a spoken word poet reveal how a life of displacement and violence in the US penal system gave him his poetry.

Such critical thinking is evident in the many insightful stories our students have written. We hope you enjoy them. 

Read student essays, articles and poetry written as part of Writers' Fortnight. Following are a few selected excerpts from those student writings.

Nic Dunlop - Unveiling the Complexity of the Human Spirit

By Sophie Inkster, Grade 10, East Campus

The old man looks out from the photograph that Nic Dunlop displays on the projector screen, and I am immediate fascinated by his expression. I see innocence in it, his brown complexion rosy in the warm light, faint smile creases in the corners of his eyes. He’s mid sentence, and his eyes are wide and bright - he could be talking to an old friend or telling a story to his grandson. But he’s not. He’s confessing to the murder of thousands of Cambodian people.

The man in the photograph is a man who has committed among the most horrific acts humanly possible. His name is Kiang Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, who had been a leader in the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and committed a genocide that resulted in the deaths of more than a quarter of the country's population. Comrade Duch had been the head of the notorious S-21 prison, where more than 20,000 men, women and children of all ages were tortured into false confessions, then brutally murdered for crimes they did not commit. Duch was a powerful man during the four year reign of the Khmer Rouge, but disappeared with their downfall.

After so many years hiding from the repercussions of his actions, it was a small miracle that Nic Dunlop, war photographer and author, was able to track him down and reveal his truth. This is what Dunlop does. Armed with his camera and his pen, Dunlop reveals forgotten truths. Through photographs and writing, he tells stories about other people and the human experience to help us gain a deeper insight into the way the world works and the deep flaws rooted in our species.

After a long and hard search, Dunlop found Duch almost by accident. His book, “The Last Executioner”, describes the process in full. Dunlop summarises it for the audience. With a distant look in his eyes, he recalls how, supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, he travelled around Cambodia, talking to people and trying to get leads on where Duch was. While he was in Samlaut, Duch miraculously walked up to Dunlop and explained who he was. An interview between Duch, Dunlop and Nate Thayer (who had been the last western journalist to interview Pol Pot) was scheduled, during which Duch confessed to his crimes. The interview was published in the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1999, after which Duch surrendered to authorities in Phnom Penh. The first person ever put on trial for the crimes committed under Pol Pot, Duch was given a 30 year sentence by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in 2007, which was extended to a life sentence in 2012.

As Dunlop finishes this incredible story, he adds, “I didn’t think that I would really be able to do it, to actually track Duch down”. I looked around the room. The audience, many of whom were at first periodically glancing up at the clock, seemed to be fixated on Dunlop. They radiated a mixture of awe and confusion, unable to believe that the man standing before them had really tracked down and brought justice for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people...

LONELY BUT NOT ALONE: The Difficult Life of Migrant Workers in Singapore

By Shawronna Sengupta, Grade 9, East Campus

“I long to run back
into the warm embrace of my homeland
Among loved ones
Laugh over a steaming cup of home-made tea
to the sound of the impatient strumming of a guitar somewhere….”

Bikas Nath is an engineer and a poet. He works as a supervisor in a shipyard in Singapore, and whenever he has free time he writes poems like the one above. Many of his poems are about his loneliness and his nostalgia for his home in Bangladesh. He is a migrant worker, working in a foreign country, trying to earn enough to give his family back home a better life.

Bikas is lonely, but he is not alone. According to the estimates of the International Labour Organization (ILO), there were more than 150 million migrant workers globally in 2013, about 4.4% of the total global workforce. According to Debbie Fordyce, CEO of the NGO Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2),  migrant workers make up about 1/3rd of the total workforce in Singapore.  That’s more than a million migrant workers in a country of 5 million residents.

TWC2 promotes fair treatment of migrant workers in Singapore. TWC2 was initially formed in 2003/2004, by a concerned group of citizens in reaction to the horrible case of Muawanatul Chasanah, a 19 year old Indonesian maid who died after her employer beat, starved and abused her for 9 months. While this was definitely a rare case, migrant workers are often exploited and treated unfairly, in Singapore and all around the world...

...The migrant workers help us in so many ways, and it is important that we treat them with fairness and humanity. And, while the government and the NGOs will continue to work to make things better with time, it is important each one of us plays our part and treat the migrant workers in our community with more kindness and compassion.  So, in the future, the poems Bikas writes will not be only about his loneliness and pain, but also about his happiness and hope for the better life he can give his family after working here among people who care about him as person, not just as a worker.

The Dark Side to Society: The ‘Ants’ Among Us

By Advaith Madhav, Grade 9, East Campus

When we, as foreigners, land in Singapore, all we see is the glitz and glamour of the city. Tall buildings, beautiful skylines, the world’s largest ferris wheel and different nationalities living in perfect harmony with each other. What more can anybody ask for? But there is a dark side to Singapore. Many people who are foreigners like us, human beings like us, are living a different life unknown to us. It is filled with uncertainty, inequality, a life of danger and scariness. This is why I urge you to keep reading. So that you understand what kind of world we are truly living in. We tell stories because others want to immerse themselves in the ideas that they weave and make it their own. Let me also take you through a story that you can make your own and find your own way to contribute to the cause...

The glamour in the lives of top level foreign talent is missing in the lives of these migrant workers. Christine Pelly, a volunteer at the TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) organisation recently visited the United World College of South East Asia to remind the students that we still have a duty. TWC2 is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to improving the lives of low wage migrant workers in Singapore and Pelly has been on the front lines of this mission more often than not. Pelly has been in frequent contact with these ‘Migrant’ Workers for years now, making her a qualified and experienced person in the matter and speaks from experience.

Pelly focused on explaining why such cases occurred in the world. “History has shown that power is corruptive” said Pelly with a concerned tone during her presentation. Most of the audience showed a curious agreement with the statement. The room was dead in silence as the audience seemed to come closer to her. Pelly explained that a majority of the cases TWC2 received were based around a bad employer. TWC2s website gives us useful information and evidence on this by stating that in 2005 around two thirds of the migrant workers population working with construction companies (which amounts to around 293,300) complained for not having enough access to communication, information and time for interaction due to their heavy workload due to strict policies by their employers. We must not forget that migrant workers are humans too, and are to be treated equal to us. Depriving them of what they deserve is an extremely dehumanizing act which I am strongly against as I cannot imagine what life would be like this. It is not that hard to give these people some time to discover the world around them.

The power held by these employers shows them as demonized in the eyes of the employees. Even though there are migrant workers who try and combat their employers, there are some who are unwilling to do so simply for the sake of retaining their jobs, even if working conditions are bad. Pelly told the audience a story. It was on a man whose employer smacked him in the eye. He went to his friends for help and they took him to a hospital. After his checkup, he went to the Ministry of Manpower to plead his case. Fortunately for him, a colleague of his had witnessed the event play out, giving the man solid proof of the offence. On the day the colleague was to explain the events, he hesitated and attempted to bail. He was scared of what the employer might do to him if he got the employer into trouble. He is not wrong to be scared though. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) states that around 1.4 thousand migrant workers in Singapore that are unemployed. Pelly explained that employers would fire workers at will and even had the authority to revoke their work permit in an instant. Let me ask you this. We all have access to stable jobs that give us satisfaction. So tell me, what have migrant workers done so wrong not to get this. They have not done anything wrong. They are in that position by chance… is it right for them to get such treatment?...


21 Mar 2017
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