Guest Bloggers

How our winner writes

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We asked Umoja Writing Competition 2015 winner Kirsten Leggett to contribute to our blog. It’s another opportunity for our entrants to showcase their writing and be involved in the wider writing and volunteering community.

How our winner writes

I write to understand. It is as simple as that and it is a form of internal processing for me. I love to write, I always have, but my creative writing really ramped up a notch when I started with daily ten minute writing using word prompts. Just a few words, five at the most, and I would wait for the first sentence to form but without too much thought. Once I start to write, I do not stop for ten minutes and I pay little attention to punctuation – just let the words flow. I try not to think about it too much and let it come from the heart.

I continued with this practice for about 6 months straight and now I write this way several times a week. It still works, every time, and I never know how each piece will end. The ending is always the most surprising bit! Sometimes I write beyond ten minutes, other times a little less, but the end result is always surprising and from these exercises stories are often born.  A friend once asked me where I draw my inspiration from. I explained that I never set out to write a story, that words and inspiration generally find me when I allow myself the time to be still. A story or words for a poem can “arrive” at any time, while on a walk, driving in the car, or sitting and enjoying a pot of tea in my garden, but always in moments of stillness.

I have learnt that as humans we can do the most amazing things with words. I think we are born to listen to and tell stories and there is a storyteller deep within each and every one of us.

Kirsten lives and writes in Tasmania. A writer of short stories and poetry, she writes for both enjoyment and for a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. “The Tiny Teacher” was Kirsten’s first short story. Most recent published writing includes “Interloper” (101 and “Pear Infused with Jasmine” (Flash Fiction Magazine). 

Umoja Writing Competition winner Kirsten Leggett
Kirsten Leggett is the winner of Umoja Writing Competition 2015. Here she is with the winner’s trophy.

Thank you to those who entered Umoja Writing Competition 2015

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2015 Umoja Writing Competition Closed

Thank you to everyone who entered in 2015

To raise much needed funds for Umoja Orphanage Kenya we need to make this competition a success. This year we gave entrants longer to enter and marketed and promoted heavily with writing groups, schools, writing sites and social media. With times being tough, even here in Australia (though of course nowhere near as tough as Kenya) we believe people are finding it harder to find an extra $25. Entries were down which is disappointing. It leads to the question: do you think we should reduce the entry fee next year? Would more people enter?

Warm & Witty Words has donated the prize money and Literacy Consultant Deb Lawrence has donated the trophy, so a big THANK YOU for your support. We hoped the prize money and trophy would encourage people to enter, but this hasn’t seemed to be the case either, or more people would enter. We’d love feedback about why writers enter writing competitions. Is it for the writing profile? We are entering our third year and have plenty of supporters and good feedback so I believe we are creating a literary profile for any winners of the competition. Why haven’t more of you entered?

For instance, in only the first year, winner, Lauren Dionysius, has received plenty of writing opportunities since her win, including a an overseas writer’s retreat. You can build your profile through this competition, and have the added bonus of doing something good for society by helping Umoja Orphanage Kenya.

Next year please enter and encourage your writing friends to enter. Even if you’ve never entered a writing competition, enter. You just may find your writing passion.

Thanks again to those who entered. Be assured all your entries fees go directly back to the Umoja Orphanage Kenya, because prize money and trophy have been donated by Warm & Witty Words and Literacy Consultant Deb Lawrence.

Short listed entries will be announced shortly. Good luck to our entries.


Things I have learned: Part 3….African People

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Things I have learned:  Part 3….African People

by Guest Blogger Lauren Dionysius

African School Children

  • wealth and happiness has nothing to do with stuff and things
  • some of the “poorest” people in the world have the richest souls that ooze generosity
  • there are school kids in today’s world who have to climb through a barbed wire fence so they can wee in the grass next door

Old African Man Mother and Child Two cuties

  • teaching a class of Zulu children about warthogs is surprisingly rewarding
  • it took all of my restraint not to go around wiping all the little Zulu kids’ noses
  • playing soccer against the local Zimbabwean woman with the kids cheering us on is actually a lot of fun, despite my lack of skill and coordination
  • Zimbabweans are always just about to ‘make a plan, yeh?’…though often they just never quite get around to it…
  • when in Africa you’ve just gotta make do with what and who you have…improvisation is the key
  • the average Kenyan nurse earns less than US$300 a month
  • the Masai’s staple diet consists of cow’s blood and milk

Delicious food

  • the Masai people build their huts out of cow poo

African Hut

  • it’s amazing how much stuff the locals can fit onto the back of a bicycle!
  • a Malawian witch doctor is one scary looking dude!
  • do not question Mr Frederick, the scary South African immigration guy, or he will yell at you…loudly…twice
  • the bushman tribes use tortoise shells to boil their porcupines in…very intuitive!
  • people of all types are very interesting creatures
  • do not leave your legs dangling over the side of the ute when driving past kids…they will slap your shins and leave nasty bruises
  • 60% of people living in rural Malawi are unemployed
  • Africans work hard to preserve their ancient cultures for generations to come
  • and finally, Africans put the “unity” in “community”

Happy kids Lauren with kids More cute kids

And we know what unity means ‘Umoja’. So now it’s time to follow Lauren’s lead and get your entries in to:


Thank you so much to Lauren for her wonderful contributions in helping this blog get out to the writing community and make our fundraising writing competition a success.

Things I have learned: Part 2….This is Africa

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by Guest Blogger – Lauren Dionysius

Things I have learned:

  • jamming people into the back of a ute is an acceptable means of transportation
  • the average cactus makes for a perfectly functional clothesline
  • red dirt turns to red mud in the rain
  • car maintenance is overrated:  8 breakdowns in 3 days between 4 Land Cruisers is a lot, even for Africa!
  • urgency does not exist: no-one is in a hurry and nothing happens quickly

    African car breakdown
    One of many breakdowns in Africa.
  • and the quicker you can adjust to (and accept!) the previous point, the easier life will be!
  • don’t be fooled: ‘pap’, ‘maizemeal’ and ‘sadsa’ are all the same stuff, but different countries use different names.  And while it might look like chocolate pudding, it will never, EVER taste like it, regardless of how much sugar you add!
  • the ticks in Africa enjoy the taste of humans and the resulting ‘tick bite fever’ is cruel, especially in the remote African bush
  • every tree in Africa has a thorn of some description
  • electricity is overrated, however hot showers are NOT!
  • do not visit the Tanzanian coast during Ramadan – food is scarce!

    African sky
    Starry African sky.
  • 25 children died unnecessarily in Malawi because the hospital ran out of anti-malarial and they weren’t restocked for a month
  • bean stew actually looks and tastes worse than it sounds
  • the ‘toilets’ in this part of the world are on a whole new level of stink! You are better off learning to squat in the bush – just look out for thorns &, um, local kids!
  • when the entire mobile and internet networks are down, Africa just keeps on going. What would Australia do?
  • ‘nibblies’ in Kenya are called ‘bitings’
  • sleeping out under a starry Namibian sky is a magical experience
  • 1000s of seals in the one place = one giant stink (though still smells better than a Tanzanian toilet!)
  • the city of Cape Town is just as beautiful the third time round as the first

    Seals in Africa
    Many seals – giant stink!
  • seatbelts are optional in Africa
  • dust gets everywhere into EVERYTHING
  • don’t underestimate the off-road capabilities of the humble mini-van – those things can go up, over and through things at speed, if given the chance!
  • it is possible to survive without phone reception for two weeks.  I am living proof.
  • a sossusvlei is a lake in the desert between sand dunes
  • a deadvlei is a dried up sossusvlei
  • don’t eat tuna at the beach – you will attract lots of seagulls
  • it is possible to survive (many days even!) without the internet

    Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
    Beautiful Ugandan Mountain Gorilla
  • I am not cut out to be a makoro poler (those little dug out canoe things in Botswana)
  • Namibia is the most stunning country in Africa, that I have been to so far
  • every place in Namibia starts with an ‘O’ or an ‘S’ which is very confusing!
  • trekking through wild Ugandan jungle in search of gorillas is no easy feat
  • there’s very little in Africa that cannot be fixed with a screwdriver and duct tape.

Thanks again to Lauren for her wonderful contributions to Umoja Writing Competition. You can succeed in your writing just like Lauren. The first step might be entering the Umoja Writing Competition.

Why not enter today and see where it takes you?


A glorious Namibian sunrise
A glorious Namibian sunrise





Things I have learned: Part 1….African Animals

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Guest Blogger – Lauren Dionysius


Africa’s animals are unique and mesmerising, yet incredibly vulnerable within their environment. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Africa has more things that can bite (+/- eat) you than Australia does!
  • lions are identified by their whisker patterns
  • elephants are identified by the notches on their ears
  • giraffes are the goofiest animals ever
  • the only thing goofier than a giraffe is seeing them run!
  • being sneezed on by an elephant is a somewhat slimy, chunky and grassy experience
  • baby elephants weigh 80kg when they are born
  • black rhinos have the memory of a goldfish so you have to keep talking to them or they will forget you are there and charge at you
  • a boma is where animals are kept at night
  • the endangered black rhinos in Zimbabwe have 24/7 armed security guards to protect them from poachers
  • two year old baby elephants can be just as naughty as two year old baby humans
  • when rhinos break out of their bomas you just have to let them do what they want and hope that they will decide to return of their own accord sooner, rather than later!
  • do not stand behind an elephant when he farts….the smell is not of this world!
  • an elephant has ten thousand muscles just in his trunkElephant ride
  • lake flies are a rich source of protein…just ask the local Malawians!
  • it takes 40 minutes for an elephant to digest his dinner, from one end to the other!
  • I will never get sick of the sight of a cheetah…or a leopard for that matter!
  • porcupines can re-grow their spikes when they fall out
  • cheetahs can go from 0-100kph in 3.4 seconds, but can only maintain their top speed of 110kph for around 12 seconds
  • a tortoise doesn’t live in water (how did I survive the first 31 years of my life without realising that?!)
  • don’t make eye contact with a monkey…he WILL chase you (and yes, I am speaking from experience!)Baboon
  • don’t leave the fruit bowl in the middle of the camp dining table…the baboons will eat the lot!
  • pulling down an enclosure fence is so satisfying…run, cheetahs, run!
  • don’t look for eyes in the bushes after dark…you will find them!
  • guinea fowls are not the smartest animals in the bush…
  • oryx poo tastes…grassy!
  • a group of zebras is called a “dazzle”
  • a group of standing giraffes is called a “tower”, but if they are moving they are a “journey”
  • donkey intestines are really…big…and stinky when left to sweat in the sun!
  • cheetahs purr just like domestic cats
  • the mozzies in East Africa must be on some kind of steroids!
  • Ugandan Mountain Gorillas are worth the effort trying to find them…more so in hindsight!
  • it takes the migrating animals six months to walk from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara…then they turn around and walk right back again!
  • after seven months in Africa I still cannot get excited about birds
  • there are no words to describe the feeling of riding on the back of a 5 tonne elephantCheetah

This list of random facts about African animals is truly never-ending…go and check out these amazing creatures for yourself!

Thank you again to last year’s winner Lauren Dionysius for contributing to the Umoja Writing Competition blog. Don’t miss Lauren’s part two.

All these wonderful wildlife photos are courtesy of Lauren Dionysius.



Volunteering: the ultimate in authentic life experience

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By Guest Blogger Lauren Dionysius

Be warned though.  It can blow your mind and humble your heart.

Imagine finishing up work on Friday afternoon, boarding a plane on Saturday morning and waking up on a big 5 game reserve in remote South Africa on Monday?!

I did this and so can you!!

I would love for everybody to experience this kind of freedom, but I also know first hand that there are obstacles to overcome to get there.  What about your job?  Your family?  Your friends?  Your house?  Your stuff?  Your finances?

Experience wildlife up close.
Experience wildlife up close.


But then, there’s that old cliché: “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.  And my “will” was that hunger to EXPERIENCE a culture by living within its buildings (or sometimes lack thereof!) amongst its native people.  I knew there had to be more to travel than just catching that obligatory glimpse of pretty buildings as they zoomed by through an airconditioned tour bus window.  Surprisingly, when my “will” was strong enough, the “way”, with a little effort (and trust!), just fell into place, and I never looked back!

After a decade of caring for people in my day job as a nurse, I decided to volunteer with wildlife, just for something different.  So, I started researching volunteering companies in Africa and spent more time on Google than I care to admit!  I also read books and independent reviews and testimonials about projects that interested me (and not just on the company’s website either as these can be selectively biased!) and carefully compared their ethos with my own volunteering objectives.

Magical photos and memories to match.
Magical photos and memories to match.

I became wary of companies promising up close and personal encounters with their animals.  Some wildlife reserves are literally bred for “voluntourism” where you can go and pat a lion or cuddle a cheetah.  If this floats your boat, then sail away.  But, I wanted an authentic life experience where I could contribute to a bigger picture.  So, I was drawn towards projects that aimed to rehabilitate animals and then release them back into the wild.  These were the projects that earned my respect and who I ultimately volunteered with.  However, despite knowing there would be no intentional human-animal interactions, it made the unintentional, surprising wildlife encounters I did have even more wildly exhilarating!

Remember, anyone can volunteer, anywhere!

You don’t need any special qualifications, skills, knowledge or experience.  (You don’t even need to jump on a plane if you don’t want to!  You can always look around locally!)  You just need a “can-do” attitude, some get-up-and-go and be willing to step out of your comfort zone with an open mind.  Take this with you and you will see beautiful landscapes and be mesmerised by nature.  You will have to pinch yourself so often you will leave little bruises!  You will learn to improvise and “make do” with what you have.  You will make peace with dirt.  You will stop and smell the roses, and learn to appreciate the small things, the random things, the simple things that teach you to put the big things into perspective.  You’ll learn new skills, such as building fences, worming cheetahs, and alien plant control, all of which you’ll likely never need to use again.  But, you’ll be incredibly grateful for the experience and the amazing people you meet along the way.   And I’ll tell you this for certain:  you will learn a WHOLE LOT more about yourself and seal the entire adventure forever with the most amazing memories.

Have experiences not things. Have stories not stuff.
Have experiences not things. Have stories not stuff.

Check back soon as I’ll be sharing glimpses into my day-to-day experiences during my seven month adventure as a wildlife conservation volunteer on African soil!

Lauren Dionysius is a 30-something Registered Nurse chasing bigger dreams.  She’s passionate about writing, bikram yoga and wholefood nutrition and is in the process of combining these into her dream career.  She lives in Bundaberg, Queensland but travels regularly overseas seeking new life experiences, from volunteering in Africa, or a writing retreat in Italy, to yoga in Bali, and studying nutritional healing in the USA.  She thrives on growth and deepening her awareness of world we live in.  She is a writer, an editor & a hungry soul searcher.
Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.
Guest Blogger Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.


Why do YOU write?

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by Lauren Dionysius

Do YOU have stories that burn at your insides?  Words buried deep within your soul?  How do you get them out?  Do they even need to be told?  What is their purpose?

My answers to these questions have always been:  yes, yes, dunno, dunno, not sure….respectively.  I’ve always had words and stories that refused to let me go.  Words that grab me by the hand with the urgency of a two-year-old and plead with me to find pen and paper and just, well…write.  While I’ve always loved to write, I just didn’t know how to get them out and what to do with them once I had.  And, I didn’t even know if my stories needed to be told….maybe I just had a crazy, overactive mind?!  After all, who would want to read my words and would they even help anyone?  This was when I realised the purpose behind my words….to help other people (with the added bonus of clearing that crazy, overactive mind of mine!).  So, I started writing my stories in journals, then began to share with friends and family in a blog, and now bravely, but unashamedly, with the world.

open book of family story

I often think about all the other writers out there and wonder how we can all co-exist together.  Are there enough readers for all of our words?  Why DO people write?  Obviously I cannot answer for others, but this is why I write:

I write about my adventures, my travels and the people I’ve met so I can keep these memories alive.  I share these life experiences to inspire and motivate others to travel and experience new adventures.  I write because it’s cathartic.   My words comfort me like a warm, cozy blanket on a cold night.  They give me a creative outlet to explore my heart and my mind, and teach me more about who I am, so I can grow as a person.   As I write from my heart about past pain and hurt, I learn to heal myself and hope that by sharing them they will resonate with even just one other person out there and help them feel less alone in the world.  This is ALWAYS why I share my words and this gives me the strength to push through the gnawing “what ifs” of rejection and vulnerability and purpose that seem inevitable when you dare to put your words out there for the big, wide world to see.

So, what are your stories?  And, what is stopping you from putting pen to paper?  Remember, no-one else can write how you write and no-one else can write YOUR words into YOUR stories.  Plus, among the billions of people on this planet there will always be someone out there who needs to read what only YOUR words have to say!  This is why all of us writers can co-exist.  There are plenty of readers for all of our words.

No more excuses, okay? Ready….set….GO WRITE!

Lauren Dionysius is a 30-something Registered Nurse chasing bigger dreams.  She’s passionate about writing, bikram yoga and wholefood nutrition and is in the process of combining these into her dream career.  She lives in Bundaberg, Queensland but travels regularly overseas seeking new life experiences, from volunteering in Africa, or a writing retreat in Italy, to yoga in Bali, and studying nutritional healing in the USA.  She thrives on growth and deepening her awareness of world we live in.  She is a writer, an editor & a hungry soul searcher.
Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.
Guest Blogger Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.