travel writing

First Children have arrived at Umoja

Posted on Updated on


Umoja Orphanage Kenya, Rotary
Newsletter – We did it! 5 years to the day.

We have to share the most exciting news that the first children have arrived at Umoja Orphanage Kenya. It’s five years to the day that Cathy Booth founded the project. Fundraising ventures like this writing competition contribute to the orphanage. Without these and all the wonderful volunteers the orphanage would not be available to these gorgeous kids who need a home desperately. It’s wonderful to see Cathy’s dream come to life. If you’d like to be a part of it you can encourage your friends to enter this competition. Every little bit helps. I’d like to thank those writers who have already entered, some have even entered twice and donated extra (above the small entry fee) and that is just fantastic. Time is running out so encourage your writing friends and hurry up and enter.

To read the full newsletter about the progress at Umoja Orphanage Kenya Project click on this link NEWSLETTER.

This competition is a small stone in the ocean compared to the other ways you can help the project. You can sponsor a child or equipment for the project, you can even volunteer to travel to Africa to help build the orphanage. So many options to help out. If you don’t want to enter this but want to help just go to Umoja Home to get the full story. The main reason I started this competition was to fund raise for the project but ultimately raising awareness for the project and the bigger things people can do to help is what matters, so I don’t care if you don’t enter as long as you do support the project in some way.

However, if you do love writing – why not enter?

You have the fun of testing your writing skills with the wonderful theme of ‘peace’ and you’ll feel great knowing that you’ve donated to a very worthy, wonderful cause.

I’d like to congratulate Cathy and her team for everything they’ve achieved so far. There’s so much more to do but I know they’ll do it.

And a big welcome to the Umoja children. We all hope you enjoy your new safe home (pictures of them are in the newsletter).


Are you writing anything?

Posted on Updated on

Are you writing anything?

Anything at all? It could be a letter to a friend (probably not snail mail these days), but at least a long message on Messenger or via email. It could be a report for work. It could be a blog post. It could even be your entry for Umoja Writing Competition 2016.

Get great writing ideas from Australian Writers Center Instagram.
Get great writing ideas from Australian Writers Center Instagram.

If you’re not writing, why not? You are a part of this writing community of over 500 followers if you’re reading this. You are a writer aren’t you? Writers need to write.

I try to write every day, be it at work or at home. If I’ve done a lot of marketing and social media at work I’ll take a break at home and perhaps read a good book instead, but I am writing every day in some form (or writing these and other blog posts).

Writing every day hones your skills as a writer. Here’s some tricky ideas to get more writing into your day:

  • Get up earlier. You can even go for a walk first to clear the head (exercise is known to boost creativity). That way you’ll have time to write before you head off to work or get the kids to school.
  • Get a job involving writing (journalism, web editing, marketing – just some).
  • Start a blog. You can write about the things you are passionate about.
  • Join a writers group. Like-minded souls encouraging each other in their passion for writing.
  • Doodle a poem on your desk pad while you’re waiting for someone.
  • If you’ve read a book that had an ambiguous ending write your own.
  • Write letters to your loved ones and leave them around the house so they can find them and enjoy them.
  • Write a thank you note to someone who has done something kind to you.
  • Volunteer at your local club to be the newsletter editor.
  • Enter this competition.

Now all you have to do is choose one and get writing. We’ll give you more writing tips next week and if you have any great ideas to get people writing please COMMENT below.

If you chose to enter this competition. Get your entry form at ENTRY FORM.


21 Tips to Win a Writing Competition

Posted on

Are you wondering how to win this competition?

We’ve decided to repeat the advice we gave entrants when this competition began in 2014. best advice to help you win in 21 tips. Try some of these tips to help give you a better chance:

  1. Adhere to traditional standards of writing such as punctuation, spelling, grammar and syntax. Particularly, if the competition is run by a school or university and more so, a publisher. Wouldn’t you like to be noticed by someone who could publish your writing? Get it right.
  2. Use the rules of the contest but keep creative within the given theme. If you don’t write using the theme your entry will go straight to the bottom, or the shredder. This theme ‘Peace’.
  3. Literature contests may be looking for originality, refinement, depth, a subtext, and intellectual use of language; an emphasis on interesting characters, and setting rather than plot. Think description over dialogue, usually. A writing competition, (rather than literature contest) will sway towards popular fiction, but many ask for essays, articles and other forms of writing so read the rules and requirements thoroughly.
  4. This particular competition is on the theme ‘Peace’ and since so many of us are hoping for peace in a volatile time for our planet, the theme encompasses many things, so find a unique angle. Freshness and individuality will stand out.
  5. A great starting paragraph and an absorbing plot that follows your main character on some sort of journey or conflict. Finish with no lose ends.
  6. Use the correct tense throughout the story. Don’t change from ‘has to be’ to ‘had to be’ later. It’s annoying and incorrect.
  7. Do not use a passive voice. Active voice will win over the judges.
  8. Dialogue must be believable, readable and colloquial.
  9. Choose an exceptional title. First impressions count but it must be relevant to the story.
  10. Be original. I know you’re thinking the theme takes that away, but it doesn’t. Again, be creative.
  1. Edit your work thoroughly with at least three drafts. I always read out loud when I think I’ve finished my last draft. This often picks up things you can no longer see because you’ve been looking at it for too long.
  2. Don’t confuse the judges or potential readers with too many characters in a short story.
  3. In short stories you have little enough word count so make each word count.
  4. Clichés are just that; cliché. Avoid them.
  5. Use strong verbs rather than adverbs.
  6. Fit your entry to the competition you have entered. If it’s for a women’s romance writers’ group it needs to be romance. If it’s for a mystery writers’ group it would be impossible to win without a whodunit or twisting plot.
  7. Don’t put your name on the manuscript. Your name goes on your entry form but not your manuscript for good reason. The judges need to read each entry on it’s merit alone. The judge wants to see writing that shines not writers.
  8. Format using 12 point Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica unless the competition rules specify something else. Usually double spaced and indented at the left column. Pages numbered and a word count shown.
  9. Competitions often give a choice between hard copy or email. Read carefully which they prefer, choose hard copy if you want to pay postage. Emailing submissions my change your formatting but as most people are computer literate now, send this way if you feel comfortable with it. Emails are a quicker way to enter if you are pushing the deadline. We prefer emailed entries where possible so we do not have to re-type if your entry wins (we are all volunteers).
  10. Do not bribe the judges or think that fancying up your application will help. No cute little post-it messages asking them to choose you as a winner. No hidden chocolates. Definitely no sprays of perfume that may set off my hay fever.
  11. Do not add pictures to your manuscript (unless of course it’s a travel feature that requires a photograph), just send a plain double spaced entry and let your writing win for you.

And finally, proofread for a final third or fourth time thoroughly. As I said before, I find reading out loud helps pick up on most errors. Make sure there are no typos. For example; use of your ears is not ‘here’ it’s ‘hear’. Check your words, check your spelling and triple check your punctuation. Judges will critic these mercilessly and one error may see you lose. One correction could see you win. I hope you win.

Have fun and good luck with your entry.

To enter go to: Rules & Entry Form

The countdown continues

Posted on Updated on

The countdown continues to our winner of Umoja Writing Competition 2015.

We’ve already announced third and it was Judith Howe’s ‘Cup of Water’. Hopefully you’ve already read and enjoyed Judith’s entry. Now we announce second place. The quality of entries was very high and again we’d like to thank our judges Deborah Lawrence, teacher and literacy consultant (and also the sponsor of our trophy) and Shanyn Limpus, communications officer for Umoja Orphanage Kenya. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to judge our entries.

Another drum roll please (African drums), ta da da!

Second place: WINTER by Denise Krklec.

A big congratulations to Denise from Rochedale, Queensland. Here is her entry:


The fireman shut down their hoses and trudged through the whiteness to stow their equipment. The snow was already masking their trucks, blanketing the scene quickly as if to cover the horrors of what sizzled and spat behind them. There were no words between the men as they went about their duties, just as there would be no more sounds from the bodies found in the smoking ruins of the house. There was nothing left – just irregular hisses and crackles as the house succumbed, groaning its last words.

There remained one fireman in the snow, rolling the last hose, numb with cold and sorrow. It was a small community and he knew the house, the driveway, the letterbox, and the family. As he turned in salute a final time toward what now ceased to exist, he heard a noise that didn’t match the destruction before him. He went to investigate.

His torch penetrated the darkness, searching under beams, exploring the ruins, casting light on devastation. He moved toward the sound, unsure of its location or origin. An animal? Perhaps a kitten? It was a boy. A boy with melted skin and frozen limbs and no words.

Six weeks later the boy still had no words. All he had was loss – a mother, a father, sisters, toes, fingers, muscles, eyebrows, ears, lips, hair, and all his vitality. Body parts not burnt by the fire were frostbitten from lying in the snow. He wanted to be held, with arms outstretched and tears snaking down damaged skin but there were too many wounds, too many bandages, and dressings, and tubes. And the wrong people. His eyes continued searching for the right people even after the professionals explained his loss in three-year old language. He was stuck in memories of winter, under the window, in the snow, a burning house behind him, and dad rushing away from the window towards screams.

He entered my domain unannounced, in the arms of an aunty. She had confused the appointment time and arrived as I was switching off lights, ready to return to my world of no words. A world thousands of kilometres away from heartbreak and emotional torment that still fitted like a glove. At least I could escape to a new world of new friends, new activities, and a new job, but one look at the boy and I knew he couldn’t escape anything. Even surrounded by the love of his extended family his eyes remained disinterested. I, to him, represented more pain, more trouble, more work and no compensation for his loss at all. We were both far from home – I, travelling the world on a working holiday, and him, with only the hospital to call home – and yet our paths had crossed.

We set a recurring appointment. Twice a week the boy taught me things I was not prepared or willing to learn. He forced me to examine my cloak of issues and to decide what was worth fighting for – what things were worth keeping wrapped around me, and what could be discarded and should be discarded forever. I taught him how to move again despite his scars and fears and pain. Together we found our words.

A three-year old taught me that despite losing everything, you could still smile. Sometimes the smile was through tears as his skin stretched and his muscles fatigued, but it was still a smile shining through the scars. I discovered it sometimes really hurts to be stretched and you want to kick and scream and yell ‘no’ to the things that make your life hard, but if you have someone you trust with you through the stretching there are opportunities for smiles.

He taught me that even though your arm won’t bend and you don’t have all your fingers, you can still give high fives. It was just a matter of adjusting thoughts and patterns. While the losses were still present and keenly felt, there were times when a high-five was required. No question asked. An accomplishment, something to be proud of, something deserving a kind word, or a victory dance with what did still work. Followed by a high-five.

The boy showed me that even if you trip over your swollen feet, you could still run to find the prize. The prize wasn’t big or even valuable but to someone who had lost so much the prize was worth every ache, every tear, and every effort in the fight to gain the prize. Even better if the prize was something the boy had chosen – a goal to work toward, something again to live for and strive for, damning those losses to a place only examined at the appropriate times.

I learnt from the boy a hug still means ‘I love you,’ even if you can’t squeeze tight, or lift your arms high enough, or maintain your balance while reaching out. A hug meant that we were in it together even through the pain and the tears and the yelling. A hug meant all was forgiven. A hug meant despite the losses there was still the capacity to love, to experience, to communicate, and to receive.

Our words taught me the value of friendship – despite the differences in age and life experiences, and despite what the future might hold. Our words right then meant the world.

Come back to see who takes out FIRST place.

See more about Umoja Orphanage Kenya.

The countdown begins

Posted on Updated on

The countdown begins to our winner of Umoja Writing Competition 2015.

This year we’ll announce third and upload the entry for you to read. We’ll then post second and, finally, first place. The quality of entries was very high and I’d like to thank our judges Deborah Lawrence, teacher and literacy consultant (and also the sponsor of our trophy) and Shanyn Limpus, communications officer for Umoja Orphanage Kenya. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to judge our entries.

Drum roll please (African drums), ta da da!

Third place: A CUP OF WATER by Judith Howe.

A big congratulations to Judith from Coombabah, Queensland. Here is her entry:

A Cup of Water

by Judith Howe

The small being crouched in terror as horrifying scenes of war unfolded around her. She heard terrible noises and explosions the smoke and found smells choked her. Terrible screams penetrated the blackness. She was alone. The turmoil stopped while darkness engulfed her.
People shadows moved quickly rescuing survivors. This helpless being was just one of thousands caught up in the destructive mess left behind by man and his war. Small forms merged with hers as they gathered and jostled along.
The frightened child heard voices and sounds she didn’t understand. Waiting and squatting in the dirt with the others ‘little one’ was mesmerised by the patches of filtered gold sunlight which flicked in and out of the rubble near her feet. Eventually her treasure was blotted out and the magic disappeared.
Moments later she was lifted, squashed and pushed in among other helpless, not, wriggling and smelly beings like herself. Some were crying. She wasn’t. She felt sick and her arm was sore. There were loud noises again, movement, then rocking and bumping and a roaring mechanical sound that went on and on as did the distress of the mass of humanity she was contained in. Their bodies fused as they endured the long rough journey to freedom.
There was a jolt and a screeching of metal. The movement and bumping stopped. The casualties of war cried out fearing the unknown. ‘Little one’ couldn’t her throat was aching and dry.
Humanity moved and slowly and gently she was lifted up then set down on the sweet-smelling grass with the others and positioned in line. Her legs moved automatically along the path. Then there was a halt. Fearfully she looked around. Other eyes mirrored her own. The faces all looked the same. Frightened, bewildered, sad, strained and dirty.
People shadows came near her, one crouched beside her and clasped her hand. A soft voice spoke in sounds she had heard before. She slowly raised her head and with heavy-lidded watery eyes she saw a smiling mouth. Kind eyes nodded at her. She tried to move her tongue to say something but words couldn’t form.
The warm hand guided her to a large room where other beings like herself were bathed and showered. Stood motionless. These shadows were people with kind eyes and soft smiles, some wore white coats and uniforms, they were helping everyone. To ‘little one’ this was a ‘happy place’.
Her feet were cleaned and the cut toes bandaged. The arm examined and now wrapped in a big firm white bandage. A lady person with smiling eyes helped her to dress. The dress was cean and had bright yellow flowers all over it. The under-things were of the same material. She rarely wore under-things because her family were poor. Though she still hung her head she could see piles of dirty rags and clothing in the far corner of the room.
‘Little one’ had never owned a brush or a ribbon. Another smiling lady person tied the ribbon and chuckled as she saw the delighted response. The child remembered her mother from the other time and stroked her dress with affection. The cloth felt clean and nice.
After the bathing, dressing and medical treatment the group of children stood together in a long hall-way. Several younger grown-up people appeared and led them to another large room bathed in sunshine and brightness. There were rows and tables and benches where many small beings or children we can call them now, were already eating and drinking.
‘Little one’ sat down at one of the tables, the bench seemed smoother than the one she used in her village home. Her own had splinters. Her father had made it long ago before the blackness and horror.
The smells were different here. There was a familiar fresh bush smell, a smell of cleanliness or disinfectant as we know it and above all the smell of food. The smell of death and destruction was erased. The shock of past happenings, the violent separations had left this small child exhausted and numb yet she still responded to help and love. Fragments of her previous life were with her. She existed.
Food was served on a plate before her. Another lady person with smiling eyes helped the food to her mouth. It was good. Around her other small beings ate, talked and laughed. She wasn’t sure if she could talk because her throat was too sore from screaming and crying during the horror.
Another helper placed a mug of water near her plate. ‘Little one’ nodded and managed a weak smile. The water held her interest. It was almost invisible. She could see the bottom of the cup. She put her fingers in it and to her delight the surface rippled. She had never see water like this. It wasn’t brown and dirty. There was no rubbish, twigs or goat droppings floating about like her village water. The smell was different. She glanced up and down the long table, other faces had their mugs up to their mouths enjoying the taste of real unpolluted water.
She did the same. Smiling eyes came closer to her face. Her own lips moved and her eyes responded. She felt life. The fact that she was alone in the world would come later. She was blessed and pure like the water, innocent yet a product of the evil carnage man had brought to her world. Her life had been saved but could her soul be healed, would she recover, only time would tell.

Come back to see who takes out second place.

See more about Umoja Orphanage Kenya.

About our winner for 2014

Posted on Updated on

Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.
Lauren Dionysius, winner of the Inaugural Umoja Writing Competition with her trophy.

Inaugural winner Lauren Dionysius  is a lovely young woman from Kepnock, Queensland. She has a passion for writing, and very aptly a desire for volunteering in Africa and other countries around the world. Here is a little about Lauren in her own words:

“My love for writing started as a ten year old with a bizarre, if not somewhat obsessive, collection of pens, rubber erasers and pretty paper.  Even at school, I was fascinated by how words looked on paper and enjoyed the task of giving meaning to their order.  Later, my nursing studies morphed my creative writing into dull academia, and, as a perpetual uni student who loved to write, I continued on to study a variety of topics including research, photography, clinical nursing, counseling, and most recently, international health.  But it wasn’t until I enrolled in a travel writing course that I realised that I didn’t want to write about someone else’s topics anymore, I wanted to write about what was in my heart.  When I travel, I write.  And, in my 34 years I have had the opportunity to travel, live, work or volunteer in almost 50 countries.  These are the adventures that inspire my heart to write!

“In 2011, I took a “career break” from nursing to volunteer in Africa doing wildlife conservation and research projects.  It was here that my love for travel was united with my creative spark to write my feelings into words and experiences into stories.  I recounted my adventures in a blog to share with friends and family back home.  I wrote about how Africa changed my view of the world and nudged me to re-evaluate what was important in my life.  I soon realised that my life in Australia was inside-out and upside-down.  By quitting my day job and leaving that stressful, money-driven life behind, I was free to embrace the vulnerability and uncertainty that is synonymous with Africa.  It was the bravest, scariest decision I’ve ever made, but I learned so many life lessons along the way.  I learned that living a rich life had little to do with money.  Richness came through connections with myself and other people in the form of friendships, relationships, kinships and hardships.  I realised that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t “buy myself happy”.  Perhaps most importantly though, Africa taught me to be grateful, not guilty, for the opportunities, safety and freedom that was my privileged life back in Australia, one that I’d long taken for granted.

“Since returning from Africa I have kept these lessons close and have worked to apply them to my life here in Australia.  I have returned to nursing, but in a position with healthy hours and less money (to match the effort required!), while still continuing to travel overseas.  I am surrounded by friends and family and finally understand what having a “work-life balance” really means.

“I continue to write because it makes me feel alive.  I write to create and to record my memories, to clarify my own thoughts and to share my life experiences to inspire and motivate others.  Sometimes, I even write to heal myself, to write what I need to read, to powerfully let go through words that which no longer serves me.

“I draw inspiration from other writers and a wide variety of genres.  I get my “chic lit fix” from Sophie Kinsella and read Jodi Picoult to absorb life-inspiring messages.  Dean Koontz keeps me awake at night jumping at every noise I hear, but his use of language lures me in.  I also love Brene Brown and Eckhart Tolle who allow me to look beyond the words into my mind and soul in order to create different words and new stories.  I also read various internet blogs on wellness and nutrition and am easily enticed for hours by the randomness that is Google…

“Now, I try to write something every day.  I make time for it, put it on my “to do” list and prioritise it around my work commitments.  I write about my adventures, my thoughts, my dreams and how I am growing as a person. The next step on my journey is to share my words with the world and I hope that “Simply Ubuntu” is just the beginning!”

We wish Lauren, and runner-up Denise all the best in their writing endeavors and thank them for being a part of the start of the Umoja Writing Competition.



Winner 2014

Posted on Updated on

We are pleased to announce the winner of Umoja Writing Competition 2014 is Lauren Dionysius and her non-fiction entry ‘Simply Ubuntu’. Second place goes to Denise Cummins with her literary entry ‘Tumaini (hope)’. Congratulations to these writers and I’d like to thank everyone who entered. We hope next year we can raise needed funds for Umoja Orphanage again next year when we hold the second competition from January 2015.

Here’s the winning story:

Simply Ubuntu

Upon the sudden, disturbing realisation that my dream job was no longer my dream, I resigned, packed my bags and went to Africa.  Sitting next to me on the plane was Gina, a wise South-African woman.  She told me that Africa was about people, about community, and in her words it’s about “becoming more certainly human by connecting with and experiencing the humanity of others”.  She scribbled the word “ubuntu” on a piece of newspaper, handed it to me, and told me to remember this during my time in Africa.  In the months that followed I learned that ubuntu was simply what you experienced on African soil.  It was what clawed its way deep into your bones and into the depths of your spirit.  Once you have been there, you never forget.  You never forget the people you met in the countries you saw, but until you can experience ubuntu for yourself, the phenomenon is difficult to recognise.

I saw ubuntu in the face of the elderly woman whose deep, leathery wrinkles captured a timeless wisdom acquired through decades of hardship.  I heard it in her words as we swapped stories of contrasting, even colliding cultures.  I saw it flicker through the dark unknown of her pupils as they reflected the fire’s flame before it flashed brightly through her glowing, white smile between missing front teeth.  I felt her unconditional generosity as it flowed into the food she so proudly cooked in the simplest of kitchens and tasted it in the bean stew she served me in a little enamel bowl.  I heard it in the joyful laughter of the village children as they ran around outside, playing bare-footed in the dirt.  I loved that they could make such long-lasting fun out of whatever they could find, limited only by their collective imaginations.  I reveled in their innocent curiosity.  They wanted nothing more than to simply talk to me, touch my skin and my long, straight hair and to hold my hand or leap into my lap.  I soon realised that no glass screens of any technological type had ever dulled their inquisitive minds.  And for that I was incredibly grateful.

I felt ubuntu in this tiny village in rural Malawi where community life thrived on an intricate thread of hope that weaved a connection through every man, woman and child.  As I helped the children collect water from the bore pump, I felt it in the vulnerability of the modest infrastructure with which they all lived, a harsh reality of Africa’s simple life.

The longer I spent in Africa, the more I learned that it was ubuntu that remained within me after leaving behind the stressful distractions of my life back in Australia.  As a career-driven yet burned out city girl, I was so humbled by this poverty-stricken nation and its absolute belief in survival against all odds.  By first world standards these people had “nothing” yet they had the warmest of hearts and the most generously grateful souls I’d ever met.  There was no sense of stress or the pressure that accompanied daily life back home.  I found myself surrounded by humans just being human, by living their lives in the best way they knew how.  And for the first time ever, I was able to just take the time to truly listen to, learn from and connect with those around me.  This is because in Africa, humanity, not wealth, defined people.  Gina was right.  Africa was all about people.

Ubuntu is what the developed world is missing.  While we continue to chase bigger, stronger, faster, newer and more expensive, we will never be satisfied.  We live in a country of excess.  We have too much food, too much money, too many choices and too many “things”.  Nothing will ever be good enough while we are always looking for “more”.  While Australia tries to create strength through wealth and materialism, Africa creates strength of the heart through connections with other people.  Possessions and “things” are simply irrelevant.  It is for these reasons that Africa has so much to teach the rest of the world.

Ubuntu has been etched under my skin like a tattoo, a constant reminder of Africa’s beating heart.  This is what beckons me every day to return to its shores and will therefore continue to be a part of me.  For it’s the heart that is intertwined so deeply with that of ubuntu, that innate humanness that is within every one of us that craves connection with the people around us.  Everyone can take a leaf or two out of Africa’s book.  And these are the pages that I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.

The runner up story ‘Tumaini (hope)’ will be posted next week. So please come back to read it.