volunteering overseas

Meet our winner Kirsten

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Meet our winner Kirsten

This year’s winner of Umoja Writing Competition, Kirsten Leggett generously donated back her prize money. She did receive the first prize trophy and on receiving it said, “Thank you again for such a wonderful opportunity to write for others and share in something that benefits those less fortunate than we. I am humbled to be this years winner of the Umoja Writing Competition.”

About Kirsten Leggett 

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 words.org) and ‘Pear Infused with Jasmine’ (Flash Fiction Magazine).

Umoja Thanks You

Kirsten is a worthy winner and we congratulate her on the wonderful entry ‘The Tiny Teacher‘. Along with Kirsten’s generous donation our second placed, Denise Krklec also donated her prize money back to Umoja. She said, “I worked as a volunteer in an orphanage in Bolivia, and appreciate how difficult it is to source funding – that’s why I entered the competition – and while I’m over the moon my entry was considered so favourably, I’d like to donate my prize money back to the orphanage.” Isn’t that a wonderful conclusion to this year’s competition!

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

Thanks also to; our founder, Cathy for the wonderful work she does for Umoja Orphanage Kenya; literacy consultant Deborah Lawrence for donating the winner’s trophy and judging; writer Martin Knox for a generous funding donation; Umoja communications officer Shanyn Limpus for judging and of course all the writers who entered Umoja Writing Competition 2015.

Next year’s competition will be run in a slightly different format (still to be advised). We are considering a smaller entry fee to entice more entries and more focus on entrants considering sponsoring an Umoja Orphan. If anyone has any ideas about how to make next year’s competition a fundraising success for Umoja Orphanage Kenya, please contact me through our contact page.

Last word: Unite your writing with a worthy cause to feel the realisation of your words flowing towards a better world.

The winner is – ‘Tiny Teacher’ by Kirsten Leggett

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Today we announce the winner of Umoja Writing Competition 2015. It is both exciting and sad to come to this point in our competition. Exciting because our winner is about to find out, and sad because this year’s competition is over.

We’d like to thank everyone who entered to help make this fundraising and literacy venture a success. Though entrant numbers were down, we still managed to raise valued funds for Umoja Orphanage Kenya, and the wonderful work Cathy and her team do. We thank you all and hope you enjoyed crafting your story and entering our competition.

This year we allowed African entrant the chance to enter free, so they could enjoy the process of entering the competition. The competition has been designed to help Kenyan literacy levels and provide funding for the orphanage that will also have classrooms.

African Special Mention

We’d like to make special mention of our highest ranked African entrant, Nancy Lindah Ilamwenya from Ethiopa. Her entry ‘Of Nice and Mean’ was a beautifully crafted entry. Continue your writing, Nancy and we wish you the best of luck with your life goals. We will post Nancy’s entry and the winning entry on the blog in the coming days.

The Winner

Okay here we go with the drum roll. Now for the overall winner of Umoja Writing Competition 2015. The winner is Kirsten Leggett from Tasmania, with her wonderful entry ‘Tiny Teacher’. Congratulations Kirsten.

Please return to see these entries. Now you be the judges when these four entries are posted let us know what you think of them. Give only literary feedback, thank you.

A quick thank you again to our judges Deborah Lawrence, teacher and literacy consultant (and also the sponsor of our trophy) and Shanyn Limpus, communications officer for Umoja Orphanage Kenya.

Please visit the orphanage Facebook page to see the latest information on the volunteer group who have just visited Kenya with Cathy. If you are interested in volunteering overseas you couldn’t find a better place to go.

The countdown continues

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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

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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.

Shortlist Announced

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The shortlist for Umoja Orphanage Writing Competition 2015 has been announced.

Congratulations to these entries and thank you to all participants. Your entry fee goes a long way in helping Umoja Orphanage Kenya.

Cathy with baby

Our shortlist (in no particular order) with comments from our judges:

‘A Cup of Water’ by Judith Howe.

“It had a great use of descriptive language and a good use of vocabulary.”

“I liked the use of viewpoint. Engaging.”

‘The Tiny Teacher’ by Kirsten Leggettt.

“The beginning of the story engaged me as a reader. The vocabulary used created visual images and was highly descriptive. Tension was tightened as the main character entered the house. I loved the twist at the end. Very cleverly written.”

“Well-written and descriptive.”

 ‘Winter’ by Denise Krklec.

“I loved the simplicity of this story. I was connected to the moral of the story. The vocabulary again was descriptive and painted visual images in my mind.”

“Sad but poignant story with wonderful language.”

 ‘How do different cultures express their values and beliefs through children’s stories (essay)’ by Siena Hemra.

“I enjoyed reading this writers perspective on children’s literature.”

“A well-researched, well-written essay of merit.”

Hit our FOLLOW button to make sure you don’t miss the big announcement. Our winner will be announced in the coming weeks.

Umoja Writing Competition Logo 2015 copy

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





Have you seen how far you entry fee goes in Kenya?

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Watch this video and see where the money goes and what it provides the Umoja Orphanage Kenya.

If volunteering looks like something you’d like to do, go to the Volunteer page at Umoja Home and find out more.

To help fund this wonderful cause ENTER THE WRITING COMPETITION.