In the spring of 2014, as well as publishing a handful of new titles* we also launched a pioneering global writing competition called the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize.
It had two categories – short stories and poetry – a prestigious £3,000 prize fund and three environmental promises built into its foundations:
- to plant a tree for every single entry received, in Bore, Kenya,
- to fund the build of an urgently needed new classroom at Kundeni Primary School in the same community,
- to send every entrant an electronic certificate with the clickable GPS co-ordinates of their tree.
Ru Hartwell, an international forestry expert, founder of TreeFlights and a trusted friend, chose Bore to site the Word Forest for several reasons. He knew we were keen to plant a legacy forest that would make a positive difference to the earth. Bore is located fairly near the equator and therefore would be incredibly efficient at locking down the CO2 from the atmosphere as the trees grow so quickly there. He also had first-hand knowledge of the area and knew how devastated it had become as a result of mass deforestation. A long-term tree planting project in Bore would not only benefit the planet, but would also have an incredibly positive effect on the community, as the trees would also provide them with food, medicines, shelter and protection from the elements and reintroduce biodiversity. In time, it could generate an income for them too. To date, the Word Forest is 11 times the size of Wembley Stadium.
Alex Katana, Ru’s right hand-man and the resident project manager in Bore, mobilised the whole community to get involved with the tree planting, including many of the children who attend Kundeni Primary School. There are around 300 children on their register, many of whom sleep on the premises because it’s simply too far to walk to. Despite the fact that it’s a primary school, several youngsters attend who are in their late teens and early 20s. Their families needed their labour to work the land so they could bring in desperately needed income, consequently, those children missed out on basic schooling. However, many parents reconsidered their position when the Kenyan authorities said all children should be encouraged to get a proper education and supported them to do so.
Educating 300 children at Kundeni Primary School had been a challenge however, as up until recently, they only had one decent classroom which housed around 30 youngsters at a time; it had been provided by another fundraising project headed by Ru. There were a handful of other ramshackle buildings dotted around the grounds, most of which were condemned and a danger to life to be in.
To say thank you for planting the trees, our literary prize also paid for the building materials and labour to construct a new classroom. In late spring 2016, a splendid new classroom was handed over to the Headmaster James Kithi and the children. They are now able to provide twice the amount of students with a safe and comfortable space to learn that keeps them cool in the summer and dry in the winter.
James wrote to us and said that it has already made an enormous difference to the whole community and we are so proud to know the Word Forest and the classroom have been welcomed and embraced. We aren’t stopping there however. As you’ll see from the images in the slider, there is a great need for more chairs, desks and basic resources.
The Mini-MOLPs and the forthcoming MOLP3 (due to open for entries in autumn 2016) are only going to continue the good work that has been done so far. Further resources to help the school are vital and a third classroom is on the cards.
With Ru continuing to be our guiding light, we will honour our commitment to helping the amazing community of Bore in Kenya with great pleasure, and perhaps one day, we will walk through the Word Forest too.
* Spring 2016 Titles
Blind Cupid: Max Brandt
Children of the Crater: Connor Cadellin McKee
Continental With Juice: James Dunford Wood
Dear Mother: Mark James
Dreaming the Moon: Izzy Robertson
Off Her Facebook: Robert Windsor and Jo Stroud
The Dreamer: Sue Hampton
The Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Anthology 2016
The Pick Up Artist: Chris Hill