We were lucky enough to interview 17-year-old British student Omara Elling-Hwang on her inspirational charity WriteUnite.
WriteUnite is entirely Omara’s brainchild and was set up in response to the sad and shocking fact that 1 in 3 British children do not own a book. Omara was really saddened by this and wanted to give children from all walks of life, and from all corners of the globe, a voice to express how they feel about global issues and so started the charity.
She has just launched a book which contains over 700 submissions from children from around the world, which is the first project by WriteUnite. The submissions include written or visual interpretations of the book’s title ‘The Perfect World’ and is a truly touching and eye-opening book.
Omara really is a remarkable young lady, who has invested an enormous amount of personal time and energy into developing the WriteUnite charity. She really is an inspiration to children and adults alike!
You’re only 17, and you’ve already created a truly inspirational charity called WriteUnite. Tell us a bit about it, and why it’s so important to you.
I started WriteUnite with the aim to unite children of the world through books and give young people a voice to express how they feel about global issues that truly matter. The funds from the sale of the first book will go towards providing school kits containing school supplies to children at the Tegla Loroupe Peace Academy in Kenya which supports over 400 students, many of whom are orphans of the tribal wars in the area. The next book, which will be published in the autumn of 2014, is titled ‘I believe I can…’
When I found out that 1 in 3 children in the UK do not own a book and almost 1 billion people entered the 21st Century unable to read a book, I was astounded especially since books have always played such an important role in my life and I know that if I did not have the opportunity to read as a child, I would not be the person I am today. WriteUnite holds a special place in my heart because I am a firm believer that books are a medium that allows people to share ideas and thoughts and good ones have the power to unite people everywhere.
For a lot of us, it is easy to pick up a book and lose ourselves within the pages of a story but this is not the case for so many others. It is not often that the voices of so many people are united together and it is even more rare that the voices heard are of young people. I hope that WriteUnite’s books show that us minors do think about global issues and, as the future generation, our ideas do matter.
We’re really excited to receive your first book ‘The Perfect World’, what sparked this lovely idea?
When we open a newspaper or turn on the news, often the only stories told are those of heartbreak or destruction and I really wanted WriteUnite’s first book to focus on the positive aspects of humanity rather than the negative. This first book has submissions from over 700 students on every continent. While some of these contributions made me laugh, others made me cry and the title was interpreted by people in so many different ways but overall, it is a clear representation that even though we may live in different places and under different circumstances, we all share the same fundamental ideas, hopes and dreams.
Which three inspiring people would you most want to read your book?
There are so many inspiring people in the world today to have to choose three is not easy. What I hope to achieve with WriteUnite is to be able to give young people a voice. Since I have to make this choice, I would pick Mother Teresa, Malala Yousafzai and Sir Ken Robinson because for me, these three people have inspired and empowered those around them.
What are your all-time favourite books from your childhood?
I don’t know where to start! I was lucky to be able to read so many book but there are a few that really touched me as a child. I read Anne of Green Gables countless times because Anne’s life on Prince Edward Island was so different to my own in London and I found myself lost in her world. I also have very fond memories of reading Paddington Bear with my mother as a younger child. Two more books that really stick in my mind are Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah and I, Coriander by Sally Gardner.
Tell us a little about how and why you’re approaching schools to support the charity.
I have been so lucky to have so many advocates of WriteUnite who have helped me approach schools and teachers all over the world. I understand how hard it is for some schools to support charities and that is why I am only asking for the donation of one lesson a year where students have the chance to write and draw for the book.
Collecting hundreds of submissions for the first book involved writing a lot of emails, making phone calls and scheduling meetings with people who I knew who worked in education and even though I got a lot of “thank you but no thank you,” I didn’t let it discourage me and the schools that have supported WriteUnite have been amazing.
How do you manage to successfully balance your charity work with your schoolwork?
It isn’t easy and I often get told by friends and family that I have a lot on my plate but I love WriteUnite and I would not give it up now that I’ve started. I have to keep clear task lists and ensure that I have my priorities straight and while it means sacrificing some things, I like to think that I have managed to do it with very few difficulties so far – except perhaps getting enough sleep!