Inspiration

This Filipino Teen Won a Gold Medal in the U.S. For Her Essay on Street Children

Read the winning piece here.
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Filipino high school student Georgia Limcaoco won over the panel of judges at the 2018 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards with a beautifully worded submission on the disparity of social classes in the Philippines in her work entitled “Sampaguita.”

The 11th grader from International School of Manila (ISM) won a gold medal for her entry in the Flash Fiction category of the annual awards hosted by non-profit group Alliance for Young Writers & Artists.

Prior to the national awards, the 17-year-old also received a Gold Key for “Sampaguita,” which is awarded to exceptional works on the regional level that qualify for the nationals. A prolific writer, the teen was also given a Silver Key for two poetry pieces.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is distinguished as the “longest running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens” in the U.S. The Awards are divided among 29 categories, including poetry, photography, video game design, and art.

As one of the awardees from among 346,000 hopefuls from the regional level, Limcaoco finds herself in good company. The honorees, who are all between grades 7 and 12, will have the opportunity to enter future scholarship programs and workshops and will also have their works displayed at the Art.Write.Now.2018 National Exhibition. The awarding ceremony will take place at Carnegie Hall on June 7, which Limcaoco will reportedly miss due to an exam.

Limcaoco says the piece isn't something she would usually write. "I wrote this specifically for the competition. Because the competition was international, I wanted to write about something exclusive to my life here in the Philippines, something no one else but I could write," she says. "My story encapsulates my experience with the social divide here, something I’ve noticed and been living with for my entire life."

Her goal in writing "Sampaguita" was to bring awareness to the social class divide: "Awareness is always the first step in making a change," she says. "There are some problems in this country that we shouldn’t ignore."

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"I’ve always thought of writing as not just a part of my future, but as my future entirely. I’ve dreamt of publishing a book, running a magazine or newspaper, or writing for the stage or screen—having explored screenwriting, scriptwriting, journalism, poetry, fiction. Writing has always been my life," Limcaoco says. She plans to pursue an English or Communications major in college.

Read her award-winning below:

"Sampaguita"

A wreath of sampaguita hangs from the mirror, filling the car with a sweet, milky scent, laced with a comforting waft of familiarity and the clean sense of purity that sampaguita is supposed to convey. Marielle stares hard at the flowers, at bunches of almost indistinguishable velvety cream-colored petals, and thinks of where they came from.

A car window slightly cracked open, a child standing in the road, a small hand waiting expectantly for two five-peso coins to drop into his dusty brown palm. Kids weave in and out of the traffic throng, taking advantage of the stoplight at an intersection to tiptoe beside cars, knocking on windows to try and make a sale. A couple of them sit on the curb at a nearby gas station, sharing a plastic bag of Royal with one straw and kicking the dirt off their bare feet, the grime of the street embedded in every line and gray knuckle on their toes.

Marielle sees the kids and her heart twists. She thinks for a second that they are bent over a bottle of Rugby, a cheap and strong-smelling cross between paint thinner and furniture glue. Then she sees the bag and the straw, and the wide-awake looks on their faces. She’s glad they spent their money on Royal instead of Rugby. You can’t get high on Royal, she thinks.

Her mother always told her not to give money to street children. But don’t they need it more? Her mother was adamant, do not give money to street children, or they will keep coming back. They are like cats, you know. Once you feed them, they never go away. It was a terrible comparison and her mother realized it, too, because she refused to entertain the topic again.

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So Marielle knows not to give money to street children, though she sometimes keeps a can of Vienna sausages or Century tuna in the car for any hungry child who knocks at the window. You can’t buy rugby with Century tuna. You can’t get high on Century tuna, she thinks. She breathes in, watching the kids on the curb, filling her lungs with sampaguita.

Reaching forward, she unhooks the wreath from the mirror and draws it into the backseat with her. She takes a petal between her fingers, rubbing the perfume into her skin, imagining the care someone took to string all the flowers together. Manual labor worth only ten pesos.

She can see where they make these from the window of her daddy’s new building. It towers over what her dad calls the squatters, what her mother calls the slums. She remembers down from above and seeing bright red scraps of Chippy bags floating in the gutters on streams of dirty water, children running through streets slippery with fish scales from their markets. They wore grubby shirts that hung loosely off their wiry bronze frames, bones straining against skin, surviving off pan de sal and margarine and, when there’s nothing else, the fumes from a bottle of Rugby.

She could see the air around the barangay heavy with pollution, with smog from her car and evaporated sweat. It pressed against the window of the building, unable to touch her in the bubble she lives in.

A sudden jerk of the car brings her back to the present, and she’s leaning against the inside of the car door with flowers to her face.

She breathes in again, expecting the sweet smell of sampaguita in her chest. Instead she smells sweat and the fumes from an exhaust pipe. She smells dirty water in the gutters and fish guts in the streets. She smells the intoxicating tang of Rugby on the petals and jerks her head back from the wreath. She can’t stand the beauty in white flowers.

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There’s nothing pure about sampaguita.



Most recently, Limcaoco founded KwentoBus PH, a mobile library geared toward providing marginalized children with books and interactive programs. She was also previously a Kid Reporter for Scholastic News Kids and has an interest in acting, Biology, and Chemistry. Currently, she teaches Chemistry to children as part of an extracurricular organization called Energizing Engineers. 

Copyright Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Used with permission.

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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