Write Start: Parvati Girls’ Balkaran, Sando Sec’s Kumar cop top prizes with essays on Lara and a condensed Carnival

The results of Wired868’s Write Start National Essay Contest are available on schedule today. And the records show that, both in quantity and quality, girls dominated their male counterparts, South entries outstripped entries from North, East and Tobago and the young 11-15 writers were much more prolific than the not-so-young 16-18 ones.

And when all of the more than 200 entries were read and the marking done, the two winners of the TT$6,000 group first prizes were 13-year-old Parvati Girls’ Shara Balkaran and 17-year-old San Fernando Central Secondary’s Aastha Kumar. (See full list below) 

Photo: The Wired868 Write Start competition had over 200 participants in its inaugural year.

Twas the day before deadline, so runs her tale,

When Sando Sec’s Kumar received an email.

Dear Aastha, it read, this is about Write Start,

An essay contest in which you must take part…

A ‘shocked but grateful’ Kumar, the overall Group One (16-18 years) winner in the contest only found out that there was such a thing as an essay competition right at the end of October. 

“In fact, it was the day before the deadline,” the 17-year-old San Fernando Central Secondary student complained when Wired868 spoke to her on the weekend, “when my English B teacher sent me the information; I had no time to get the help I would have liked to get.” 

Photo: San Fernando Central Secondary student Aastha Kumar predicted designer masks and a condensed parade in Trinidad and Tobago’s first post-Covid-19 Carnival.
(Copyright NY Post)

No matter. She clearly did not need it. Apart from taking the top prize, Kumar also walked away with a $500 cheque for the story adjudged to provide the best analysis on the way the first Post-Covid-19 Carnival will differ from its predecessors.

Group Two overall winner Balkaran was not among the handful of early birds who fed the trickle of entries that the under-resourced ‘clearing house’ staff handled easily in late September and early-to-mid-October. Her entry too came in the last week of October when the trickle had swelled to a raging torrent. 

She told Wired868 that she was ‘excited and proud, excited to make myself, my family and my school proud’.

Like Kumar, she said she had only read ‘some of the other stories’ and she had concluded that her effort ‘had a good chance’.

The story she wrote on the day she met her local hero Brian Lara also earned her the bmobile-sponsored prize for the best story on the West Indies batting star.

Photo: Parvati Girls’ Hindu College student Shara Balkaran topped all participants in the 11-15 category with an essay about her hero and iconic West Indies cricketer Brian Lara.
(Copyright Graham Chadwick/PA Photos)

The other bmobile-sponsored prize for the best story on 2012 Olympic gold medal winner Keshorn Walcott went to Amayiah Joseph of Holy Name Convent in Port-of-Spain, who also walked away with the Best Dialogue prize. 

In all, there were three double-winners in Group Two. Kassidy Gaulteau of St Joseph’s Convent in Port-of-Spain, the runner-up, was also a double winner, putting novelist Earl Lovelace as the hero at the centre of her story. It copped the special prize for the best story on a non-sporting national icon. 

The third Group Two double-winner was second runner-up Niskha Basdeo, whose story about West Indies mystery spinner Sunil Narine also earned her the $500 prize for the best story with sporting commentary.

And the unannounced special prize sponsored by one of the judges for the youngest entrant in Group Two went to 11-year-old June 2010-born Durrell Mitchell of Sacred Heart Boys Primary School, whose local hero was also ‘the living Trinidadian legend, Brian ‘Princey’ Lara’.

Photo: St Joseph’s Convent (PoS) student Kassidy Gaulteau was runner-up in the 11-15 category with an essay about her hero and renowned Trinidad and Tobago novelist Earl Lovelace.
(Copyright Robyn Cross)

Apart from overall winner Kumar, Group One produced just one double-winner in Malique Auguste, beaten into third place overall by Ogechi Uche Nweze of St Joseph’s Convent in Port-of-Spain. But Auguste, a Naparima College sixth former and the solitary male among the top 20, produced a story which he titled simply ‘Post-Covid Carnival’ which the judges deemed to be the best description of the event among the almost 50 offerings received. 

The confident 17–year-old Auguste was ‘happy, very elated’ but not really surprised that his effort had been ranked in the top three. He is, he said, ‘usually an avid reader but I haven’t read any good books in a little while’.

And he was ‘not too shocked’ that no other male had made it into the top 20. At first, he suggested that most of his friends at school ‘do not enjoy writing’ but he later backed away from that saying that he really did not have enough information to make that judgement. 

All winners will receive their prizes this week and details will be communicated via provided contact information.

Photo: Naparima College student Malique Auguste impressed the judges with his essay on a dour pandemic Carnival.
(Copyright Phenderson Djèlí Clark)

The prize structure for the Wired868 contest is:

First place — TT$6,000, plus six month data plan from bmobile, plus two 4DX gift certificates from CinemaONE;

Second place — TT$4,000;

Third place — TT$2,000;

Most read — TT$1,000

Shortlisted writers (excluding the top three finishers) — Massy Stores gift cards;

Additional prizes — TT$500.

United States-based business Sean Powder is the main patron for the Wired868 Write Start competition, after donating TT$26,000 in prize money from a total of TT$30,000. RBC, Customized Health Solutions and three anonymous donors also contributed generously to the cash prizes.

Photo: Naparima Girls’ High School student Nishka Basdeo snared two prizes for an essay on her hero and Trinidad and Tobago cricket star Sunil Narine (right).
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/CA-Images/Wired868)

The Wired868 Start competition was endorsed by Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and authorised by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB).

Primary sponsor, Powder, will have been encouraged by the response. And perusal of just the published stories suggests that there is plenty of parental involvement in the enterprise.

Moreover, many of the emails are sent by parents rather than by the students themselves and there are a number of schools and teachers who, as in the case of Balkaran, have been actively involved in encouraging their students to participate in Write Start.

All in all, organisers say, the inaugural contest has been a success and students can look forward to Edition Two next year—with a few changes. 

Firstly, a large number of entries were received without the cover page and a large number were duplicated. That put unnecessary pressure on Wired868’s already meagre resources. 

Photo: St Joseph’s Convent (PoS) student Kadar Mohammed was rewarded for Best Plot Twist for her essay on the pandemic Carnival.
(via Triniinxisle.com)

Secondly, PDFs—far and away the preferred format among teenagers—make life difficult for those responsible for ensuring anonymity by sending on to the judges nothing but the text of the essay and a registration number.

Finally, the large number of entrants who waited until the last few days to make their submissions meant that without the generosity and yeoman service of Lisa Allen-Agostini and her Group Two panel and of the folks at COSTAATT who handled Group One, to even think of meeting a December deadline would have been ridiculous. 

Edition Two in 2022—but definitely improved. And hopefully, if our generous additional sponsors can be persuaded to damblay their patronage and even increase it, expanded.

In total, 26 students will receive prizes from the inaugural Wired868 Write Start competition.




1st Aastha KUMAR (San Fernando Central Secondary) — Click HERE to read

2nd Ogechi UCHE NWEZE (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Click HERE to read

3rd Malique AUGUSTE (Naparima College) — Click HERE to read

Most Shared: Tsai-Ann LEWIS (Arima North Secondary) — 11k shares

Photo: What would a post-Covid-19 Carnival look like?
(Copyright Lisa Fernandez)

Shortlisted writers: Massy Stores gift card

Tsai-Ann LEWIS (Arima North Secondary) — Click HERE to read

Kyla-Marie SINGH (Holy Faith Convent, Couva) — Click HERE to read

Sade HINKSON (St George’s College) — Click HERE to read

Kadar MOHAMMED (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Click HERE to read

Alicia DIPCHAN (St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando) — Click HERE to read

Shirley PRESCOTT (Bishop Anstey High School East) — Click HERE to read

Malika COUTAIN (San Fernando Central Secondary) — Click HERE to read

Photo: Giddem Kes!

Additional Prizes: $500 each

Best analysis: Aastha KUMAR (San Fernando Government Secondary)

Best descriptive: Malique AUGUSTE (Naparima College)

Best researched: Malika COUTAIN (San Fernando Government Secondary)

Best plot twist: Kadar MOHAMMED (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain)

Honourable mention: Tsai-Ann LEWIS (Arima North Secondary)

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago javelin star Keshorn Walcott prepares to launch his javelin during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)



1st Shara BALKARAN (Parvati Girls’ Hindu College) — Brian Lara (Click HERE to read)

2nd Kassidy GAULTEAU (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Earl Lovelace (Click HERE to read)

3rd Nishka BASDEO (Naparima Girls’ High School) — Sunil Narine (Click HERE to read)

Most shared: Shara BALKARAN (Parvati Girls’ Hindu College) — 4.2k shares

Photo: Gifted Trinidad and Tobago artist Shalini Seereeram.
(Copyright Maria Nunes 2020)

Shortlisted writers: Massy Stores gift card

Jalisa CHARLES (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Destra Garcia (Click HERE to read)

Ranissa LOCHAN (Bishop Anstey High School East) — Wendy Fitzwilliam (Click HERE to read)

Surayya CARRINGTON (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Shalini Seereeram (Click HERE to read)

Amayiah JOSEPH (Holy Name Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Keshorn Walcott (Click HERE to read)

Gabriella MOHAMMED (San Fernando Central Secondary) — Lisa Allen-Agostini (Click HERE to read)

J’Leise SEALEY (St Charles High School) —Keshorn Walcott (Click HERE to read)

Kristen SMITH (Naparima Girls’ High School) — Machel Montano (Click HERE to read)

Photo: Model Wendy Fitzwilliam, the 1998 Miss Universe, plays with Harts for Carnival.
(Copyright Sureash Cholai/ Newsday)

Additional prizes: TT$500 each

Best dialogue: Amayiah JOSEPH (Holy Name Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Keshorn Walcott

Best entertainer story: Lian-Devi INDAR (ASJA) — Raymond Ramnarine (Click HERE to read)

Funniest: Shantelle WILLIAMS (St Stephen’s College, Princes Town) — Gerard Besson (Click HERE to read)

Most original: Josse FRANCO (Fatima College) — Kes (Click HERE to read)

Best on national icon: Kassidy GAULTEAU (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Earl Lovelace

Best story on artist: Surayya CARRINGTON (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — Shalini Seereeram

Best sport story: Nishka BASDEO (Naparima Girls’ High School) — Sunil Narine

Youngest Entrant: Durrell MITCHELL — Sacred Heart Boys RC — born 5 June 2010

Illustration: Shantelle Williams (right) and his hero Gerard Besson (left) take cover from a la diablesse in his hilarious essay.
(Copyright Shantelle Williams)

Honourable mention:

Moriscia JAIRAM (San Fernando West Secondary) — Gary Griffith

Sekaye CAMPBELL (Arima Central Secondary) — Heather Headley

Jael REYES (St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain) — My mom

Editor’s Note: Wired868 will contact all winners to arrange for the collection of prizes. However, winners can also reach out at editor@wired868.com. As previously stated, the top three finishers in each category will receive TT$1,000 of their prize this week while the remainder will be made available by UTC at the end of the school year.

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About Earl Best

Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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  1. Congrats to all the participants! and I hope you all continue to show the great potential of youth in T&T. Encourage all your friends to challenge you in participating! Special thanks to all those who had to read and judge, and extra big thanks to the sponsor!
    To the winners, kudos! Enjoy your well-deserved prizes! Don’t spend it all in one place!
    @Wired868, will there be a Zoom prize ceremony?

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