A 12-year-old Kuils River boy has won an international essay contest for the blind and jetted off to New York in America yesterday, Tuesday March 8, to claim his $5 000 (more than R75 000) prize at the UN.
Joel Greek, a Grade 7 pupil from the Athlone School for the Blind, penned a moving 489-word composition, themed “Share Peace”, where he touched on racism, inequality, discrimination, social activism and poverty stories, which won him the best read in the International Lions Essay Contest.
The school’s secretary and cultural co-ordinator, Barbara Davis, said Joel had entered the annual competition last year and wrote a letter that beat entrants from 100 other countries.
He will be accompanied on his all-expenses-paid trip to the UN headquarters in New York by his mother, Inge Greek, and Ms Davis.
“We’re very excited for him. And he has been overwhelmed by it all,” Ms Greek said.
She said her son was a history boffin, who read a lot.
His letter mentioned teenage writer and Holocaust victim Anne Frank, child Aids activist Nkosi Johnson and Malala Yousafzai, a teen human rights activist who fled Pakistan after being shot by the Taliban as she advocated for the education of girls.
“He has known about Nkosi since he was four,” said Ms Greek.
“Joel is inspired by many people, and he digests information. He listens to me when I speak.”
Joel lost his sight in his right eye at a young age. He suffers from optic glioma, a type of tumour, albeit a non-cancerous one in his case. The family learnt Joel had developed another tumour in his right eye shortly before he penned his award-winning essay.
His mother said the tumour was not as life-threatening as the one he had been born with and which had to be surgically removed.
“He underwent a few tests while he was writing the essay,” Ms Greek said.
The family spent Monday on edge, as Ms Davis worked around the clock with the American consulate for his visa, Ms Greek said.
The single mother, who lives in Sarepta, Kuils River, heaped praise on Joel’s supportive paternal family, including his father, step-mother and three half-siblings.
“They’ve always been supportive,” she said.
Most of the cash prize, Ms Greek said, would be set aside for Joel’s trust fund, “and we have taught him all about the compound interest and the wonder (of a fund)”.
She said they were both lapping up the moment and were also “first-time winners and flyers”.
Ms Greek said Joel would like to meet American president Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, privileges enjoyed by the previous winner.
Ms Davies said: “The school is very proud to have one of our visually impaired learners winning the Lions Clubs International Essay competition.”
She said she had been floored when she heard the news from the competition’s organisers.
Joel was the only entrant from Athlone School for the Blind and he competed among other visually impaired pupils aged between 11 and 13 from more than 100 countries, Ms Davies said.
“Joel’s achievement is indeed a motivation for our visually impaired youth to never give up and to embrace any opportunity to enrich themselves and to show the world they are just normal teenagers with the hope to reach for the stars.
“We salute Joel not only as a visually-impaired learner of Athlone School for the Blind, but as being the first in South Africa to win the Lions Club International’s visually impaired competition,” Ms Davies said.
Social Development MEC Albert Fritz congratulated Joel on Monday morning.