Afghan Girl provokes reflection in Rotary Young Writer
Afghan Girl provokes reflection in Rotary Young Writer

One of the most iconic photographs of all time was the inspiration for a winning story in this year’s Rotary Young Writer competition.

As is often the case with the Rotary Young Writer competition, entrants have their creative flair put to the test with a theme that serves up a great deal of imagination.

For 2017, that theme was ‘Reflection’, something which Mia Kellner explored through her short story entitled The Eyes of War, which was inspired by Steve McCurry’s ‘Afghan Girl’, a photograph which famously appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985.

Mia, a pupil at Grove Academy in Dundee, explains how the photo had an impact on her. “What provoked me to write ‘The Eyes of War’ was the look in her eyes.” she discussed. “Her stare epitomised the indifference that is omnipresent in every war and the people who bear its brutal consequences.”

“But in my writing, I wanted to portray the humanity and hope that can be found in these war-torn countries and how these emotions manifested themselves in the eyes of this one young girl.”

“This one young girl and her impassioned gaze have now come to represent not only her nation, but the entirety of the world’s refugees, of the people who suffer most.”


“I wanted to portray the humanity and hope that
can be found in these war-torn countries.”


Over 30 years on and 15-year-old Mia, who was sponsored in the competition by the five Rotary Clubs across Dundee and Monifieth, was inspired by the relevance the photograph has today, “The past story of the ‘Afghan Girl’ and the hope she represents is now extremely relevant in our present times and essential in sustaining our future humanity.”

“I wanted to explore the themes that are intrinsic to war: hope and the passiveness found in human nature and all forms of suffering.”

The power of the written word is that it can transport the reader to a whole different time and place, something which Andy Jackson, Author and competition judge, felt Mia’s submission did brilliantly.

“Her short story recounts the journey to the place where the photo was taken, beautifully placing the photographer among a tormented people who have lived with cycles of invasion and civil war for centuries.” Andy commented.

“Using the language of colours and rich imagery Mia vividly brought to life the human story behind a striking photograph, and creates a startling and poignant piece of journalistic writing addressing the horrors of childhood lived in a warzone, and the triumph of hope.”

The competition featured thousands of entries, covering everything from fiction and non-fiction, to prose and poetry, and while Mia triumphed in the Senior category for 14-17 year olds, two more talented writers excelled in the Junior and Intermediate categories for those aged 7-10 and 11-13.

The junior category winner was 10-year-old Marla Payne, supported by Worcester Severn Rotary Club. Marla’s poem, A Flash of Orange was praised for its mature themes and described as “mystical and thoughtful” by the judges.

In the Intermediate category it was Tara af Forselles’ “beautifully crafted short story about Grandpa’s ashes” which impressed the judges, who were moved by the story’s emotion. Tara was supported by Ashford Rotary Club in Kent.


The Eyes Of War – an extract from Mia’s winning entry

“I walk through the barren landscape, through the country that had its heart ripped out by war and its soul destroyed by the Soviet shells. Here I am in Afghanistan; “the land of the Pashtuns”, the very people who now wander aimlessly around their nations’ hollowed carcass.

Now, with my camera around my neck and tripod in hand, I weave through the seemingly infinite sea of tents, the never-ending current of sorrow visible in the faded multi-coloured patchworks and quilts that barely shelter their impoverished occupants.

This sorrow is etched into the lines of an aging mother’s face and is unmistakably clear in the once bright eyes of a child. This is what I am here to document, to capture the poignant emotions of these refugee camps, to bring the world’s attention and sympathy to these people. They are simply people, nothing more and nothing less, not just numbers on a page or pictures in a newspaper. They are individuals with distinctive identities, families and stories which I want to tell.”

Read the top three entries in each category


Full results were as follows:

Junior category

1st place - Marla Payne, supported by Worcester Severn Rotary Club
2nd place - Archie Nye, supported by Cambridge South Rotary Club
3rd place (joint) - Mabry Williams, supported by Faringdon Rotary Club and Zach Scerri, supported by Worthing Steyne Rotary Club

Intermediate category

1st place - Tara af Forselles, supported by Ashford Rotary Club, Kent
2nd place - Isabella Briscoe, supported by Locks Heath Rotary Club
3rd place - Aiva Bertram-Illingworth, supported by Plympton Rotary Club

Senior category

1st place - Mia Kellner, supported by Dundee Rotary Club
2nd place - Rosie Breslin, supported by Knowle and Dorridge Rotary Club
3rd place (joint) - Evie Sutcliffe, supported by Elland Rotary Club


Feature image: Sam Burt Photography

Published: Friday 30th June 2017

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