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Six years of letter writing

The letter-writing competition “Ludzie Listy Piszą” was held for the first time in 2014. The title could be translated as “People Write Letters”, but to a Polish person there’s a lot more to the pharse than its literal meaning. The words come from a song which has been around since the late 1960s and is probably one of the most popular Polish songs of all times. Written by Skaldowie, it was released as “Medytacje wiejskiego listonosza” (or “Meditations of a village postman”), but few people remember its original title. Instead, we all know the song simply as “Ludzie Listy Piszą”. You can listen to it here.

The competition which owes its name to the song was a brainchild of Agnieszka Sobczak, who worked – and still works – a teacher at the Janusz Korczak Primary School in Okup. Little did she know that six years down the line it would still be going strong, with herself as its main organizer. The primary purpose of the event is to keep alive the vanishing tradition of letter writing, help young people develop the skill of effectively and competently expressing themselves in a written form, and to make them more sensitive to the problems of modern world. Because it is such problems that provide inspiration for competition tasks.

Over the years, the participants wrote letters to addicts, paralympians, singers, and even to Santa Claus. They expressed their feelings and emotions in letters to parents, siblings and the motherland. They wrote to historic figures who cared deeply about the fate of our country and thanks to whom we can now enjoy independence. More surprising addressees included maltreated animals and lifestyle diseases. Agnieszka Sobczak still remembers the winning letter to cancer and the wave of overwhelming emotion it sent through the audience.

The letters played one more important role. Those which dealt with love were sent to Błażej Wojdała from the Department of Experimental Psychology of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, who included their careful analysis in his doctoral disseratation.

This year’s edition of the inter-district letter-writing competition “Ludzie Listy Piszą” took place on October 25. It attracted pupils from ten primary schools in three different districts and forScience Foundation had the pleasure to act as one of its honorary patrons.

What do letters have to do with the Foundation’s activity? Quite a lot, because this year’s motto goes perfectly well with our current project, encouraging young people to reflect on the deteriorating condition of our planet and the dangers caused by continuing economic growth and the associated lifestyle.

Motto of this year’s edition of the letter-writing competition “Ludzie Listy Piszą”
© Adam Nawrot, forScience Foundation

This year, the competition task was far from easy. The participants wrote to an adult of their choice (in the case of the older age group the adult had to be a politician), who doesn’t care about the environment. In their letters, they had to make the addressee realize what the progressing degradation of our planet may lead to, and appeal to him or her to take appropriate steps in order to improve the situation. The challenge was taken on by thirty-eight pupils, divided into two age groups. To complete their letters, they only had 60 minutes.

The letters were assessed by a jury comprising Beata Magdziak (director of the District Public Library in Sędziejowice), Feliks Dębkowski (retired teacher of Polish, librarian and Esperantist) and Barbara Jóźwiak from forScience Foundation. The jurors took into consideration not just the content of the letters, but also their linguistic quality, paying close attention to style, structure and spelling.

As far as the younger age group (grades 5–6) was concerned, the letters which made the strongest impression on the jury were those written by:

Kaja Michałowicz from Primary School No. 3 in Pabianice – First place

Julianna Krzyżańska from Primary School No. 10 in Zduńska Wola – Second place

Zuzanna Młynarczyk from Primary School No. 5 in Łask – Third place

Lidia Magnuska from Primary School in Kolumna – Honourable mention

Lena Dobrzańska from Primary School in Buczek – Honourable mention

In the older age group, which included grades 7–8, the winners were:

Julia Witusik from Primary School in Bałucz – First Place

Marika Sowała from Primary School in Bałucz – Second Place

Karolina Sacharewicz from Primary School in Wiewiórczyn – Third place

Jakub Jurek from Primary School No. 4 in Łask Kolumna – Honourable mention

The results were announced during a grand finale, which took place on December 5 in Łask Culture Centre. The event turned out really well, not least because of excellent prizes, funded by the mayor of Łask – Gabriel Szkudlarek, Poczta Polska, biweekly magazine Mój Łask, District Public Library in Sędziejowice and Łask Handicraft Association Szuflandia. Found among the prizes were also wildlife photographs prepared by the Foundation. To our delight, they generated a lot of enthusiasm. And not only among the kids!

The nine finalists along with the above mentioned Agnieszka Sobczak, Beata Magdziak, Adam Łoniewski (director of Łask Culture Centre), Michał Jaborski (a representative of Poczta Polska, one of the event’s most loyal patrons), and the two of us.

In the midst of numerous congratulations, words of appreciation and declarations for the future, the director of Łask Culture Centre, Adam Łoniewski, turned to the kids with a special appeal. He drew their attention to the fact that a traditional letter is not only a form of communication, but also a form of art. At the same time – as he emphasized – letters offer an insight into their authors’ plans, dreams and fears, often serving as more valuable sources of information about the world than fiction, drama or poetry.

Do write letters! Not only as part of this competition, but also to each other. Writing letters helps you put your thoughts in order and thus enables you to communicate more fully with another person. Have you ever noticed that it’s by reading old letters that we learn the most about the world of the time? They tell us more than plays, novels and poems, which are a lot less intimate literary forms. … The letters you write will leave a trace for your children and grandchildren of who you are today, what occupies your minds, what your dreams are and how you try to respond to modern dangers. So do write letters!

– Adam Łoniewski, Director of Łask Culture Centre

We couldn’t agree more!

Accounts of the event appeared in local newspapers and the best letters will be published in the January issue of Biologia w Szkole, a popular magazine for natural science teachers. Congratulations to all the finalists! Maybe we’ll meet again next year.

The competition was organized in partnership with the mayor of Łask, Dziennki Łódzki, biweekly magazine Mój Łask, District Public Library in Sędziejowice, Łask Handicraft Association Szuflandia and the most popular Polish science blog Crazy Nauka. The event’s honorary patrons included forScience Foundation and the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.