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Writing powerful letters: A youth skill that can help change the world

In late 2014, the United Nations General Assembly declared 15 July as World Youth Skills Day. The day offers a welcome opportunity for the world to recognize the importance of young people having the necessary skills to prosper and succeed in life.


On this day, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) adds its own voice to all those wanting to help young people acquire the skills and experience enabling them to work and thrive. However, we also wish to raise awareness about our own efforts to promote literacy and the ability of young people to express themselves in writing. 

Since 1971, the UPU has encouraged young writers, aged 9-15, to write letters on a given theme to win exciting prizes. On average over 1.2 million young people take part and the competition is an excellent way of making young people aware of the important role postal services play in our societies. Letter writing can develop their skills in composition, foster enjoyment of the written word and help strengthen the bonds of international friendship.    

Letters can move the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. (“Letter from Birmingham Jail”), Siegfried Sassoon (“A Soldier’s Declaration”) and Emile Zola (“J’accuse!”) have all written letters that had a profound impact on their readers. Last year, the thirteen-year-old winner of the UPU’s 47th International Letter-Writing Competition, Chara Phoka from Cyprus, added her own voice on a powerful and moving subject. 

Chara’s letter tells the story of a violent event and how the letter is forced on a deadly journey. During its perilous travels, the letter changes hands several times: from its author to a courageous young refugee who dies in a harsh sea crossing and finally, in a positive ending, to a relative living abroad.

“Her letter-the letter of an invisible life-tells a harrowing story that speaks to this painful period in the 21st century; a powerful modern allegory that informs as much as it distresses-a story of conflict, of migrant smuggling, of loss and finally of hope,” Deputy Director General of the UPU Pascal Clivaz said.

Mr. Clivaz was speaking during last year’s awards ceremony for UPU’s 47th International Letter-Writing Competition for Young People. The awards ceremony was held on World Post Day, 9th October, which raises awareness about the international postal sector’s role in the lives of people and businesses, as well as its contribution to global social and economic development.

“Through my letter, I wanted to express the way young people feel about instability, conflict and migrant smuggling. I hope that my letter sends a timely message that we need to solve these problems, not just for young people but for everyone,” Chara commented after receiving the gold medal.

Mr. Clivaz told the audience of distinguished guests and staff, “The message is therefore not only a letter of our times, but also a lesson for our times: We must not give up on the “greatness of human life,” we must not give up our humanity, and we must not give up our hope…” The theme of last year’s competition was, “Imagine you are a letter travelling through time. What message do you wish to convey to your readers?”

“With my letter, I wanted to give a voice and an identity to refugee children and give meaning to their lives,” said Chara.