As part of this year’s Black History Month, which is marked every October, primary school pupils from Caerphilly County Borough, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent were tasked with writing a newspaper report about Mary Seacole – a British-Jamaican nurse who helped wounded soldiers during the Crimea war in the 1850s.
The competition was organised by the West Gwent Cohesion Team, which covers Caerphilly, Torfan and Blaenau Gwent council areas.
The team was set up after the UK voted to leave the European Union, with a focus on responding positively to divisions in society and to promote issues including Black History Month, Holocaust Awareness Week, Refugee Week and more.
It is funded by Welsh Government’s EU Transition Fund.
Sonya Foley, of the West Gwent Cohesion Team, said: “Black history is really important and education is vital.
“We currently have Black Lives Matter, so it’s important to add context and encourage people to ask questions, think about society, inclusion and equality.
“People know about Florence Nightingale, but do they know about Mary Seacole?”
She added: “It’s good for young people to think critically and challenge stereotypes.”
The aspiring writer who won the competition
Ten-year-old Gavin Batenga, who is a Year 6 pupil at St Helen’s Primary School in Caerphilly town, was announced as the winner this month – winning £250 for his school and having his article published by Caerphilly Observer – which we have done below.
Teacher Paula Mansfield said: “The pupils had learned about Mary Seacole when they were much younger, in Year 1 (aged five and six).
“When I mentioned the competition to the pupils, they all remembered Mary’s story, her ambition to help others in the Crimea and her determination to succeed.
“They remembered the barriers caused by discrimination that she had to overcome in order to reach her goals.”
She added: “I was delighted that a number of pupils produced newspaper reports of a really good standard.
“Not only did they recall and apply the conventions of writing newspaper articles that we had learned earlier in the term, but their work clearly captured the enormity of Mary Seacole’s achievement and her ability to persevere.”
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month takes place in the UK every October and is aimed at remembering and celebrating the achievements of black people throughout history.
It originated in the United States in the 20th century, and has been marked across the Atlantic every February since 1976, to coincide with the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, a black man who escaped slavery to become one of the leaders of the abolitionist movement.
It is also observed in Republic of Ireland, Canada and the Netherlands.
Honoured women let into Sebastopol
By Gavin Batenga
Mary Seacole is the first woman to be let into Sebastopol after building a hospital behind the lines of the Crimean War. Mary Seacole wanted to go to help the wounded of the Crimean War and bought a ticket for a boat to England, but she got turned away because she was black and Jamaican.
So she bought another ticket and finally got to England, but she got turned away from being a nurse with Florence Nightingale because of her skin colour again.
Resolute, Mary decided to go to the Crimea anyway and bought a third ticket, this time directly to the Crimea. There, she built her own hospital. Throughout the war Mary helped allies, the British and even the enemies – the Russians. She helped them if they were wounded, were ill, or even hungry. People called her Mother Seacole and she is quoted to have said: “British blood is the same as Russian blood, a wounded man is a wounded man.”
After Sebastopol fell to the British, Mary went with her companion and colleague Sally, to the city. She was only allowed to enter when she showed a letter from the general. Mary Seacole was greatly thanked and will probably be known as one of the most helpful black women in history. She has now also gained fame by being the first woman let into Sebastopol. All this from learning how to heal from her mother and the desire to help others.
Some facts about Mary Seacole are: She named the hospital The British Hotel.
She was born in 1805, and died in 1885. She declined many offers of marriage while helping people in need in the Crimean war.
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