Student reflections about COVID-19 win global creative competition

UNSW Medicine students Yoshua Selvadurai and Helen Han were awarded Literary Prize winner and a highly commended Visual Prize, respectively, at the Global Creative Competition launched by Medical Education Innovation and Research Centre, Imperial College London.

Christina Kingen | 22 Oct 2020

Third year UNSW Medicine student Yoshua Selvadurai won the literary category of the Global Creative Competition.  He was awarded for his moving poem Before You Leave, a piece he felt compelled to write after his grandmother was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Tasmania.

He is one of the winners from a first of its kind competition launched by The Medical Education Innovation and Research Centre (MEdIC), Imperial College London.

The goal of the competition was to bring together the global community of medical students through their creative responses to COVID-19.  MEdIC wanted to provide a platform for medical students around the world to come together to reflect on their personal and professional experiences during this challenging time.

They received over 600 entries from 52 different countries around the world. Responses were powerful, creative and portrayed diverse and challenging contexts.

Yoshua received the award virtually at a global awards ceremony in October. He reflected about why he wrote the piece.

“Writing has always been a way for me to process pain. When my grandmother was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Tasmania, I was shocked, confused and numb.

“Creating the poem enabled me to engage with my feelings and find some solace. That solace came through remembering and immortalising the beautiful moments we had shared together,” explained Yoshua.

“I also wanted to express the challenge that many medical students face, of trying to support and advise their family, when they have very little knowledge themselves. I wanted to convey the dichotomy that exists between being a grandson who just wants to spend time with his sick grandmother and being a medical student who is expected to provide information.”

He also had friends affected by COVID and found sharing his poem and seeing how it resonated with others really gratifying.

“It reminds us that even in times of isolation and uncertainty, when there is a tendency to believe that the challenges we face are unique and divergent, that we all share a common pain, and ultimately all rely on the love of family and friends,” he said.

Yoshua’s poem is featured below.

Before You Leave

Spheres of soap glitter

and sparkle, holding small

rainbow-streaked worlds

in their spinning orbs,

before sinking and dying

on the cold porcelain

 

Hands washed, mask fixed

I enter your hospital room,

with eyes closed you sense

my presence, grey eyes

flutter open, blinking like

those fairy penguins who

emerged shuddering

from D’Entrecasteaux Bay,

we laughed together that day

at their gentle confusion

 

From two metres apart

our gazes meet, holding

shimmering moments

beyond these walls when

sea gulls rose on thermals,

ancient acacias shook in

warm ocean breezes and

our feet traced known paths

 

Now, I feel your need for

insight, some sign on this

new uncharted trail

from your grandson

who knows,

who ought to know,

how to return, restore, renew

 

Your hair poignantly neat,

your arms obediently still,

you await revelation

I am numb, my voice is lost

 

Standing on the cliff’s edge

I see the waves crash on the

dark rocks below

 

Scared to be reminded,

scared to forget,

a lifetime of memories

coalesce, flash and

tremble within me

 

Learning to swim at Sister’s Beach,

your arms holding me from beneath

warm emerald waves, soft ribbons of

water threading my hair

 

But now I cannot be the same for you,

at the foot of your bed I feel myself

shuddering, falling, a wordless scream

shakes the walls, no one can hear

 

Without you near, my greatest fear

We are two hearts intertwined

You are the reason I am

 

My soul is clinging onto this moment

I do not know what to say

Before you leave

Yoshua Selvadurai 29/8/20

 

Striking visual portrait also highly commended

 

First year Medicine student Helen Han
First year Medicine student Helen Han

First year UNSW Medicine student Helen Han received a highly commended award in the visual category with a striking portrait, Holding onto Hope.

What was most striking about COVID-19 to me was the overwhelming support and strength that arose because of the pandemic,” Helen said.

“People all over the world united in the face of this common enemy; selflessly giving up their time, expertise, resources, and even putting themselves on the line for those in need.

Holding onto Hope by Helen Han
Holding onto Hope by Helen Han

"It was this display of compassion that moved me to create my piece ‘Holding onto Hope,’ which depicts two figures in a tight hug and highlights the need for unity in adversity through the posing of the figures and the desperation of their body language.

"One of the two individuals is rendered in a pristine white to contrast against the oppressive darkness and is symbolic of the hope that arises from their support and unity. However, the white, untouchable figure is further a poignant reminder of our isolation and inability to connect physically due to the nature of an infectious disease.

“Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic is a very salient reminder of the importance of support, unity and teamwork, both currently in order to overcome our shared adversity, as well as in my future role as a doctor serving my community,” Helen said.

The competition was judged by Professor Dame Parveen Kumar (Queen Mary University of London and Author of Kumar and Clark), Rosamund Lupton (Sunday Times Bestselling author), Nour Houbby (Medical student, Imperial College London), Professor Ashley Hall (Professor of Design Innovation, School of Design, Royal College of Art) and Dan Simpson (Poet in Residence, Imperial College London).

Find out more about the competition and watch the awards ceremony.