Saturday 4 September 2021

The history of the International Letter-Writing Competition


The Universal Postal Union (UPU) officially launched the International Letter-Writing Competition (ILWC) in 1971 with the aim of raising young peoples’ awareness of the important role the postal sector plays in society.

The competition was created by the 1969 Tokyo Congress, with the first winner, from Brazil, announced in 1972. In 2021 the UPU is proud to be running its 50th ILWC event.

The annual competition, which now attracts more than 1.2 million global participants each year, encourages young people aged between 9 and 15 to write letters on a given theme. This year the theme was to “write a letter to a family member about your experience with Covid-19.”

Past themes have included: “Imagine you are a tree and write a letter to someone to tell them why it is important to protect forests” in 2011 to coincide with the International Year of Forests; and “Write a message to an adult about the world we live in” in 2020.

Alongside promoting the role of the postal sector, the competition also helps to improve literacy through the art of letter-writing. The event encourages participants to express their creativity and refine their language skills. It also fosters enjoyment of letter writing and helps strengthen the bonds of international friendship.

Since its creation millions of children worldwide have participated in the ILWC, with Vietnam generating the largest participation among all UPU member countries. Participants from Vietnam have come first, two times in 2016 and 2010, come second in 2009 and was awarded third prize six times,  2021, 2020, 2018, 2009, 2004, 1999 and 1993, and received numerous special commendations. Belarus has also been well represented in the ILWC, with participants winning the gold medal in 2003, silver in 2008 and 2010 and bronze in 2009.

Meanwhile, entries from the People’s Republic of China have won the competition four times (1981, 1983, 1994 and 1999), Ethiopia, Jordan, Malta and Mexico have each produced two top-prize winners and Ireland is the only member country to have won the competition two years running (1986 and 1987).

The UPU announces the theme of the competition at the start of each year and then member countries organize a letter-writing competition on the theme in their territory as they see fit. Letters must be handwritten and no more than 1,000 words.

The national organizing bodies in each member country chose the best composition in accordance with the general rules of the competition. Each member country then sends the International Bureau its best national message by 5 May of that year.

The UPU designates an international jury to judge the letters it receives. The jury uses a set criteria for judging, which includes letter structure, adherence to the theme, creativity and use of language. The judges then select the three best entries (gold, silver and bronze) and may also award a special mention to other entrants. The official ILWC award ceremony is held each year in Berne, Switzerland, on World Post Day (October 9).

This year’s winner was Nubaysha Islam, a 14-year-old girl from Sylhet in Bangladesh. Second prize went to North Macedonia and third to Vietnam. Read more about the winning letter here: Bangladesh wins 50th International Letter-Writing Competition.

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