How It All Began

Magic Oxygen Literary Prize December AdvertThe Word Forest Organisation founders, Tracey and Simon West, used to run an ethical publishing house called Magic Oxygen. In the spring of 2014, they launched a pioneering global writing competition called the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize; it became fondly known as MOLP.

It had two categories – short stories and poetry – a prestigious £3,000 prize fund and three environmental promises built into its foundations:

  • to plant a tree for every single entry received in the Word Forest in Bore, Kenya,
  • to fund the build of an urgently needed new classroom at Kundeni Primary School in the same community,
  • to send every entrant an electronic certificate with the clickable GPS co-ordinates of their tree.

Ru Hartwell, an international forestry expert (and for our first two years, a Trustee of the Word Forest Organisation), chose Bore to site the Word Forest for several reasons. He knew Magic Oxygen wanted to plant a legacy forest that would make a positive difference to the earth. Bore is located fairly near the equator and therefore would be incredibly efficient at locking down the CO2 from the atmosphere as the trees grow so quickly there. He also had first-hand knowledge of the area and knew how devastated it had become as a result of mass deforestation. A long-term tree planting project in Bore would not only benefit the planet, but would also have an incredibly positive effect on the community, as the trees would also provide the community with food, medicines, shelter and protection from the elements and reintroduce biodiversity. In time, it would generate an income for them too; to date, the Bore Word Forest is 71 acres large.

Alex Katana, Ru’s right hand-man and the resident Project Manager in Bore, mobilised the whole community to get involved with the tree planting, including many of the children who attend Kundeni Primary School. There are around 300 children on their register, many of whom sleep on the premises because it’s simply too far to walk to. Despite the fact that it’s a primary school, several youngsters attend who are in their late teens and early 20s. Their families needed their labour to work the land so they could bring in desperately needed income, consequently, those children missed out on basic schooling. However, many parents reconsidered their position when the Kenyan authorities said all children should be encouraged to get a proper education and supported them to do so.

Educating 300 children at Kundeni Primary School had been a challenge however, as up until Magic Oxygen got involved, they only had one decent classroom which housed around 30 youngsters at a time; it had been provided by another fundraising project headed by Ru. There were a handful of other ramshackle buildings dotted around the grounds, most of which were condemned and a danger to life to be in.

MOLP paid for the building materials and labour to construct the first of two new classrooms at Kundeni Primary School and in the summer of 2016, the first one was handed over to Headmaster, James Kithi and the children – they were absolutely delighted. The children have better attendance because the learning conditions have been greatly improved and it has also attracted new pupils to join the school. A recent discussion with the Head revealed that across the board, the children’s exam results have gone up by 14 percentage points. They are loving their learning!

Bringing things right up to date, as at the end of April 2019, we recently put a roof on our 9th classroom.

MOLP laid the very foundations that The Word Forest Organisation was built upon.

The 5th iteration of the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize has just concluded and recently, the winners were announced.

“This wonderful little philanthropic contest has been an absolute joy to run”, explains founder Simon West. “We couldn’t have wished for a better outcome. MOLP has been responsible for the birth of a reforestation charity, built on MOLPs foundations. It’s time to bring MOLP to an end and to embrace what the future holds with The Word Forest Organisation. Thanks to everyone that helped promote MOLP and especially to all the judges.”

Co-founder Tracey concludes: “To every winner and shortlister of MOLP, I am sure you enjoyed spending the prize money, but above all, I hope winning gave you a huge boost too! Reaching for the stars is considerably easier when people believe in your work – we uncovered some amazing work over the last 5 years. Good luck in all your future literary endeavours.. and finally, to every single entrant who paid to enter MOLP, thank you with all my heart. YOU are the real winners! Every single entry resulted in a tree being planted and some building materials being bought for another new classroom. You may not have ended up with your name in lights but your creative writing is the stuff of legacy! Asante sana to you all!”

The Team