24 June 2022

Canberrans lockdown experiences brought to light in COVID-19 story competition

| Evelyn Karatzas
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Angela Kouparitsas

Second place winner of the Cultural Expository category for SiTaras Story writing competition. Photo: Angela Kouparitsas.

Although everyone was affected by COVID, no two stories are the same, according to Canberra women Angela Kouparitsas and Carol Kemp.

These women shared their COVID experiences in a writing competition, ‘What’s your story?’, jointly organised by the ACT Heritage Library and SiTara’s Story – a not-for-profit organisation that believes strong women build strong communities and nations.

SiTara’s Story secretary Dr Shamaruh Mirza said COVID “changed us forever”.

“Every person went through a unique experience and saw the pandemic from their own perspective,” she said.

“It is important to record the stories, not only to record memories but also to influence future policies regarding managing a pandemic and CALD [Culturally And Linguistically Diverse Groups].”

Dr Mirza said the competition was about discovering “what makes nostalgia”, “what challenges we have overcome” and “what makes us different”.

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Second place winner in the Cultural Expository category Angela Kouparitsas said her submission involved snippets from a book she began writing in 2020, reflecting the “strange times we’re living in”.

It explores her journey moving from Sydney to Canberra, her husband and three children, finding a sense of belonging, going through a tough time with the bushfires, feeling isolated as she couldn’t travel to see her family during the lockdowns, and all the associated thoughts and feelings.

“This competition was also in the lens of mental health, so it wasn’t purely a cultural thing, and that’s what grabbed my attention,” Angela said.

“I think just being able to have a voice and having people coming from different cultures and backgrounds share their stories is really special and important.

“It was a great opportunity to tell my story and see how far it goes. I think the purpose of this story is to give people hope, and it’s quite optimistic as well.”

Although the lockdowns made it difficult for Angela to visit her family interstate and connect with her friends here, she is thankful to have kept her job, spend more time with her husband and children, and have time to reflect and be grateful for what she did have.

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Winner of the Creative Writing category was Carol Kemp with her story The Shopping Trolley, a memoir to herself and her sister.

“My memoir includes my sister dying in hospital during COVID lockdowns,” she said.

“It is the about memories while Grace was hospitalised and an earlier skylarking trolley occasion when I bundled her into a trolley and gave her a tour of the city.

“So I used the shopping trolley as the focus of the story, to indicate the ‘trolley full of treasured memories’ I had made with her.”

The Shopping Trolley carries Carol’s many treasured sisterly moments.

carol kemp

Carol took first place in the Creative Writing category. Photo: Carol Kemp.

Carol said she had promised to be with Grace during her Parkinson’s journey and almost missed her final moments with her due to an overseas holiday.

“If it weren’t for COVID, I would have been sailing across to the states and then on to Canada and Grace would have been here on her own and she would have died without me being there.

“I promised her I’d be at her deathbed, so COVID was a blessing in disguise as it kept me in Canberra, and I could be with my sister.”

Carol said she entered SiTara’s Story as she wanted to get involved with their organisation and volunteer with them.

Now as a carer for her husband who has been incapacitated for the past 12 months, Carol has discovered her passion for writing and aims to keep entering more competitions in the future.

The winners of “What is your Story?” receive prize money and may be featured on SiTara Story’s website and other online and print publications.

A special award-giving ceremony for the winners will also be taking place this Saturday, 25 June, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre where they will be given the opportunity to read out their submissions. To read all the winning stories from the competition after the ceremony, visit SiTara’s Story.

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