Zavannah and Zahara share the secret to (t)winning the Palanca Awards

The perks of having a twin are endless, but nothing beats having a twin who loves writing as much as you do!

Twin sisters Glorious Zavannah Exylin C. Alesna and Glorious Zahara Exylin C. Alesna know this by heart. Proof? They are this year’s youngest winners of the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

Zavannah won third prize in Kabataan Sanaysay for her masterpiece Sa Panahon ng Bagabag at Balisa: Paghagilap sa Pira-pirasong Retaso ng Hinahon at Pa(g)hinga, while Zahara won second prize in Kabataan Essay for her masterpiece “The Bully is You.”

“Our hearts are overflowing with happiness because we won not once but twice, and it has shown us just how far we can go and how far we can push our writing,” Zavannah said. “We are thrilled to have received the Palanca Award, which gives us the confidence to keep writing and pursuing our goals.”

This year’s awards were a repeat of last year’s when they made history as the youngest winners since Carlos Palanca Sr. established the Palanca Awards in 1950.

The 13-year-old twins started writing while in elementary school and continued honing their skills with the help of teachers. The COVID-19 pandemic gave them even more opportunities to write as they were confined to their home, attending online classes.

They have represented their school in numerous essay writing contests and won most of them.

“When we were kids, my mother would show us articles by Shakira Andrea C. Sison and Patricia Evangelista to inspire us. Writing allows us to express our emotions that we could not say in a room full of people, and it adds color to our lives ,” Zavannah said.

Brainstorming

Before writing, the twins engage in a meticulous process of planning, reflecting, sharing ideas, and engaging in conversations about various topics and perspectives.

“We brainstorm together because we want to write about something other than the same thing. Brainstorming gives us fresh ideas and perpectives to look at and write about,”  Zavannah explained.

This year’s Kabataan Division theme centers around mental health and how society addresses these challenges.

Zavannah’s essay tackles the public’s lack of information about mental health, despite its significance in a person’s well-being.  She looks at how the media portrays it, writing “Kapag may problema sa kalusugan sa isip, laging may split personality disorder o nagpapatiwakal. Ganito ikinahon ang ating pananaw na kung taliwas sa nakaugalian ay hindi katanggap-tanggap.”

She appeals to the government to step-up its  information drive to raise awareness on mental health: “Para sa gobyerno, higit na prangka at lalong higit na walang kahihiyang diskurso ang kailangan ng kalusugan ng isip.”

She believes self-awareness and education are imperative. “Diligan ang utak ng kaalaman; pagyabungin ang kamalayan; at magkaroon ng tainga at pusong handang makinig at umunawa,” she said.

Zahara’s piece “The Bully is You,” highlights the issue of people who are oblivious to the struggles of those with mental illness, leading to discrimination and biases. “There is a lie in every scar that we have, and everyone has an imaginary bully with the power to destroy us; without realizing it, we are all bullies and part of the stigma,” she said.

Becoming effective writers

They share a love for reading, saying that one must first read to become a writer.

Zahara said, “Reading can help you broaden your vocabulary, obtain knowledge about things you aren’t aware of, and perceive things from a different point of view.”

“Reading helps me get past writer’s block by referring to some articles to which I could relate. Reading has also allowed me to express myself in ways I never thought possible,” Zavannah added.

The Alesna twins share some insights for young people who aspire to become writers.

“Consider writing as a hobby rather than a daily chore. Writing is the only way to express yourself without fear of being judged. Take the first step to see how it can transform your life,” said Zahara.

She suggested some steps to take to pursue writing.

“First, read. If you read more, you will get a variety of knowledge that you may apply to your writing, and reading is what encouraged me to write. Second, accept constructive criticism. If you don’t accept criticism, you’ll be too arrogant or self-centered to recognize your mistake or errors in your writing,” said Zavannah.

 “I want the youth to know that if people try to pull them down because they are still amateurs in writing and aren’t used to it, they should just believe and believe, write and write, read and read, and you’ll do fine,”   she added.

“Our love for writing and reading deepens our connection, bond, and love for each other, and that’s something that no one can ever take away from us,” they said.

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