Our first spelling bee event was held in October 2010. With three levels (grades 4-5, 6-7, 8-9), 48 participants from three villages took part in the Bee. They wrote their answers on the blackboard, and they could miss two words before being eliminated. It took four and one half hours to complete all three levels!
Farzana, who ran the competition, had written words on small pieces of paper, which were folded and placed in a small tin can. Each contestant drew a piece of paper from the can, handed it to Farzana, and went to the board. Farzana then unfolded the paper and read the word they were required to spell.
If the contestants were stuck, Farzana would exaggerate the pronunciation of a word several times. During the first two levels of competition, the judges also couldn’t resist the temptation to coach the contestants. When a contestant would write the wrong letter on the board, they frowned, groaned, and shook their heads. This system was contestant friendly, allowing the weaker spellers to stay in the competition longer. In fact, after the first two rounds no one was knocked out. Though everyone wanted to win, the children were relaxed and supportive of one another.
Farzana ran out of words for the last two contestants in the 8th-9th grade group. The audience joined in, shouting out words for the girls to spell. First the teachers called out words and when they ran out, the other eliminated contestants joined in. This free for all lasted for at least ten minutes and no one could find a word these young women could not spell.
Finally, the room was completely silent, and we were about to declare a draw. At that moment, Nabi called out, “Spell Intercontinental” –the name of the hotel where Budd and Nabi were staying. Everyone realized that the word should be disallowed. It was an English word and the name of a hotel. Nonetheless, one of the girls gave it a try. She failed but the other girl succeeded. The competition was over.
Each of the contestants received a backpack that had been donated by one of TIE’s supporters, Kelly Grismer. The first, second, and third place winners received a monetary prize and a solar flashlight donated by One Million Lights. The solar flashlights will enable these children to read well into the night, long after lights out. These flashlights were more treasured than the monetary prizes.
We’ll hold the competition again next year, probably with some rule modifications. One of the things we discovered is that if children are grouped by grade, there are significant differences in ages. The older children were able to spell more words than the younger children, even though they were in the same grade. We’ll also need to set some parameters on judges coaching the contestants. Perhaps we’ll set a limit of no more than two grunts or groans per contestant.