The Eric Williams School Bags Essay Competition

Acclaimed historians from John Hopkins University, Princeton University and The University of the West Indies (UWI) have collaborated and the verdict is in.  Winners of the Eric Williams’ biennial ‘School Bags’ Essay Competition have convinced the academics that both our region’s history and future are in safe hands.

In an award ceremony hosted by Campus Principal, UWI St. Augustine Professor Clement Sankat and Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, the Honourable Sharon Saunders the winners were honoured for outstanding discourse on “The Cuban Revolution, 1959-2009”. In particular students’ essays explored the successes and failures of the Revolution and examined the relevance to today’s student. First prize winner, among several essays received from her country, is Yunique Shannakay Francis of Holy Childhood School, Jamaica. Second place was secured by Trinidadian, Sharifa Ammon, Bishop Anstey’s High School (Port of Spain); and third, Andrew Ali of Hillview College, Trinidad. 

(l-r) Eric Williams School Bags Essay competition winners Andrew Ali (3rd place), Yunique Shannakay, (1st place) and Sharifa Ammon (2nd place). Photograph by Mr. ANEEL KARIM

Organised by The Eric Williams Memorial Collection (EWMC), the contest is open to all final-year Sixth Formers in 178 schools, 17 Caribbean countries. This year’s competition, witnessed a 40% increase in participation, and several countries such as Guyana and Barbados boasted first-time entrants. 

The judges Dr. Franklin Knight, Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History, The Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Colin Palmer, Dodge Professor of History, Princeton University; and Dr. Rita Pemberton, Head, UWI St. Augustine Department of History were pleased with the depth of understanding displayed by the awardees whose submissions were of an exceptionally high quality – well researched, well written and persuasively argued.  They were particularly interested in determining whether the students could provide a balanced assessment of a highly controversial event in the Caribbean’s history.  They need not have worried.  As Yunique Francis queried: “What are the implications of the Revolution for students like me?  Because of its internationalist nature, several Jamaicans, who could not have realized their dreams without them, have received scholarships to study medicine in Cuba, returning home to provide care to disadvantaged Jamaicans at public hospitals.”  Sharifa Ammon’s take on the subject was equally clear: “Lessons in perseverance, resilience, self-sufficiency and solidarity can also be learned.”  And, in addressing some of the failures of the 50-year-old Revolution, Andrew Ali paid special attention to what he characterised as Cuba’s political oppression of its people and its diplomatic ‘pariah’ status.

Prizes included a four-day trip for two to Trinidad and Tobago with airfare, hotel accommodations and two meals daily; a laptop computer; various tours; US $1,500 in educational vouchers; courtesy calls on the President of Trinidad and Tobago and the Speaker of the House of Representatives; a set of Eric Williams’ books; and a framed certificate. 


The Eric Williams Memorial Collection at The University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago comprises the Research Library, Archives and Museum of Eric Williams. It was inaugurated by former US Secretary of State Colin Powell in 1998, and named to UNECSO’s prestigious Memory of the World Register in 1999.