Two Northland girls will head to the National semifinals of the Race Unity Speech Awards after winning the Northland heat of the competition with speeches which focused on racism, discrimination and speaking up.

Sophie Saweirs, a year 12 student at Whangārei Girls High School, and Hannah Watson, a year 13 student at Kerikeri High School, won the Northland heat of the Race Unity Speech Awards held in Whangārei on Thursday and will now head to the semifinals in Auckland on May 10 with more than 20 other students from around the country.

The girls said they were excited about winning.

"That means I get to share my speech with more people and my speech will make an impact on more people," Saweirs said.


Meanwhile Watson was shocked.

"Everyone spoke amazingly. We were saying when we were there, when the judges were off making a decision, how we'd listen to the first person and be like 'they're going to win' and then the second person would speak and we'd say 'no they're going to win'."

The theme for this year's competition is Speaking for Justice.

Saweirs spoke about her personal experiences, while Watson focused on the importance of learning about other cultures and having challenging conversations.

Saweirs said when she saw the theme, she immediately thought of a time she spoke up at only six ears old.

She said there was a girl from Ghana in her class at primary school who was pushed around after school one day by a boy who said: "get out my way black girl... you look dirty, black is ugly."

At age six Saweirs spoke up for that girl and told the boy not to speak to her like that.

That was her first step towards challenging injustice, and now that girl is "like a sister" to Saweirs.


"I've always had a passion for justice and speaking up for injustice. I thought that was a great way to start my speech. Showing how from a young age I've had that passion," she said.

Meanwhile, Watson said she had to research and talk to people before writing her speech, and learned a lot in the process.

"Hearing all these things and looking at these stories - I always knew [racism, discrimination and freedom of speech] were issues but never on this scale.

"If we learn and open our minds up a little bit it gives us the knowledge and the drive to make an effort to help make things more equal."

If the girls are successful in the semifinals they will participate in the national final the following day.