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March 11th is Commonwealth Day, but what exactly is the Commonwealth?
Where is the Commonwealth, and who lives there?
The Commonwealth is a group of 54 countries, spread all over the globe, north to south, east to west. The countries range in size from the tiny island of Nauru in the Pacific ocean (which is so small that it doesn't have a capital), to Canada, the largest territory in the world. Both rich and poor countries are members - the GDP of Singapore is about 200 times that of Sierra Leone. Over one and a half billion people (a quarter of the world's population) live in the Commonwealth, and between them represent nearly every religion, race and political system on the planet.
What is the Commonwealth?
Hot and cold, rich and poor, wet and dry, island and land-locked, the list of opposites used to describe the countries which make up the Commonwealth seems endless. Just what do they all have in common?
The member states all use English as a common working language, and have similar legal and education systems. The countries support each other in their aims to reduce poverty, prejudice, ignorance and disease, and to promote human rights and social development.
Historically, the modern Commonwealth is a product of the British Empire, and began in the late 1940s, after India and Pakistan gained independence. As more and more countries took charge of their own affairs in the 1950s and 1960s, many were attracted to the aims and values of the Commonwealth, resulting in the family of nations seen today.
Activities and events
The Commonwealth is active in a huge number of areas, including ecology, health and economics, providing and sharing information, training and expertise to further the aims of the organisation. The Heads of Government Meeting is held every two years, where the leaders of the member states get together to discuss current issues. Commonwealth Day is held in the second week of March every year, where Commonwealth citizens, particularly children, have a chance to celebrate their friendship.
The Commonwealth also hosts sporting and arts events. There is an annual writers prize, which has been won in previous years by famous authors such as Peter Carey and Louis de Bernieres, and a yearly arts and crafts competition. Perhaps the most well-known event sponsored by the organisation is the Commonwealth Games, which is held every four years in one of the member countries. The games have gained the nickname 'the Friendly Games' because of their reputation for good-natured competitiveness.