Stories of Arrival

Voices sponsors in-school projects that combine our curriculum resources with experiential projects for students that are linked to the local histories and stories of people in our communities, and teacher training workshops that teach educators how to work with our materials in the classroom. 

Stories of Arrival: Youth Voices  was designed by poet Merna Ann Hecht to bring the use of poetry, drama, and literature to youth who were recent arrivals to the U.S., many of whom had experienced war, been born in refugee camps, or immigrated under considerable hardship. Ms. Hecht approached us with the idea for supporting this project in partnership with a one-time start-up grant from the Seattle chapter of  Bread for the Journey and a grant from The Institute for Poetic Medicine in Palo Alto, CA. She had already establsihed a working relationship with and support from both Jack Straw Productions and KBCS 91.3 FM Radio. We immediately signed on as project partners.

Hecht worked with students to help them create poems about the experiences that  led to their immigration or relocation from another part of the world or country to their current residence in Tukwila, WA. The poems generated in this project reflect and celebrate a patchwork quilt of global traditions and cultural heritage as expressed by young poets from places as diverse as Eastern Washington, Mogadishu and Baghdad.  In the last two years, under the guidance of Ms. Hecht, more than 50 Foster High School students have been involved in writing about their experiences of immigration. Numerous audiences have witnessed their work performed in live readings and over 70,000 listeners of KBCS 91.3 FM radio have listened to their stories. 

Partners for Stories of Arrival


 

 
Many students who attend Foster High School in Tukwila, WA have experienced war or ethnic conflict and have come to the United States because of a “forced journey” due to difficult circumstances in their country. The two ELL classes, taguht by Carrie Stradley, in which the project was conducted included young people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Nepal, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Togo, Congo, Vietnam, Mexico, Romania and ethnic Turkish students from Russia. Ms. Hecht had already established a solid working relationship with Foster High School where she had been a poet in residence for three prior semesters under the auspisces of the Seattle Arts and Lectures Wrtiers in the Schools program. (WITS) The Stories of Arrrival project was inspired by a War Stories Project that Hecht ran for the Foster students in 2008 in which the students were given support and instruction in crafting narrative poems about their experiences of war and conflict. Their work was recorded by a Jack Straw sound engineer at the school and broadcast on the KBCS—FM One World Diversity Program. From that event, one of the poets, Yasmin Elmi, was chosen to read her poem, “Somalia, A Story,” in Benaroya Hall in front of an audience of more than a thousand people before the internationally acclaimed writer Pico Iyer gave his presentation. Yasmin was the first high school student in this area to have presented an original piece in Benaroya Hall as part of a Seattle Arts and Lectures major author event.
 
However, Hecht learned from the War Stories Project that students were not prepared to use their voices to full advantage, and decided that they would benefit from professional voice training before they recorded for public broadcast or gave public performances.Therefore, the Stories of Arrival project was designed so that the students would work with Jack Straw Studio voice coaches to prepare them for studio recording and public presentations. After training and practice the students' poetry and narratives were professionally recorded and produced in Jack Straw's facilities and were aired on KBCS throughout April, 2009 in honor of National Poetry Month. In addition to the KBCS broadcasts the students also presented their work publicly in March and a collection of their writing was showcased in May at an invitational anthology release party. Given that these young people have been in the U.S. for a relatively short period of time, and that most all of them had not written poetry previous to this project, their accomplishments as poets and as English Language Learners are remarkable. (downloads of students' readings are archived on the KBCS website)

At the outset of the project Ms. Hecht stated the core values from which the project developed:
 
…Because writing is made of VOICES. Like threads weaving a cloth, or like the patterns we draw to connect the stars, we must remember that our voices connect us to the human family.
 
Stories of Arrival is committed to the core value that every voice is an important voice,
  • Because hearing each other’s stories creates understandings across borders and cultures;
  • Because it is important for young people to feel empowered by speaking their truth, telling about their experiences and writing for a meaningful purpose and a wide and diverse community audience;
  • Because stories of leaving one place or country and arriving in another help all people understand the experience of learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture, while honoring and preserving languages and cultures of origin;
  • Because we all need opportunities to celebrate our languages and cultures.

 

What’s in a Title? 

The poets involved in the Stories of Arrival Program were each asked to name the anthology of their work. Here are all the titles submitted:

  • Influences: Words from Immigrants
  • Young Warriors with Strong Voices
  • It is so difficult to live in Someone Else’s Country
  • We are Proud
  • A Corner of the Word
  • Everyone has his or her own language
  • Words of the Globe
  • Poets from the World
  • The Young Poets of Memory
  • A Word from Each Country
  • Youth Voices!
  • Influences: Feelings from Young Minds
  • Strong Feelings
  • Students from the Sad Places
  • Memories from the Past
  • The Dreams of Young People
  • Why did we leave?
  • One Multicultural Family—Universal Voice
  • Soldiers with Pencil and Paper
  • Our Happiness and Sadness
  • Life
  • Difficult Lives
  • The Poems of a Teenager
  • Young Voices
  • Stories from our Heart