The Stories of Arrival: Refugee and Immigrant Youth Voices Poetry Project
Founded by Merna in 2009, for the past six years, the project has provided high school age refugees and immigrants with full support for telling the deeply personal and often harrowing stories that give witness to their courage and resilience. The majority of participants in this poetry project have migrated from their home countries because of war, violence, poverty, lack of education and health care which have threatened their own and their family’s safety and survival. Many have lived in refugee camps before arriving in the U.S and others have arrived here leaving their family members behind. All have experienced several kinds of trauma and loss. Their stories, as told through poetry, are a testament to both the power of poetic expression and to the indelible imprint of memories from their homelands.
To date, over three hundred students from thirty countries have participated in the Stories of Arrival project. Foster High School, where the project takes place, is one of the most language diverse schools in the country. Each year Merna has partnered with project co-director and English Language Learning (ELL) teacher, Carrie Stradley. Carrie is a National Board Certified teacher who is passionate about guiding her students through the gauntlet of the English language. She works to empower her students so they may find their voice and move confidently into their chosen futures. Carrie finds working with youth incredibly fulfilling and appreciates their unique perspective on the world.
Carrie and Merna believe that our communities are made stronger when the voices of those who are not often heard are more widely celebrated. Thus, the poetry project continues to expand its reach through creating opportunities for bringing refugee and immigrant youth voices to a larger stage. Each year the project participants have become more visible in the community through community partnerships with other organizations that empower refugees and immigrants as well as through publication, radio broadcasts, and community events.
Last year the poetry project partnered with Project Feast, a Tukwila non-profit that empowers refugee women to gain their footing in the community through obtaining their food license and becoming caterers or opening small restaurants. Project Feast is committed to “envisioning a world where everyone’s abilities are respected regardless of their formal education or experience.” In alignment with the Stories of Arrival project, they believe in “the ability of people from diverse backgrounds to connect in meaningful ways through sharing a meal.” The poetry that was created in this food-themed project in collaboration with Project Feast speaks to sustenance, survival, celebration, hunger, leave-taking and arrival—all of it bound with the universal emblem of breaking bread and gathering at the table together. The anthology resulted in a beautifully illustrated book of recipes, interviews with Project Feast cooks and food and garden-themed poetry. The proceeds from the sale of the anthology are placed in a college scholarship fund for project participants.
At a time when xenophobia and resentment toward refugees and immigrants are on the rise, the impact of the humanizing language of poetry as spoken with the vibrant and honest voices of refugee and immigrant youth is unmistakable. The mission to provide refugee and immigrant youth opportunities for poetic expression of personal and cultural identity, toward honoring their place in the wider community to deepen cross cultural understandings is carried out as the project continues to expand its presence locally, statewide and nationally.
Our Partners Who Have Made the Program Possible
The Institute for Poetic Medicine in Palo Alto, CA (IPM) has been a source of helpful financial support for the project, and it lends a national presence because it is an IPM poetry partner project. IPM founder/director John Fox has been a continual colleague and friend to the poetry project offering his wellsprings of good counsel and his lifelong passion for poetry as a healing force.
Joan Rabinowitz, executive director of Seattle’s esteemed Jack Straw Cultural Center along with her amazing crew of voice coaches and sound engineers, have been essential to the success of the project. Each year, the students have recorded poems in Jack Straw’s state of the art studios and have received attentive and expert individual voice coaching. The poems are broadcast every weekday of April on KBCS 91.3FM in honor of National Poetry Month.