There is power in the written word and there is still a place for poetry among the youth. This is the sentiment of the Athlone Young Poets, a group of Grade 11 and Grade 12 pupils from Belgravia High School, who had their work published in a London-based anthology, called "Her Stories In Verse". The Athlone Young Poets was started by Toni Stuart, a poet, performer and spoken word teacher, as a pilot programme last year (when they were in Grade 10 and Grade 11). The programme was designed and developed by Ms Stuart over the past four years and is the result of the work and teaching experience she did as part of her Master’s degree studies. Describing what the programme entails, Ms Stuart said: “Poetry is being used as a tool through which the pupils explore and engage with the rich history of people, events and places in Athlone. Through exploring and telling these stories, they come to experience how history informs and influences their lives today, and gain a deeper understanding of the histories that have shaped us. The aim is that in doing so, these young people can decide for themselves who they are and want to be.” As part of last year’s programme, two Belgravia High pupils,Taylor Brandt, Grade 10, and Ammaarah Kahaar, Grade 12, also took part in an international exchange with Sydney Russell School in Dagenham, London, where they attended and performed at the launch of herstories in verse in December last year. The exchange formed part of the Barbican’s Change Makers programme. Speaking of her experience, Ammaarah said: “It was so overwhelming. I learnt so many lessons and learnt so much more about myself. I’ve also learnt that there are more ways to express yourself other than just writing – the same message can be shared through dance. Also, writing is a form of therapy – even if you don’t have anyone to share it with. I sometimes write just to get something off my chest.” Liam Volkwyn, Grade 11, said he used to overthink things, until he joined the group. “What I learnt is how to expand my mind. I understand things better. Now, instead of overthinking, I trust my instinct. I even attend open mics now,” he said. Zintle Nokonya, also Grade 11, said she too has learnt to trust herself more. “I have learnt different ways to express my feelings. I now trust my body, mind and hand to lead me to what I want to say. I think a lot more young people must be exposed to this. It’s our responsibility to create awareness about this form of expressing yourself,” Zintle said. Tara Pickard, Grade 11, said writing is about your own experiences and thoughts, and there is still a lot of room for poetry among young people. “We want this programme to continue. It brought us closer to one another,” Tara added. Adrianne Svenson, Grade 11, said she joined the programme because she needed a creative outlet, while Fadwa Fataar believes there is more value to something written on paper, as opposed to sharing your thoughts on social media.
Ms Stuart explained that the programme is set up for her to work with the same group of young people for three years. Unfortunately, the programme could not continue this year, because of a lack of funding for transport. In order to get it up and running again, Ms Stuart set up a Patreon Page, at www. patreon.com/tonistuart where people can make a monthly pledge to support the programme.
If you would like to assist in another form, contact Ms Stuart at 072 657 0290 or email firstname.lastname@example.org