UK students to write poems to protest Egyptian government’s human rights abuses

Amnesty International UK has today launched an innovative poetry and human rights education project, Words That Burn, that will connect students with individuals from around the world who are suffering human rights abuses and help young people discover that their words can make a difference.

Developed by Amnesty with the support of Lord Saatchi and The Poetry Hour, and in partnership with Cheltenham Festivals, the free teaching resource will enable secondary school students to use poetry to help defend human rights.

Each school term, students will be inspired to write solidarity or protest poems about an individual who is suffering or at risk of human rights abuses. Students can choose to have their creations sent to the individual or the relevant authority by Amnesty, so their poetry can have direct impact and contribute towards human rights change.

Students will first write poetry for Azza Soliman, an Egyptian lawyer who represents victims of torture, detention, domestic abuse and rape. She has been arrested by the Egyptian authorities numerous times and still faces charges such as slandering Egypt’s image by claiming that women in the country face rape. She has been banned from travel, her assets have been frozen, and she could face time in prison. Students’ verse will be sent directly to Azza to show support for her brave efforts defending human rights, or to the Egyptian authorities to increase pressure on them to drop the charges against her.

Words That Burn officially launched at The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival today (Wednesday 11 October) at an event where award-winning spoken-word artist Keith Jarrett, and students who took part in the project pilot, performed their poems.

Speaking at the launch, Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Our right to freedom of expression is essential to all creative arts. When things go wrong, poets are often the first to articulate it. They make us think, they inspire action. They can liberate minds and souls.

“That is why I’m proud to be launching Words That Burn. It’s a totally free education resource that will help teachers and secondary students to explore human rights and express themselves through poetry. We hope it will empower young people to use their voices to fight for change.”

Keith Jarrett said: “I know first hand the empowering nature of creativity and language, as a writer, performer and educator. Giving young people the tools to express themselves, to connect with the wider world and its challenges, to write in solidarity with those whose voices are suppressed, and to amplify those voices – and find their own – is a vital and beautiful thing.”

Keith Jarrett is joined by top UK poets Hollie McNish, Inja and Sarah Crossan in supporting the project. Sarah Crossan and Inja have also made ‘Make a Difference in a Minute’ video poems to inspire students to get creative.

Carnegie Medal winner Sarah Crossan added: “Young people need to know how important their voices are and that they deserve to be listened to. Poetry is a way of framing their voices and speaking in a way that can include everyone because it is not about using precise language – simply language that breaks through to the heart.”

The Poetry Hour project is a part of The Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation. Josephine Hart died in 2011. Her husband Lord Saatchi, an active supporter of the Foundation, added: “Josephine described poetry as a route map through life. She said: ‘Without poetry, life would have been less bearable, less comprehensible and infinitely less enjoyable’.

“It would be her sincere wish that this Amnesty resource will prove to be first steps on a happier journey through life for many. It has been carefully and lovingly created to help young people understand the world around them through reading, writing and performing poetry. Every poem and every classroom activity encourages understanding of the beauty of language. Young people’s thoughts will breathe and their words will burn.”


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