SOLA Poetry Club
Facilitated by James Elsaesser
We are pleased and honored to continue to fund the poetry project, SOLA Poetry Club, serving young women who are students at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) with on-line poetry circles that are full of inspiration! Imagine the daily challenge faced by these students and their families in this war-torn country.
If you follow our work, you know James Elsaesser also continues to lead the courageous Rise Up! Project at DASI Newton, NJ. DASI serves women who have experienced domestic abuse and sexual assault.
The Story of SOLA with Poetry, Alive and Well in Afghanistan
by James Elsaesser
The School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) is an Afghan-led private boarding school for girls, the first of its kind in Afghanistan. SOLA's mission is to provide Afghan girls a rigorous education that promotes critical thinking, a sense of purpose, and respect for self and others.
The SOLA Poetry Club has been meeting regularly via Skype since 2015. During that time I have served as facilitator for those poetry gatherings.* In the poetry meetings the students have composed and spoken poems in English. These poems are a reflection of the learning process that is elemental to the student's experiences at SOLA, where each is encouraged to think creatively and critically.
So, tell me that I can't
so I can show you that I really can,
And Never, ever underestimate the power of a girl and her voice.
I will be more than you said I could be.
~ Excerpt from a poem by Maryam, 15
In 2013, I began teaching ESL lessons and engaging in conversational English with SOLA students on Skype. SOLA is currently the only girls boarding school in Afghanistan. The students, girls in grades 6-10, are industrious, inquisitive, and full of life. Their individual and collective stories are heartfelt and compelling. Education, especially for young girls in Afghanistan, is often a difficult, and even dangerous proposition. The courage and resiliency exemplified by the administration, educators, and students is extraordinary. Knowledge is revered at SOLA. The students I have worked with these past 5 years exemplify the SOLA commitment to achievement through education.
Poetry is revered in Afghanistan. The students in the SOLA Poetry Club can readily recite and discuss poems of depth and quality that have been essential to the character of Afghan life for generations. The spoken word of poetry is woven into the fabric of Afghan identity. Poetry is important to these young students, and, interestingly, there is a long, centuries-old oral tradition of women's poetry in Afghanistan.
With the support of IPM, the SOLA Poetry Club has created an anthology of their poems, artwork, and photography. The students are delighted by seeing their efforts put into an actual anthology.
*Due to the pandemic, SOLA Poetry Club has been on hiatus. The SOLA Program Director is working to support virtual meetings as soon as possible.
IPM is pleased to be funding and supporting this wonderful poetry partner program.
If you'd like to support this effort, please consider donating!
James Elsaesser has facilitated poetry workshops in his community in a variety of settings, including serving as Poet in Residence for Upward Bound at East Stroudsburg University, and as a teacher of GED English. James has taught ESL and facilitated poetry workshops for School of Leadership, Afghanistan, since 2013. He also facilitates poetry workshops of healing and empowerment at Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Intervention Services, (DASI). These workshops were originally funded by The Intitute for Poetic Medicine. He currently serves as Community Outreach Specialist, at DASI, Newton, NJ.