The Voice of Refugees: Introducing Warsan Shire, Brave Girl Rising’s writer

By Martha Adams, Girl Rising

January 4th 2019

 
 

Girl Rising has partnered with the International Rescue Committee and Citi to create a film and campaign around the story of one brave young girl named Nasro, whose daily life is a fight to get the education she deserves. The film, to be released this March for  International Women’s Day, is just one of many ways Girl Rising, the IRC, and Citi are working to ensure girls everywhere on the planet have access to safe schooling. In our first blog post, we explained why we are telling the story of Nasro. In this blog post, filmmaker and Girl Rising Chief Creative Officer Martha Adams talks about how she came to see that Warsan Shire was the only writer who could tell this story.


 
 
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“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”

—Warsan Shire

Normally, when we select the screenwriter for our films at Girl Rising, I come up with a list of three to five acclaimed writers with relevant backgrounds to tackle the story. But this time I had only one name to nominate: Warsan Shire. Her work was that perfect.

There’s a reason Beyoncé chose her work to be the dramatic framework for her Lemonade album and film. Warsan’s poetry is ferocious and raw, and yet all the while gorgeous. Her debut book of poetry, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, led to her winning the Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2013. And in 2014 when Warsan—herself a refugee from Somalia—was only 16-years-old, she was named London’s first Young Poet Laureate.

Today, quotes from her poems spill across social channels and find their way to dorm room cork-boards, coffee house journals and the walls of refugee centers. Her Twitter and Instagram feeds are shared by thousands.

 
 
 
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In years past, when we made a Girl Rising film, the author was connected to the country where the story took place, like Edwidge Danticat for a story about a girl in Haiti and Loung Ung for a story about a girl from Cambodia. This film is about the refugee crisis, however, and it has no country and knows no boundaries. It didn’t matter if the author was from Syria or South Sudan, we needed to find a powerful voice who understood firsthand what millions of girls around the world experience in being forced to flee their homelands.

Warsan knows. She is called “the voice of refugees” and the “spokeswoman of the African diaspora” by many for her powerful verse, and for her dramatic personal story. In fact, when we met, Warsan called herself a “girl rising.” Born to Somali parents in Kenya and raised in London, Warsan has visited her home country of Somalia only once. She grew up in a part of London where high school girls aren’t normally afforded the chance to become poets, yet she was on her way to her first publishing deal at just 16.

She has received countless offers since Beyoncé’s Lemonade album was released, and turns down nearly all of them to focus on her own work. Even when the New York Times profiled her, she refused to be interviewed. But she made the exception for Girl Rising because she believes so strongly in the need to raise awareness about girls in refugee camps.

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Warsan is the one who chose Dadaab as the location for this film. She said that the Somali refugees are a long forgotten people—hundreds of thousands of people have been languishing in the desert for years and years and no one has cared. She called Somalis the elder statesman in the crisis.

During the filmmaking process, the writer and her subject develop a deeply nuanced relationship to create a story of incredible honesty and emotion—a story that turns bystanders into activists.

In the months since she first came aboard, Warsan has spent countless hours on Skype or the phone with Nasro to write the film. It has been so moving for me to see Warsan and Nasro become close—both young women display a polite shyness that veils wit, intelligence, and resolve. After their calls, Warsan would often become emotional at the reality of this endeavor, this film we are making about a girl in a dusty forgotten refugee camp in east Africa.

“No one has done this before...few have seen this place... and fewer still have cared,” she said.


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WHO IS GIRL RISING?

Girl Rising is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a world in which every girl can grow to be a full and equal participant in society. We use the power of storytelling to change attitudes and beliefs that are holding girls back. We work hand-in-hand with partners to empower girls and engage those around them—boys, parents, teachers and community leaders—to create locally-led change.

 
 
 

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