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AS IT IS - Music from Some South African and American Young People / How Art and Society Connect

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From VOA Learning English, welcome to AS IT IS!

AS IT IS --- our new magazine show in Special English. Today and in the days to come, we will be expanding on major world events and reporting on issues that concern you. We will be talking with newsmakers, experts and VOA's own reporters to help make sense of this quickly changing world --- AS IT IS.

Hello, I'm your host, Mario Ritter.

This week on our program, we talk about how art and society connect. For instance, a writing program in Afghanistan permits women to share their ideas about the politics and culture in their country. Another young Afghan woman uses her art to say something about American politics. But first, we bring you music from some South African and American young people.

Bokamosa Youth is the name of a South African organization. For over 10 years, about 20 Bokamosa members have spent a month at a high school and college in the United States. The program offers more than just an exchange between two cultures. It gives young people the opportunity to talk about what is important to them, and to imagine a different kind of life for themselves.

While the Bokamosa Youth perform, many of the American students join in.

"Bokamosa has been doing that here for years, so many of us are familiar with this."

Drew Looney is in his third year of high school at Saint Andrew's Episcopal School in the eastern state of Maryland. Singing together helps the American and South African students get to know each other. Teachers at Saint Andrew's say meeting the South Africans makes some American students think about living or working in another country one day. And attending an American school, even for only a few weeks, often makes members of the South African group decide to get more education.

"I wanted to go a mile from where I was."

That was Themba. He is 19. Like other members of Bokamosa, he grew up in a town outside of Pretoria called Winterveldt.

"I can say it's a place under construction."

As part of Bokamosa, students also write poems and perform plays for schools and churches in Winterveldt. A lot of their creative work discusses issues in the community. For instance: teenage pregnancy, finding a job, or women entering the corporate world.

"Normally a woman doesn't work, a man must provide. These plays, they address the issues because sometimes conflicts arise when men can say: 'No, you want to take away my pride?'"

Thapelo is 27. Bokamosa helped him with his education. Now he volunteers for the group as a drama director. Thapelo works with young people like Lovely, who said she used to be very shy.

"Here I am now. I can be able to stand in front of many, many people and present myself."

Roy Barber goes to Winterveldt in the summer to help Lovely and other participants create plays and develop songs. The rest of the year he teaches music and other classes at St. Andrew's, back in Maryland. He says making music and telling stories helps young people look at their lives and make choices -- or, put another way, to find their voices.

The Afghan Women's Writing Project was founded three years ago. The goal is to change the image of women in Afghanistan. Kelly Jean Kelly reports on how Afghan women are using computer and language skills to tell their own stories.

Zahra is in her twenties. She teaches English to children who live at an orphanage. She also writes about Afghan girls' life experiences and hopes.

American writer Naomi Benaron helps Zahra write her poems and stories. Ms. Benaron reads from one of Zahra's poems, called "Daughter of War."

"…I will try

I will stand for my right

I will break the silence

I will show my power

And I will bring peace

In my country once again."

Zahra is one of about 100 writers in the Afghan Women's Writing Project. The stories and poems are published on a website. The group also connects Afghan writers with other writers around the world who help them with their ideas and skills. American journalist and writer Marsha Hamilton founded the project in 2009. That was 10 years after her first visit to Kabul.

"It's important for a certain kind of survival to tell your own story, to tell it out loud."

Recently, the project moved into a building in Kabul. Now, women writers not only can meet on the Internet — they can also meet in person.

"I feel I'm not alone. There needs to be change."

That was Mahnaz. She joined the project three years ago. One of her poems is called "Legitimizing Inequality." It describes how women become victims of cultural and religious beliefs.

"They use our body,

then Mock our beauty and call us weak.

We are not infidel.

We are different but equal.

We are women

Strong in our faith and ability."

Mahnaz wants to continue writing. She dreams of writing books and becoming a novelist.

I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I'm Mario Ritter. You are listening to AS IT IS.

Another young woman in Afghanistan has created a special gift for President Obama. Jerilyn Watson has more.

Aisha Rasekh lives in a mud house in Jowzjan Province. It is also where she does her weaving.

"This is Barack Obama's picture on carpet which I wove in eight months and want to present it personally to President Obama."

Aisha goes to school and she also works to help support a family of ten.

"We all weave carpets. We make our livelihood out of this."

Afghan carpets are produced mostly in the northern area of the country where Aisha lives. The carpets are becoming more popular in world markets today.

And that's AS IT IS for today. I'm Mario Ritter.

Tell us what you want to hear about on our new show. We want to cover the issues and ideas that matter to you, in your world, as it is.

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