More than words: Future astronaut’s poetic inspiration for a mental health conversation

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Students at Sydenham High School GDST channelled their poetic side last week with the help of a future astronaut in a workshop around mental health issues and awareness.

The group of Year 8 students was inspired to write and perform a series of poems around the topics of anxiety and depression by mental health spokesperson, YouTuber and global Kruger Cowne Rising Star winner, Hussain Manawer.

Before setting the students their task Hussain, who campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues, explained how poetry can be a powerful form of self-expression as well as a way of encouraging vital conversation on a traditionally difficult topic. He also talked to them about what makes a good performance to help drive a message home.

The 24-year old, who was an Olympic torchbearer and has raised thousands of pounds for charity, then performed some of his unique and compelling narrative poetry.  This included the breath-taking spoken word performance that secured him the Kruger Cowne Rising Star award at the One Young World Conference in Bangkok last November.  Hussain beat thousands of other young hopefuls from over 90 countries to the chance to go into space with the XCOR Space Expedition as the first British Muslim astronaut.

The inspirational performer regularly takes time out of his business schedule to go into schools like Sydenham High to talk to young people about combating cyber bullying and the importance of self-expression through the arts in an effort to reduce the stigma of talking about mental health issues and provide positive pathways to improve it.

Hussain was very impressed by the depth of insight in the thoughtful pieces created by the students, as well as their use of alliteration, wordplay and rhyme in each performance.

The Sydenham High students also wanted to know more about his future trip into space – a dream he never imagined could become real.  He promised to come back and tell them more about the trip once he has undergone his training in the US.

Enrichment and PSHE Co-ordinator Mrs Georgina Calvert, who organised the workshop, said:

“Hussain’s fresh and dynamic approach to a difficult topic really connected with the students and got them to think differently about sensitive issues that are sometimes hidden from view. As a result, they produced thoughtful and mature spoken word performances that went to the heart of these themes.”