NPR Staff

It's difficult enough to start an orchestra, but Zuhal Sultan founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) as a teenager in the middle of a war. She brought together 40 young musicians from different Iraqi cities and sectarian backgrounds in an effort to unify a divided nation. Now, six years later, the Euphrates Institute has named her Visionary of the Year.

Khaled Alkojak is one of the few Syrians to have made it to the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war. Even here, though, the 31-year-old remains in limbo, unsure of how long he'll be allowed to stay.

For now, Alkojak lives in Southern California. When he spoke with NPR's Arun Rath, Alkojak spoke of his life in Syria before the war.

"Nothing special," Alkojak says. "I'm just like any Syrian guy from Damascus. I work with my father; we have a family business."

He helped run his family's Internet cafe, at the same time attending school to study computers.

Years ago, in the small town of Maiden, N.C., a man named Shannon Whisnant bought a storage locker, and in it he found a grill. When he took both of them home and opened the grill, he discovered something he hadn't been expecting: a mummified human leg.

Most people — one presumes — would've have wanted to get rid of the leg as soon as possible. Whisnant, however, wanted to keep it. Trouble is, the original owner of the limb, John Wood, wanted it back. He'd had to have that leg amputated years earlier.

Human smugglers prey on the desperation of people who flee war and oppression. They've made millions moving people across borders, without regard to safety. Thousands have died, locked in packed trucks or trapped in sinking ships — like the "ghost ships," crowded with Syrian refugees, which have been set on course to crash into the Italian coast.

Today, Noramay Cadena is a mechanical engineer, fitted with multiple degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But she came by her motivation in a place much different from the MIT classrooms: a factory in Los Angeles where her mother brought her one summer as a teenager.

In case you missed it: The full audio of Pope Francis' speech to a joint meeting of Congress (at the link above), paired with his prepared remarks and analysis from Morning Edition.

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This week, 40-year-old singer-songwriter Ryan Adams unveiled an unlikely new project: a song-by-song cover of Taylor Swift's bestselling album 1989. Adams has a huge body of work, some of it enormously acclaimed — and he's not the first person listeners might have associated with one of the most dominant figures in contemporary pop music.

Writer Percival Everett is a man of the West: the region, for him, is a place of calm and comfort, danger and extremes. His new collection of short stories, Half an Inch of Water, is set largely in Wyoming, where Everett lived for a time and which he says might be his favorite state. ("It's so sparsely populated," he says as praise.)

But the prolific author wrote his new book far away from that iconic landscape.

"I wrote these while I was in Paris," Everett tells NPR's Arun Rath. "I was living in Paris, and for some reason I started writing ranch stories.

For those who have never seen the show American Ninja Warrior: Imagine an Army obstacle course, redesigned by Dr. Seuss and a team of rock-climbing acrobats. Competitors have to thread their way through the daunting obstacles, completing a number of stages before they can hope to finish the whole thing.