POETRY4Change

poetry4changev2-3POETRY4Change Africa: taking poetry from the pages to the streets!

A creative platform featuring the works of talented and exciting new poetic voices within the African continent and in the Diaspora.

It is an initiative created by Whole WoMan Network’s co-founder, Juliet Kego Ume-Onyido, in partnership with Praxis Magazine Online.

The mission is to channel the power of VOICE for societal change, by supporting and empowering Africans to use the tool of written poetry and spoken word to create awareness and proffer solutions for social issues on the continent.

POETRY4Change Africa has the following elements: quarterly contests with cash prizes and an annual residency program which involves – networking, mentorship & training programs to hone participants’ writing craft, and their performance, entrepreneurial and leadership skills. It would also include social advocacy, scholarships and grants to support these creative artists.
More details to come…

 

Background

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper.
It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”
Maya Angelou | I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

According to Juliet, three different core events inspired the Poetry4Change Platform.

  1. On Oct 9, 2012, a young Pakistani girl was shot at on a school bus by al queda terrorist. She would later survive the attack.
  2. On December 16, 2012, a young Indian girl was ganged-raped on a bus. She would die from the injuries.
  3. On April 14, 2014, 76 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Government Secondary School Chibok, in North Eastern part of Nigeria, by Boko Haram terrorists. Some would later escape, a few others would be rescued by government, but a lot are still missing till date…

“First you must find and embrace your voice; and then you must use your voice in a way that aligns with your highest intentions and deepest, most unconscious values.” 
~Juliet ‘Kego

In her own words:

“I remembers how visceral the first two events had hit me and the sheer hopelessness I felt. When I hear the news of the third incident, it affected me like a cut to the soul. To think that this horrific event had happened in my homeland, Nigeria. I remember vividly that I was sitting in a Panera coffee-shop in Mississuaga, Ontario, when I read the news.

And instead of hopelessness, I realized that it was a fiery rage that enveloped me. A vibrating anger that this could happen, and to such many number of girls. To me, the worst part was that they had been in a school, an otherwise safe haven or so we thought!

In order to process my rage, I started scribbling poetic verses about these girls and so many others like them, -women and girls I had known, read or heard about over the years. The poem: “TODAY I WILL NOT BOW [Together WE Rise]” was born. Over the next few months, I started sharing it with friends, groups and organization, in a bid to raise awareness for the challenges faced by girls and women, especially in developing, under-served communities.

And in this journey, I came to an awareness that to fight injustice, rather than being helpless and angry, we can choose to channel our rage into an alchemy of compassion and service to others, so that the cycle of injustice and inequality is broken.

Till date, the poem- “TODAY, I WILL NOT BOW”, has been translated to 17 Languages and recited & performed by groups of school girls worldwide. It also involves empowerment and leadership workshops based on many salient themes that affect girls (and youths in general).

ALL monies raised from public and private recitals of this poem, both by myself and other individuals/groups continue to support Scholarships, Grants, Micro-loans and Educational/Entrepreneurial training programs in the Arts, STEM, Leadership & Social Enterprise, all of which benefit girls across Africa.

I truly believe that the real shift in inequality across Africa will happen when we educate and empower the Girl-Child with the tools/skills she needs to thrive. And we must also include the boys in this conversation, for sustainability and to address the roots. Thus, it is critical to create safe spaces that allow youths, especially girls find and use their voices.

Girls should be encouraged to be aware of their values, enforce their personal boundaries, shatter the glass ceilings and also shatter the silence around gender discrimination, abuse and inequality. Formal education and training, mentorship, grants and scholarships, are all very practical ways to change the narrative around inequality all across Africa. In 2015/16 we empowered a total of 350 girls; we are scaling up and the goal for 2017 is for 3,000 girls.

Poetry4Change is an idea born out of these and many series of experiences. I am thrilled to collaborate with Praxis Magazine online and involve poets and spoken word artists across Africa. The goal is to expand the social issues of girl-child education, to other issues like poor leadership, religious and tribal intolerance, bigotry, corruption, war, terrorism, unemployment, lack of basic infrastructure etc. And to offer writers additional needed resources and tools, so that they are empowered to use their voices to highlight social issues on the continent. And with this awareness, they are better equipped to proffer and deliver creative and sustainable solutions in their communities.”

“Poetry is the life blood of rebellion, revolution and the raising of consciousness”
~Alice Walker

Cyber-Hugs,
–Juliet “Kego