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Notes from the workshop:

Until we assume our purpose we wander about sowing seeds in the hope that they will land on earth healthy enough to provide for their germination and maturity. Fortunately I wondered in the right direction: books! I’ve loved reading since pre-school. I made a personal vow to excel at learning how to speak, read and write after being reduced to tears by a classmate who mocked me for failing to pronounce the word “three” properly. With time I began to practice writing my own material and putting literary arts central to my career path. In November 2014 I had the privilege of receiving an invitation to participate in the literary and popular writers workshop hosted by UNFPA East and Southern African regional office (ESARO) in Johannesburg. I was privileged to meet a particular blend of unique women from across the continent who are exceptionally driven, intelligent and spirited. They injected into me a surge of inspiration which made the workshop one of the most formidable experiences of my life.

All of the sisters are pioneers who use literary arts to drive social change in their respective countries. The workshop was focused on but not limited to young girls and women’s reproductive and sexual health. It extended to women’s and human rights issues and the power of expression; areas I frequently invest myself into. By sharing reflections, observations and experiences, we identified strengths that tie us together, struggles we exclusively and mutually face and the power carried in our works, as exemplified by the value they bring to our people. Literary arts can be creatively employed to cast doors of communication wide open in addressing taboo subjects within our primarily conservative societies. Applying storytelling softens the severity of grave issues like child-molestation, domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy, suicide and HIV/AIDS by providing a platform for dialogue and critique or at least food for thought through entertainment and information-sharing.

The sweet thing about literature is its malleability to be interpreted and/or strengthened through other artforms (photography, illustrations, puppetry, music, theatre and film). It is also one of the most accessible; a poor person living in a remote place without internet, television or smartphone can be reached through fliers, pamphlets, school books and even newsletters.

During the workshop, the primary challenges we identified were: speaking to people using speech and references they can relate to; the need to be fluent in our native tongues; as well as how to represent minorities without assuming an elitist position where we talk at people instead of to them. The consensus was that we want a happy and developed Africa. Our own personal interests are not mutually exclusive to our audiences.

My hat goes off to UNFPA ESARO and everyone who was present, especially: author and architect Yewande Omotoso and Fungai Machirori the Director of Her Zimbabwe (www.herzimbabwe.co.zw), both of whom facilitated the workshop. Many thanks to my fellow participants: author Ifeoma Theodore, E. Jr from Nigeria, Rebecca Rwakabukoza of Centre for African Cultural Excellence in Uganda (www.writivism.com) visual artist and writer Greer Valley, writer Koketso Moeti, poet Dejavu Tafari from South Africa, Kenyan writers and academics Wanjiru Koinange, Sally Kahiu and Tiffany Kagure Mugo, writer and lawyer Sophie Alal from Uganda (www.deyuafrican.com), andTina Mucavele from Mozambique who works extensively in social development in rural communities using writing and other expertise. Their respective and collective pursuits to spread kindness and love, compels me to push my limits and do more. Ba re e ne re… Qoi!

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