Bernard Muhia

Poet and Writer. My poems have been featured on CNN International, my play on the UN website and by MTV EXIT.

My new blog is on at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How much we sacrifice for you

do you know how much we sacrifice for you?
what child hasn't heard those words,
from rich kids to poor kids,
from early on to later on,
they tell us how much they have sacrificed for us,
denying themselves so we can have a better life,
better than they did,
but do they ever stop to think,
we never signed up for this,
we never were consulted before being brought here,
but here we are anyway,
so why is it that we are to blame,
that we are reason you deny yourselves,
and yet its not our fault that we are here,
what is this conspiracy against us,
makes me want to go back,
right before conception and say,
hold up, If Im going to be the reason you sacrifice your dreams,
sacrifice your time and your resources,
then I'd rather we not go down this road,
I'd rather not carry the burden of inconveniencing your life,
I'd rather not bear the guilt of you denying yourself things for my sake,
I'd simply rather not.
Now, I'm not saying that we don't appreciate,
everything you have done for us,
but don't blame us for it,
you knew what you were signing up for,
unless you didn't know,
and in which case the fault still lies not with us,

This is the reason why I don't want to have kids,
coz I don't want to sacrifice for nobody,
yeah I'm selfish like that,
but at least I wont be talking about how hard it is raising kids,
like I didn't see everyone around me struggle,
I'd rather not be responsible for another Godforsaken kid,
there's enough kids in the world without bringing in new ones,
plus, having been a kid once I know,
life fucks you up anyway,
whether you're born rich or born poor matters little,
you're still messed up anyway,
so why would I want to be the one responsible for that,
bringing another kid into this world,
thanks, but no thanks,
I'm fine just the way I am

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The role of the performing arts in advocacy

The role of the performing arts in advocacy

The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa says that art is one of the most powerful advocacy tools to raise awareness and move people to take action. Whereas lectures and books are good in their respect, they are no match for the power of music, drama or poetry in disseminating crucial messages on human trafficking. The fact that art is often entertaining at its very core means that there is an extended attention span associated with it and an improved capacity to remember the message contained therein.

This brings me to my second point. Performance arts are most effective when the audience participates in the dissemination of the message. This is the reason why there are practicals in schools so that the students can learn by doing. This drastically increases their chances of deeply understanding and remembering what they have learnt. Therefore, art can be used as a means of providing a cultural and social voice where engagement by participants promotes their role as active and creative citizens.

This aspect of audience participation is a method we as Fern Poetry have used in our advocacy campaigns against human trafficking. Using poetry as our medium, we have been able to reach High School students who are in the most vulnerable age bracket for human trafficking. We have achieved this by reciting/reading poems for the students. The poems not only break down this issue into an understandable concept but they also use heavy imagery and empathy to appeal to the minds and hearts of the students thereby ensuring that the message truly gets home.
In an effort to ensure their participation in the process, we then ask the students to also write their own poems and essays on the topic of human trafficking as they understand it. I have some of these submissions with me and I hope to indulge you in sampling what the students have to say during the course of this symposium. As the students write their poems and essays, they sharpen their knowledge on the subject which further engraves the message in their minds and impresses upon them the need to also engage in creating further awareness on human trafficking to their peers and other networks.

In order to make the performance arts more effective in creating public awareness, always ensure that:

1. The performance arts campaign has a broad support system. Ideally, the more people working on the awareness campaign, the greater the likelihood that it will be successful. In our case, involving the students by asking them to create their own poems about human trafficking means that there is an actual two-way exchange and that the students themselves also become agents of awareness creation.

2. Secondly, ensure that there is room for all forms of art. Do not limit the performance to one form of art, say poetry, because you will have locked out other writers and singers as well as painters and sculptors. Even though the awareness campaign may have started with one form of art, make sure that it is open to all other forms of art.

3. Thirdly, always make sure that there is a concise and consistent message throughout the campaign. Cross-check your facts and where possible, give the audience reference materials that they can use as they co-create artwork meant to promote awareness on human trafficking. The last thing we need is misinformation.

Among the various forms of art that organizations can use in their counter human trafficking programs include music concerts, exhibitions of photos, paintings, drawings and carvings, plays and dramas, poetry recitals and readings as well as holding competitions on these art forms.
In addition to all these, performance arts can also be used as a healing tool to rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking and especially child victims. Art helps them to express things that they may not be able to articulate or are too embarrassed or afraid to talk about. Art can thus be a therapeutic medium in the recovery of survivors.

With regard to media relations, performance arts are a unique proposition to present to the media. Advocacy is typically about seminars and community workshops and these are effective in their own right, but that’s how everybody does their advocacy. So as an organization, you need a unique angle that sets you apart from other advocacy campaigns. Performance arts can provide that ‘wow effect’ that the media looks for. Performance arts are not only entertaining but they are also educative. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

Speaking from my experience as a journalist, art is always a softer alternative to hard-hitting news. My poem on human trafficking was featured on CNN because of that very aspect. After covering all the major conferences and seminars on human trafficking, CNN wanted to highlight other unique strategies that stakeholders in counter human trafficking were using to make a difference. Poetry was my unique thing and it got me noticed. It was a fresh and new approach to the advocacy campaign. Art has a way of humanizing or emotionalizing a problem. Art is about exploring not just the facts about the problem but also the feelings and emotions of that problem as felt by those who face it. Art doesn’t just give you the statistics but it also gives you the emotionality of the victims. And finally, art doesn’t just appeal to your mind and intellect, it also moves your heart and soul.

When pitching your performance arts campaign to the media, always ensure that you use what I call the ‘laser approach’. Identify a specific programme, presenter and/or journalist that will identify with the subject you aim to create awareness on. For example, in my case with CNN, I specifically targeted a programme called ‘The Freedom Project’. The freedom project is a year-long series that CNN launched to address the issue of human trafficking. That’s what I mean by being specific.

Secondly, always find ways to insert your message in any context when talking to the media. Here’s an example, my colleague was invited to NTV for an interview about a poetry event we were organizing that wasn’t in any way related to the human trafficking project. The presenter asked him if we had thought about taking poetry to schools and he took that opportunity to explain our human trafficking project in detail. It may not have been the reason why he went there but he used the opportunity to highlight our project.

Thirdly, when sending information to the media about your project, make sure that it is short and to the point. Just a few lines to a paragraph are enough to get the journalist interested in your story. Then the next thing the journalist will do is follow-up. So if you have a website or blog put the link there or your phone contacts so that they are able to get in touch with you.
Also, don’t just try to be covered in the news, think also of being featured in the non-news programs. These non-news programs include talk shows, art programs, health programs, human rights programs and even business programs. These programs provide you with media exposure and it is usually targeted exposure because the people watching or listening to that program have an interest in the subject matter. Likewise, the journalists or presenters of these programs are also looking for organizations like yours and so it’s a win-win situation.

Lastly, don’t shy away from calling-in live or sending text messages to a radio show or T.V. program. The host or presenter might sample your text message as part of the audience response and read it on air or they might receive your call and thus you get an opportunity to speak about your organization and your performance arts program. By so doing, you have just earned your organization and your arts campaign some impromptu media exposure.

In conclusion, the role of performing arts cannot be understated. It is organizations that are especially in the advocacy business that need to appreciate that there is always room for the arts in any awareness campaign. Art brings people together in a relaxed environment where they are able to more easily absorb the message when it is delivered in a light-hearted manner.
The youth are also very appreciative of the arts, and the fact that they are the most vulnerable population to human trafficking, means that art is then the most appropriate medium to use when creating awareness among them.

Long live the arts!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Spoken Word coalition, the dare game

Its finally here, Spoken Word coalition, the dare game at Strathmore University Auditorium tomorrow 17th, Sept. Come for a charity poetry event through which we are collecting old newspapers for sale to raise funds for Kenya Redcross. Bring some old newspapers. The event starts at 2pm. Damage is 200/- and this too goes to the Kenya Redcross.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heartbreak Kid

Heartbreak Kid
Poetry, if I be the death of you,forgive me,
for I courted you for all the wrong reasons,
needed acceptance and you gave me that,
needed prestige and you gave me that,
even needed money and like an ATM, you dispensed
but now we must face the facts,
we dont feel the same about each other anymore,
I've gotten cocky, and you have other loves,
I've lost interest, and you get more and more complicated,
so poetry, If I be the death of you,
please forgive me.

Dirty Diana

Dirty Diana
Your eyes tell me things
a diva's aura is around you,
but I see you with many men,
everytime I see you.
And all I do is stare,
as you try to talk to me,
but I just happen not to be listening,
because Im concerned,
many men be by your side,
and you look like a girl who can get any man she wants,
so tell me, why do you want me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Through Fern Poetry, I am about to embark on a poetry project along with two fellow poets, El Poet and Jaju and entertainer Martin "Daddie Marto" Githinji, which will take us to five schools around the Nairobi Area to present poems on human trafficking for purposes of creating awareness on the vice. We will be doing this through a project funded by Koinonia Advisory Research and Development Service (KARDS). Fern Poetry is the business-side of my poetic journey. The project targets students in high school.

This project has been featured on CNN International and the Nairobi Now Arts Blog.

The objectives of the project are;

Popularizing anti-Trafficking in Persons through poems that are recited in front of the students.
Encouraging the submission of artistic expressions in the form of essays and poems from students on the theme of trafficking with the aim of exhibiting them.
Holding a competition on poetry and story writing on the theme of human trafficking amongst students in high schools with a prize of Kshs. 1,000 for the winner and Kshs 500 and 300 for the first and second runners up respectively .
I am doing my part to create awareness among students who are also at times victims of human trafficking owing to the high levels of poverty in the country. Here is the poem I will be using throughout the project. It's titled 'Kaa Chonjo' which means be alert in Swahili.

Kaa chonjo (human trafficking)
Lost and helpless,
Her passport taken away
Her ID taken away
In search of a better way
Paid them to chase the dream life
But ended up paying with her freedom
Lost without friends in a foreign land
Her dreams lost to slave masters
Beaten and abused,
Raped and they were amused.
Left his home country,
Only to be forced into labour
Paid with lashes,
His dreams, burnt down to ashes
His whole life flashes,
Because he would rather die
Than be forced to live a lie,
Open your eyes,

Feel the cries;
Of Kenyans in the Middle East
Trafficked like worthless beasts

Feel the cries;
Of young girls in our streets,
Enticing you to the sheets,
Only to give that money to pimps

Feel the cries;
Of child beggars,
On their feet, jiggers
On their hands, blisters
On their feet, barely slippers
Of their clothes, tatters
If only for their masters,
To elicit your unknowing pity
And in their bowls throw in that fifty
Kaa chonjo, ndio uwe sauti yao

It all started in the name of poverty,
Parents selling off some of their children,
If only to be able to take care of the rest
It all started in the name of culture,
Women and animals being offered,
To appease rival tribes as peace offerings
It all started with colonization,
Paramount chiefs exchanging their subjects,
For pieces of silver, mirrors and bottles
It all started with urbanization,
Smugglers promising desperate young people,
With jobs and a better life in the city,
Only for them to be forced into prostitution,
Only for them to be forced into drug peddling
It all started with ignorance
You and me in the dark
Not knowing that slavery exists, today!
Not knowing that we could fall prey, today!
Kaa chonjo, ndio uwe sauti yao

Entire communities engage in this
From Indians to Africans
Arranged marriages, the village match-maker
A Young girl abducted by the riverside,
Taken home by the men and defiled
Only for the community to sing praises
Telling her that she is most fortunate
A husband she doesn't choose,
A man she doesn't love
Every night she cries in her sleep
Kaa chonjo, ndio uwe sauti yao.

(Kaa chonjo, ndio uwe sauti yao is Swahili for "be alert so that you can speak up for the voiceless". The phrase is borrowed from the Anti-human trafficking campaigns by the International Organization for Migration)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Winner of Love Edition of Fern Poetry Prize Ksh. 3,000

Hi poets and enthusiasts alike,

I would like send a big shout out to the first two winners of the Fern Poetry Prize,
Jennifer Noxolo Musangi and Redscar McOdindo K?Oyuga. I would also like to thank and
appreciate every poet who has ever sent in their poem for consideration. We are
celebrating a different type of love this Valentines. They say that birds of a feather
flock together, but what if birds of a delicate feather desire to flock together? That?s
what this month?s poem is about. We live in a fast changing society and can?t afford to
bury our heads in the sand. It?s a love poem with a difference, don?t let the title fool
you. It is my voluminous pleasure to announce the winner of the Third Edition, which is
also the Love Edition of the Fern Poetry Prize worth Kshs. 3,000. And the winner is? Lee
La Poeta ?with her poem titled ?Forgive me mother?. The poem speaks of a new type of
love, and no it?s not about mothers, but something perhaps new to our culture but
nonetheless existent.

I?m also happy to announce that we are extending the coverage of the Fern Poetry Prize to
include schools through a project funded by Koinonia Advisory Research and Development
Service (KARDS). This will be a new segment of the poetry prize targeting students in
high school with a theme on anti-human trafficking. The project is slated to start in
March with the pilot phase targeting five schools. It will involve poetry recitals on
human trafficking and a poetry competition where the students have a chance to win Kshs
1,000, Kshs 500 and Kshs 300 for the winner and runners up respectively. I sincerely
thank KARDS and Consolation East Africa for sponsoring this project and for appreciating
the role played by poetry as an impetus for change in society.

Here is the winning poem by Lee La Poeta titled ?Forgive me mother?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winner of Ksh. 2,000 Fern Poetry Prize

The deadline for the submission of poems to the Second Edition of the Fern Poetry prize worth 2,000 Kshs. was on 15th January 2011. I would like to appreciate every poet who submitted poems for consideration and it’s my pleasure to announce the winner of the second Fern Poetry Prize. And the winner is... Redscar McOdindo K’Oyuga...with his poem titled ‘Please come home daddy’. This poem not only appeals to all audiences but also speaks to a cause. You can feel the immense desire for proximity attachment expressed by the observer who is also deeply emotionally invested. Read the winning poem here

P.S. The Third Edition of the Fern Poetry Prize will be in February and is themed the ‘Love Edition’. The prize for the third edition will be increased to 3,000 Kshs. Submission of poems starts on 27th January 2011 and closes on 11th February 2011. The winner will be announced on Valentine’s Day, 14th February 2011. Submit only love poems to To read this edition's winning poem by Redscar McOdindo K’Oyuga titled ‘Please come home daddy’ click here