Brave New Voices participant Francesca Ojefua writes movingly on her lifelong love of reading and writing, and how picking up her pen helped her to rediscover her voice following traumatic life events.
I have loved reading and writing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would read all my school text books before the school term had even begun – and would then get reprimanded for reading my older siblings’ more advanced books. I have a very active imagination and love ‘daydreaming’, so when I read I would act out scenarios in my head.
When I was 8 years old, everyone in my class was asked to write an article about their favourite musician. I wrote about Will Smith. My teacher considered it so good he sent it to the children’s section of the national newspaper without my knowledge and it was published. Although this was a proud moment for my parents and me, I did not consider myself to have an interest in writing until I witnessed the murder of my father. I found writing a medium of dealing with the overwhelming grief and burden of sorrow. I continued to write until I arrived in the UK. The stress of adapting to a new, strange society and my struggle to obtain legal residency in this country dampened my desire, and I hung up my pen.
My desire to write was briefly renewed when I fled an abusive relationship while pregnant. I was determined to write a diary of the events prior to and leading up to the birth of my daughter and my experience of being a victim of Domestic Abuse. This gave me a sense of purpose and helped me cope with the uncertainty of new motherhood and the feeling of being abandoned. Fortunately, I was referred to Praxis, a charity at the forefront in the battle for rights and justice for those who would be otherwise ignored and abandoned.
Being a client at Praxis has changed my life for the better. It opened my eyes to many opportunities I would otherwise be unaware of – including a chance to express and share my love for writing. Two years ago, Praxis started a support group for young mothers. Together we named it WINGS: Women Inspiring New GenerationS. It is a forum for us to meet, talk, share, advise, support and encourage one another as mothers in similar situations, as well as a chance to relax and have fun while the children are looked after in the crèche. It feels so nice to be a single lady for a few hours!
Last year, we were opportuned to work with accomplished writer Bidisha during workshops organised by English PEN. The buzz I got from writing and the anticipation with which I looked forward to the next sessions made me question why I had ever stopped writing. Meeting writers like Faïza Guène and Chibundu Onuzo inspired me to continue writing and make my voice heard.
Being published in Brave New Voices: a city imagined has broken so many barriers for me. In my country, writing is frowned upon as a career. Parents prefer their children to be doctors, lawyers, bankers or any ‘top’ profession. Bring free to write and knowing my voice will be heard is a big motivation to express myself. English PEN and Brave New Voices has changed the perspective on how young/migrant writers are viewed and my hope is that many others will benefit from this project, as there are still so many voices oppressed and looking for an opportunity to be expressed. I was a sound in the dark now I am a voice in the light. We have the power to change the future.
With our PEN, we can change the world.
Francesca Ojefua is a member of WINGS, the young mums group at Praxis Community Projects. Francesca is an avid reader and writer, and took part in the first year of Brave New Voices, funded by the Limbourne Trust. Her short story, ‘A City Imagined’, gave the first Brave New Voices anthology its name.
Find out more about Brave New Voices 2.0 and read Francesca’s writing in Brave New Voices: a city imagined here.