Kenyan spoken word poet Dorphanage has a passion for social justice, including the human rights of women and girls. Since performing at Girls Not Brides’ virtual launch festival for our Power to Girls campaign in 2021, the artist has been a supporter of the campaign alongside creating his latest album “From the Margins”.
Speaking to Girls Not Brides via Zoom from his home in bustling capital city, Nairobi, Dorphanage – also known as Dorphan – tells us how discovering about his mum’s experience as an adolescent mother led to his activism.
In this Q&A, we asked Dorphan some questions about his latest spoken word project, which addresses a number of social justice issues, and heard more about his personal connection with the issue of child marriage.
Girls Not Brides: Thank you for speaking with us today Dorphan! Congratulations on the release of your latest work. Where did the inspiration for your new album come from?
Dorphan: Thank you for having me. My latest work, "From the Margins" is based on stories from people who’ve been marginalised and whose stories aren’t told enough. We went to different communities to talk to people in informal settlements within Nairobi, a group of campus students and a group of young people who’ve grown up in refugee camps to find out about their lives. These stories informed the creation of the album, working with artists from those communities to inform the creative process.
Girls Not Brides: That sounds like a really interesting and important process. What were the kinds of stories you heard?
Dorphan: We talked to a lot of young people, mostly from settlements in and around Nairobi and heard about their experiences as people living on the margins of society, and the pressures they are under. A lot of the young men aren't sure they will make it to their 20s, and so feel they should marry young to continue their legacy by having a child. The result of this can be a lot of young single mothers - and the cycle continues. I wanted to share some of these situations with people who aren't familiar to increase empathy and raise awareness.
“From the Margins” is an emotional piece of work that shares the sentiments of the citizens and issues we're facing - such as extrajudicial killings, struggles with livelihood, mental health and political frustration. These are the issues a lot of Kenyans and people residing in this country are facing.
Girls Not Brides: When it comes to talking about issues that directly and disproportionately impact girls and women, like child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, how do you approach that as a male activist?
Dorphan: When I talk about issues like child marriage, I'm not trying to preach. It's an artistic way of sharing my own story. My mother passed when I was very young, and she was a teenager when she got involved with my father who was in his 20s.
I used to be bitter and angry towards my mother, and it was only as an adult that I found out the actual truth and understood her sacrifice.
By sharing my story I'm acknowledging my mother's humanity, and the humanity of girls like her.
There are men who’ve approached me who say "Thank you - you’ve changed the way I see things", or I’ve had people say, "That’s my story too". Even for people who don’t directly relate, they probably know someone who’s been through something similar.
The best we can do is try and make sure the message reaches as many people as possible to try and make a change.
Girls Not Brides: We couldn't agree more. At the launch of Power to Girls, you performed your moving spoken word piece Mum Aliishia. Can you tell us about that piece?
Dorphan: That piece is about my experience growing up without my mother, and a recognition of girls who become pregnant early like she did.
When my mother had me, it was a different time altogether. Even though things have changed a bit, they haven’t changed all that much since then. It took me two years to finish that piece because I was processing what had happened and talking to people who could tell me more about her life. I'm glad I did that because it helped me to understand my mum more and what she went through.
I like to believe my mother had dreams, but sadly those dreams were cut short.
Every young girl and child deserves access to support and power. To get the help she needs to pursue those dreams. With initiative and conversations hopefully we’ll get to a point where girls and all children have that support.
Girls Not Brides: Thank you for sharing your story. Every single person who speaks up about girls' human rights adds to a global call for change. What advice would you give to someone wanting to take action, but they're unsure where to start?
Dorphan: The best we can do is speak up and try to reach as many people as possible. People aren't computers so you can't click a button and make change happen just "like that".
Someone could learn about an issue today and might take five or even ten years for them to act. That’s okay - culture has been cultivated over centuries, and we can’t expect it’ll change in a day. People cling on to harmful practices like child marriage because they think it's part of culture.
Hopefully through initiatives and conversations things will change for good. For people wanting to speak up about social issues like child marriage, I’d say:
Use your voice however you can. You never know who’ll be listening, and what change that might lead to.
In the time it has taken to read this article 64 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds