Canada to Nigeria: Lisa LaFlamme & Pelemo Nyajo Talk Youth Activism

Inspiring Activism with Journalist Lisa LaFlamme and Youth Activist Pelemo Nyajo

Talk about poetic justice! Discover how Pelemo Nyajo, a Nigerian youth and disability advocate, uses her powerful poetry to spark change.

Words by Tionna Salmon
Reading time: 7 minutes


Pelemo and Lisa LaFflamme Pelemo and Lisa LaFflamme
Nigerian poet and youth activist Pelemo Nyajo (left) and Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme (right).

Even if you’re a determined optimist — like us — you still need a steady dose of inspiration. That’s why we invited Lisa LaFlamme, an award-winning journalist and a Plan Celebrated Ambassador, to have an inspiring Instagram Live convo with Pelemo Nyajo, a Nigerian youth and disability activist.

This pair of determined optimists chatted for 45 minutes about Pelemo’s approach to using poetry to break biases and advocate for causes like gender equality, disability inclusion, mental health awareness and social justice. (Below, listen/watch as Pelemo recites her poem “What is My Name?” It left Lisa — and those watching — speechless.)

This Insta-live convo was in support of our #UntilWeAreAllEqual campaign. Our goal is to raise $2 million by June 30 to address the greatest challenges girls face today. Donate today and your donation will be matched.

Here are our 6 favourite moments:


Optimism in the face of adversity

Lisa: I know that it’s easy to lose faith given the inequality around us. But how do you remain optimistic? What gives you optimism for the future?

Pelemo: I keep showing up. I tell people my own advocacy is showing up. I have a disability, and most spaces in Nigeria were not created for me. I go there, I face the attitudinal barriers. I face accessibility barriers. They need to see me to know that inclusion is necessary.


The connection between poetry and activism

Lisa: How are writing poetry and being an activist similar?

Pelemo: Storytelling connects us to our human nature. Storytelling connects us to each other as people. And storytelling is one of the key ways to get to the hearts and the souls of people and the souls of an issue in activism

Poetry brings life to the issue. It brings the truth and the soul to the issue, and people connect instantly with it. I think activism and poetry are similar because activism has a lot of storytelling, a lot of showing up and a lot of speaking up... I’m really using my poetry for activism, and my activism is obviously my poetry.


The power of one youth activist

Lisa: You've done it. So, what would your advice be to people all over the world watching this, that one person can make a difference?

Pelemo: I would say that you are the one you are waiting for. I think a lot of people think we need a desire to come save us or one organization to pick us up or somebody to find us and make us worthy of being. But why don’t you think you can be that one person?

One soul carries so many other people’s destinies — what they could become. One person could be the keys of all that. And I think for me, I always remember that my life is not mine alone. If nobody speaks on this matter, if I don’t speak, then nobody might speak — for instance, with disability inclusion.

I started a page called Disability with Pel, where I share a lot about disability inclusion. I noticed that a lot of people started replicating it, sharing about disability inclusion as well. And it took that one step, that one person. And I think we all have our unique gifts. We all have other people’s lives tied to us. And if you can just take that one step, you realize that there’s a whole stairwell and there’s just so much waiting for you. It’s about that one step.

From Canada to Nigeria: Lisa LaFlamme (top) and Pelemo Nyajo (bottom) are all smiles as they chat live on Instagram about Pelemo’s passion for activism. We brought the two together in support of our Until We Are All Equal campaign. Lisa logged in from the Plan International Canada Toronto office and Pelemo from Plan International Nigeria.


Advocating for gender equality from the ground up

Lisa: What can we do as individuals and as a collective to show up and to support gender equality in Nigeria or everywhere?

Pelemo: I think, first of all, identifying your strengths and your interests and using that as tools to influence decision making, to influence the spaces you are in. Gender equality does not necessarily always have to start from the top of the pyramid and then flow down. It can be a bottom-up approach.

So, what ideologies do you have, and what ideologies are you pushing out into the world? What stories are you telling about the women around you, about yourself? If you are working in the administrative section of your office, you have a story to tell. If you are a poet, you push gender equality through that.

So it’s in your own little space, making sure that you are gender-sensitive, gender-aware and gender-transformative in your approaches and in your thinking. I think that is a great place to start.


Education as a tool to empower girls

Lisa: From your perspective, how do you think that an education can empower girls? How did it empower you to build the inclusive society that really is what we are all striving for all over the world?

Pelemo: Education is the most foundational thing a person could have to empower them. Without education, girls don’t really have agency, right?

I would like to point [out] that education doesn’t always have to be formal education, because there’s also informal education. So just getting this enlightenment in different ways really helped me to gain my voice. I just really, really do believe that education is one way to empower a girl, and every girl deserves the right to education.


Fundamental lessons on inclusion and gender equality

Lisa: What [were] the most interesting lessons you learned about inclusion and equality?

Pelemo: I would like to state quite boldly that inclusion is not a privilege, it’s a right. And when you’re a part of a society, when you’re a part of a community or an issue, you should be brought to the table. You should have a seat on the table to speak.

Something I learned through serving as a leader in different areas and organizations is that ... they’re not doing me a favour by bringing me into the room. I’m actually necessary, because you’re creating a solution for girls. So it only makes sense that girls should be at the table, and we are a very important stakeholder. When you give girls that position, you realize that girls are not incapable. We just lack opportunity.

Powerful poetry from Pelemo Nyajo

To close the conversation, Pelemo shared her poem, “What Is My Name?” which highlights her experiences as a woman living with a disability. Lisa, like many of us watching, was left speechless.

Check out her live performance with Lisa. We’ve also included the text, because we know you’ll want to save it and share it.

Click the thumbnail to view the video — and prepare to be inspired.

“What Is My Name?”

By Pelemo Nyajo

Before I could fully learn how to say my name,

I was acquainted with shame. It was the undertone

in every nursery rhyme, a prefix in the title of my story,

I suckled on it until it furnished my DNA with identity. The

woman that claimed to love me, held me by the jugular and

shoved trauma-bloodied words in my mouth, forced them

down my throat and reflex made me swallow. She taught me

that my body was an abandoned temple, rejected by the one

who made it, because it wasn’t temple enough; as if God

embedded a question mark in me and forgot to proofread me

before publishing. Rotten, broken, poorly written was the

artificial renaming of this body. And what do children know

about language and identity? They swallow anything,

regurgitate, chew and chew until it becomes a part of them,

like a metaphor. I was a skilled reader, my eyes knew to

identify others like me in shows like The Ugly Duckling, Ugly

Betty and Hunchback of Notredame. Before I could spell my

name, I knew how to read the room and every expression was

a letter emailed to memory, an indication that I was indeed a

rotten poem. There were days I attempted to erase myself, I

begged God to squeeze me and throw me to the back like an

ugly piece of literature. Now I wonder, how a child can

recognize stigma before her own potential. Isn’t that another

way to forcefully deflower a girl? Feeding her torn pages of a

single story, overdosing on a false narrative before she can

even dance through the ABCs. Convincing her that “you are

what you eat,” after putting her on a myopic diet, blinding her

little eyes from the Shakespearean light within, with question

marks dangling over her head, induced amnesia to make her

forget. How do I rewrite the encyclopedia of a now grown

woman, retract the vocabulary, set fire to the history. How do I

tell her that the reflection in the mirror isn’t hers? That it’s only

but a literary mirage painted when mother was more focused

on spare the rod and spoil the child to see that someone else

was authoring her daughter’s life. How do I convince her that

she is poem enough, light enough, loved enough? Give me a

backspace button to undo the writing,

your body is not broken,

those legs are not rotten.

Let’s change the font and the front cover.

Let’s show her that all her poetic graces, alliteration in crooked

places, metaphors and paradoxes, make her temple enough

for Holy dwelling. Let’s tell her, that she is exactly

what God intended for beauty to look like.

And watch her become a poem that remembers itself,

Born again, a fine being from the dying embers.

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