Each summer, Haverford College and Voice of Witness partner on an internship program for up to two of their students. This year, Chace Pulley and Bonnie McKelvie came to join us for ten weeks, helping us transcribe interviews, work onsite with teachers, and conduct development and communications research. We are very sad to see them go! We’ve asked Chace and Bonnie to reflect upon their time with us this summer:
Approaching the end of my internship this summer, I can’t help but reflect on my amazing experience. On my first day in the office, I recall Cliff—VOW’s education director—perfectly summing up the necessity of oral history in current discourse: despite all of the news coverage, very rarely does the public actually hear the voices of the oppressed. Voice of Witness gives these voices a microphone where they can share both their trauma and the things that give them joy. In the wake of the recent supreme court decisions, ICE protests, and news stories about the separation of families at the border, it becomes clear that Voice of Witness’s work is needed now more than ever. In today’s fractured and regressive political climate, oral history is a critical tool in building empathy and fighting injustice.
Figuring out how to fit in an organization that does such important work initially seemed daunting. Thankfully, everyone at the office has been incredibly welcoming, giving Bonnie and me an opportunity to put on different hats and learn what makes a small nonprofit thrive. I’ll walk away from this internship with newfound skills in development research and donor relationship management, as well as tools for using social media to manage a company’s public image. Furthermore, I’ve been learning how to write media pitches to news websites and build connections with journalists. Working at Voice of Witness has only strengthened my passion to work in either the nonprofit or media sector.
Most importantly, I’ll walk away from this internship with a deeper understanding of current issues. Reading the Voice of Witness books and transcribing the stories of narrators for projects in the Story Lab has enhanced my perspective about—and these are just a few examples—the Syrian refugee crisis, solitary confinement, and the Palestine-Israel conflict.
It is hard to say exactly what Voice of Witness has done for me, because it feels as if so much of our work attempts to shift the focus away from our team, and turn instead toward how we can serve. However cheesy this sounds, I do feel that working here has positively changed me. The Voice of Witness mission has reoriented the way I look at myself and has been a constant reminder of the often-overlooked human element that underscores every headline.
Since being here, Chace and I have gotten a full behind the scenes pass at working for a nonprofit. Of the work that we’ve done here, my favorite has been building personal connections with teachers and students at Aim High, a summer enrichment program in the Bay Area that is using the VOW curriculum in their humanities classes. It has been great to see how the VOW books are used and hear student feedback in real time as they work through the lesson plans. My visits to the program have been a grounding reminder of the tangible impact our daily work has in practice. We’ve been tasked with a variety of projects to help better connect VOW to narrator communities, classrooms, and partners. VOW is taking active steps to strengthen these connections, and I hope that Chace and I have been a helpful part in this fulfillment of the VOW mission. I believe in it.
That being said, there are aspects of working with sensitive content that I find challenging. When I read something from the Voice of Witness series it is not just an unexpected story, but also an intensely personal and emotional one. The first-person element of VOW’s work strips away the artificial palatability of stories we often read in the news and hear from lawmakers, and elevates personal accounts in the voices of those affected. At times I wonder, Where do I store this? Where do I keep this story or this moment or this feeling? Tragic stories don’t just settle and become comfortable, and that isn’t the evolution we want for these stories. In the book series, stories are respected as important context to traditional narratives and incomplete histories. The truths that we familiarize ourselves with through personal encounters with VOW narrators give us the context to understand where action is needed and the empathy to act.
The staff here has a depth of empathy that I find hard to even fully comprehend. I am inspired by their ability to come into work everyday fully equipped to press on and move forward. I am consistently humbled by the sacrifices they make in the service of this work. I am moved by their ability to adapt to the ever-shifting challenges that come with working inside of a system that discourages radical advocacy. I think about how Erin makes herself available to every educator that contacts her, the commute she does every day, how she and Cliff incorporate feedback into curriculum edits, and how open she has made herself to me. Similar things could be said about any staff member here. I hope to become someone like these people.