We are so grateful for all of our amazing volunteers who spend hours transcribing, translating, and editing the narratives for our books! Meet our volunteers Joe, Maryam, and Miguel as they tell us why they support VOW:

Joe Stephens

I began volunteering at a maximum-security prison outside Nashville when I was just eighteen. Once a week for three years I’d pull up one of those foldable metal chairs next to the cell of a man named Gary and chat with him through the little flap in the door. He was serving a life sentence.

HVolunteere would tell me stories about his trial and his appeal, and I would respond with a reflexive, conversational reaction that I’ve tried never to do since—unless I mean it: “I understand,” I said. “You have no idea,” he shot back. He was right. I had no idea what he was going through. And I still don’t.

I volunteer with Voice of Witness because I want what Gary said to me long ago to not be true. I want to understand. I want to be a part of something real. And true. And un-manipulated. And—goodness, this matters a great deal to me—un-spun. I want to hear and present stories of people with names. Who are both affected and ignored by the world. Who spend their lives lumped into categories that make their existences monotone, palatable, understandable, and categorizable: Oh, he’s on death rowOh, they’re on welfare. Oh, she was undocumented. They become statistics, not people—offering their stories in their words is a way to counter that.

I live in a polarized country tinged by jadedness, where authentic storytelling is at a premium. VOW is my antidote to that.

I’ve worked on a couple projects now. The first was transcribing an interview of a narrator from Ferguson, Missouri. The second puts my law degree to use in a way that brings me back to Gary: a collection of narratives about solitary confinement in the prison system. I still don’t understand completely—Gary will never be wrong about that—but I do know that ears are a powerful thing. So are questions. And so is the chance to let people see humanness at its most unfiltered—there is no better classroom on earth.

Maryam Bledsoe

I started volunteering with VOW because the organization’s books inspired me. Those books gave me so much knowledge and hope for solving problems in our world and highlighted the resilience of people going through hardship.

I admire the way that VOW teaches us about world issues, not only using data but also through the personal stories of people involved. I’ve helped transcribe for the How We Go Home: Narratives of Native North America project. VOW spreads empathy and empowers people through storytelling, which has made me feel like I am contributing to a great cause.

VolunteerJust transcribing this one interview (so far!) gave me a lot of insight into a topic—Native peoples in North America—I previously knew almost nothing about. Listening to the narrator speak about the problems facing her community gave me an affinity for her that I rarely feel when reading a news article.

Volunteering with VOW and reading VOW books gives me a connection to people across the world and makes me more empathetic in the process. It also makes me more careful to avoid making split-second judgements about complicated issues, because every person has important perspectives. Many often go unheard but are so valuable to understanding the larger issues that affect our lives.

Miguel Wise

I started volunteering with Voice of Witness last summer after encountering VOW books in college. The stories in those books relayed experiences both familiar and entirely new to me, and illuminated the lives of people whose voices are marginalized in a way that was extremely powerful and respectful of the subjects’ own perspectives, words, and individual experiences.

fullsizeoutput_3dI’ve worked with Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freedman, transcribing and translating oral testimonies that they’ve gathered about young migrants who fled violence and hunger in Central America. While working on these stories, which will be published in the forthcoming volume Solito! Solita! Youth Migrants from Central America, I was struck again and again not just by these young peoples’ accounts of the loss, sacrifice, and courage involved in the pursuit of a life in the United States, but also by their openness and willingness to share their lives and experiences with us. I truly feel that my work helps to amplify the voices of these people who so movingly express their own experiences.

We’re currently in need of transcribers who can translate from Spanish to English. If you are interested, please email dao.tran@voiceofwitness.org.