Voice of Witness x The World As It Could Be

The World As It Could Be, an Alameda County human rights education program and long-term Voice of Witness partner, recently sat down with VOW staff to discuss human rights education, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and our work. 

The interview is a part of their new initiative, The World As it Could Be: Four Questions at a Time, which aims to build relationships among organizations in the nonprofit sector and beyond, as well as to connect community-based work to the UDHR. 

Watch the full video at the bottom of the page or read a few highlighted excerpts below.

Q: What is the work carried out by Voice of Witness, and who is involved?

A: VOW is a nonprofit with a mission to advance human rights by amplifying the voices of people who are directly impacted by—and fighting against—injustice. We do that through two main programs: an oral history book series exploring human rights and social justice issues and an education program

There’s a lot of collaboration in our organization. We really want to highlight the involvement of our narrators, the people who share stories in our books. The way we record their stories via oral history is through partnership and collaboration, so that they have ownership over the story they’re going to tell. They’re later involved in the book launch, and where it goes in the world. Another key group is readers. We believe in the transformative power of the story, and how it’s transformative for both the storyteller (the narrator) and the reader. VOW also collaborates closely with community partners who are doing advocacy work, as well as teachers and students, to support them in amplifying unheard voices and creating their own storytelling projects.

Q: How do you distribute the oral history books?

A: Our publisher is Haymarket, which is a justice-focused publishing house based out of Chicago. We also work closely with teachers, so our books are spread through their classrooms and the school districts we work with. Our community partners—social justice organizations, advocacy organizations, art organizations—spread the word about our resources as well. Through VOW’s ongoing free book program, the Sharing History Initiative, we’ve been able to place almost 9,000 copies of Voice of Witness books in classrooms, communities, and organizations around the country.

Q: What are the ways that the work you’re doing touches the lives of people and has an impact on them?

A: For our narrators, it’s a long-term relationship and we prioritize their experience and agency. This might be the first time that they’re sharing their story with someone. They might share some very harrowing experiences, but also they aren’t being defined by a single experience, or by something that might be really difficult. There’s something very healing in the storytelling process itself. Our narrators have told us that it’s healing to be able to share their story, and powerful to feel seen once the book comes out and they get involved in advocacy. They want other people who might have a similar experience to feel seen as well, and to inspire them to speak out.

Q: How does this work intersect with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and human rights education?

A:  One of the first words—and it’s one of the words repeated most often in the UDHR—is “dignity.” All of our resources and activities and impact are about advancing dignity.  Additionally, many of our core issue areas and related resources, such as the justice system, migration, and displacement, connect to specific articles in the UDHR that express ideas around freedom of movement and the ability to seek asylum. Our books and lesson plans point to places where our narrators see their human rights and the UDHR being violated, and where there’s opportunity for real change.

Check out the full video to learn more about Voice of Witness:

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