Voice of Witness

Voice of Witness is a nonprofit that uses oral history to illuminate ongoing human rights crises in the U.S. and around the world. It produces an acclaimed book series, published by McSweeney’s, that depicts these injustices through the stories of the men and women who experience them. Our education program fosters youth engagement with human rights by bringing these stories, and the issues they reflect, into classrooms throughout the U.S. and by providing holistic, oral history-based curricula support to educators. Voice of Witness was founded by author Dave Eggers and physician Lola Vollen.

For more information, visit www.voiceofwitness.org
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The Myanmar government hopes to implement the policies ratified in the ILO Convention this past December. Learn about the Convention and what that means for child laborers in Myanmar in this July 18 article in The Irrawaddy. 

If you’re interested in global labor rights, we hope you’ll check out the latest Voice of Witness book Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy

Summer Matching Challenge Results . . .

The Voice of Witness Summer Matching Challenge just ended this week, and we’re happy to announce that we met our fundraising goal and then some raising $37,000 total! These funds will directly support our book projects, education outreach, and core capacity—all furthering our mission of fostering more nuanced, empathetic understanding of contemporary human rights crises through story.

On behalf of everyone on the Voice of Witness staff, the narrators in our book series, and the educators we work with, THANK YOU!

Fausto Guzman, a vineyard worker in Healdsburg, California, shares his story in Voice of Witness’s most recent release, Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global EconomyIn this passage, Guzman describes waking up in the hospital after collapsing at work. 

I remember the ambulance arriving and being inside it. The ambulance took me to the hospital in Healdsburg. I was there for one night, I think. After examining me, the doctor told me I had 45 percent saturation of carbon monoxide in my blood. My heart had stopped. I’d had a heart attack. The doctor told me that the fumes from the forklift were responsible. The forklift was damaged and giving off carbon monoxide fumes, and ventilation in the warehouse was poor. Some of my co-workers were also sent to the hospital but they were fine. That day, I was the only one who’d worked the entire time inside.

At the hospital, the doctor ran a number of tests on me and finally told me that my heart wasn’t working normally anymore, that the carbon monoxide had damaged it. He told me, “You need a pacemaker.”

To read more of Fausto Guzman’s narrative or other voices, click here. 

Report from Amplifying Unheard Voices 2014

Report from Amplifying Unheard Voices 2014

by Natalie Catasús

On the first day of Amplifying Unheard Voices, Education Program Director Cliff Mayotte posed a big question: why does telling stories matter? It was a question our group would return to over and over again during the four day oral history training run by the Voice of Witness Education Program.

Cliff and Claire, the Education Program…

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Forced labor investigations continue in Thailand’s seafood industry. Check out this recent article from the Wall Street Journal that outlines the nature of the allegations. 

Learn more about global labor rights in the latest release from Voice of Witness, Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy

In honor of the release of Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy (McSweeney’s Voice of Witness, May 2014), we’re sharing related content that raises awareness for global labor rights this month.

Read about the plight of Indian migrant workers in the Gulf in this June 13th article featured in The Diplomat.

If you’re interested in global labor rights, learn more about Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy

In our work, we get to meet with many people affected by human rights crises and who are willing to share their stories with us and with the world. Their resilience and bravery are a constant inspiration to us and to our work. Here is Ashley Jacob’s story:

Ashley Jacobs (pictured here) told her story at her apartment, where she was eventually evacuated to by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after Hurricane Katrina. As a young girl, Ashley’s mother sent her to live with her grandmother. The abandonment was difficult for Ashley. Even though she got good grades in high school and went to college, she got into trouble in her youth from time to time. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Ashley and her boyfriend escaped and drove to Georgia to stay with a friend of her brother’s.

“…which was a hectic situation every day,” says Ashley. “During that time I wrote a lot of bad checks as it was hard for me to get a job. I didn’t have money for food…and it was the only way really at the time we could get anything. Eventually I got a job at McDonald’s.”

“By the end of 2007, my now husband and I had two kids, and I was four months pregnant…and was working two jobs, at Kmart and Pep Boys.” Even with two jobs, Ashley was behind on bills. She and a friend began finding ways to not pay for things at work. She was caught and sentenced to six months for embezzlement.

In prison and pregnant, Ashley was only able to see a doctor once. The doctor told her she was not getting enough nutrients and needed to be taking pre-natal vitamins, none of which were available to her during her incarceration. Given no special treatment for her growing pregnancy, Ashley was often hungry and humiliated.

A day before her due date she was suddenly transferred to the infirmary, which was filthy and had excrement on the walls. She was shackled and given Pitocin, a powerful drug to induce labor, against her will.

Labor had not started by that evening, so the doctor returned and, “He came in and started poking inside me with an instrument – I’m not exactly sure what it was, it looked like a little stick. It was a lot of pain and I said, ‘You’re hurting me.’ He stopped, but by then he had swollen up my insides.” Ashley was then told they would perform a c-section on her the next day.

Still shackled and against her will, the doctor came in the next day and she was forced to undergo a c-section.

“I think my medical treatment in prison was cruel, degrading and shameful,” says Ashley. “Being shackled, being forced to have a c-section – it was the worst feeling, mentally and emotionally that I have ever been through. And I feel like it would be so unfair for me to have been through this and not say anything about it to somebody.”

The trauma and shame lodged within Ashley for a year until Claire Kiefer from the Voice of Witness team showed up at her door with a smoothie and a box of pastries. Claire, a poet who’d taught creative writing to men and women in prison, had no rules, no set agenda. She played with the baby for a while on the floor of the bare-bones apartment and slowly asked Ashley to talk about her childhood, to tell her life story,“from birth to now.”

“It felt like being in the room with a counselor,” says Ashley. “I was able to cry. I was able to take breaks. I was able to get everything out that I’d been holding in. She never rushed me. She cried with me sometimes. Before she left, I knew I’d gained a friend.”

Ashley’s story became the lead narrative in the Voice of Witness book Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, published under the pseudonym Olivia Hamilton. From the interview to the point of publication, Ashley controlled the process. She told her story in her own words and signed off on the final edited version for publication—a process she called “a cleansing.”

Today, Ashley is a registered nurse and the mother of four boys. With training from the Voice of Witness Education Program, she is also starting an oral history project focusing on women impacted by domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Voice of Witness provides a space for amplifying unheard voices. In our book series, these voices belong to men and women most closely affected by ongoing human rights crises. In our education program, we connect students with these stories and issues, and provide oral history training that helps them discover their capacity for authentic, compassionate listening.

It is our hope that you too are inspired by our work. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to empower more survivors of human rights crises like Ashley, and to foster a more empathetic, nuanced understanding about human rights issues.

Great news from the tech world! Intel takes corporate social responsibility to a new level. Read about the steps taken by the processor company to remove conflict minerals from its supply chain. 

If you’re interested in global labor rights, learn more about Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy

Now Available from VOICE OF WITNESS


INVISIBLE HANDS: Voices from the Global Economy

Edited by Corinne Goria with a Foreword by Kalpona Akter



To read a Q&A with Corinne Goria and Peter Orner click here

The men and women in this oral history collection reveal the human rights abuses occurring behind the scenes…

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In honor of the release of Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy (McSweeney’s Voice of Witness, May 2014), we’re sharing related content that raises awareness for global labor rights.

Check out this USA TODAY article that discusses the recent investigations surrounding forced labor in the seafood supply chains of retail giants Walmart and Costco. 

If you’re interested in global labor rights, learn more about Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy