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    • Save the Date! Educator Training June 29 - July 2, 2015

      Voice of Witness’ 5th annual Amplifying Unheard Voices Educator Training will take place at Oakland International High School from June 29th through July 2nd, 2015. This unique four-day training will highlight the power of personal narrative and provide educators with the tools to conduct oral history projects in their classrooms and communities. Workshop participants will engage in an interactive process that introduces the skills, ethics, and social significance of creating oral history, as exemplified by Voice of Witness and other leading practitioners in the field. Contact Education Program Director Cliff Mayotte for registration materials. 

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    • New Partnership with Brave New Educators

      New PartnershipWe are proud to announce a new partnership between Brave New Educators and Voice of Witness that will expand the impact of our work with students. Brave New Educators is the education program for Brave New Films, an organization devoted to using media, education, and grassroots volunteer involvement to inspire, motivate and teach civic participation. Both organizations provide curricular resources to schools and universities. Through this partnership, we will include each other’s content in our educational programming, which will hugely expand the impact of our work. Read more here.

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    • Author John Freeman Interviews "Palestine Speaks" Editors

      Now up on McSweeney’s, John Freeman’s interview with the editors of Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation

      We wanted to do justice to the people who had taken so much time to share, not only very difficult stories with us, but also their humor and insight…As Americans, it’s tempting to shrug our shoulders and say what’s happening in Israel and Palestine is too complicated to engage with, but the truth is we’re major players in the conflict and we believe becoming more informed can only help everyone involved.

      Read the full interview here: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-interview-with-the-editors-of-the-new-voice-of-witness-book-palestine-speaks-narratives-of-life-under-occupation

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    • photo from Tumblr

      Thank you to everyone who donated to our “Fund it Forward” campaign. With support from our community of donors, combined with a triple match from The Germanacos Foundation, we were able to raise over $47,000 for our oral history book series and education program. 

      If you’re wondering about Jamal, the Palestinian fisherman whose story was featured in the campaign, we just received an update from the editors of Palestine Speaks:

      We caught up with Jamal at the Gaza seaport in January 2015, in the midst of a bitter cold snap. He told us that the summer of 2014 was the hardest time he remembers in Gaza.

      “I didn’t leave my house during the war, as no place was safe. I was relying on humanitarian handouts to feed my children, and my house was damaged by the nearby airstrikes.”

      In July, four of his young cousins were killed in an airstrike while playing on the beach—a tragedy documented in international coverage of the conflict. Jamal’s boat was also destroyed in strikes. “I bought a new one, but I can tell you that this war has totally changed my life for the worse.”

      Still, on the day we spoke to him, the January cold snap had brought schools of sardines closer to shore. His catch that day was the largest he remembers in some time, and he estimated that it would be worth enough to feed his family for at least three months.

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    • Can We Teach Empathy?

      Editor’s Note: The bi-weekly blog series “I, Witness,” seeks to explore the ethics, challenges, and possibilities of teaching and conducting oral history.

      By Alisa Del Tufo

      Can we teach empathy? I have been exploring this question for most of my life. In 1991, I conducted an oral history project with 45 women who had been abused by their partners. The experience convinced me that empathy is born in that space where people truly share and listen to each other. As an educator, I wondered: How do we enable people to listen deeply? And how can we moderate those experiences so that they nurture empathy?

      Alisa Del Tufo, center, with storytelling workshop participants

      Questions about our empathetic capacities have interested humans for centuries. Today, we understand that human beings are actually wired for empathy, with vast networks of neuro-transmitters and mirror neurons supporting positive connections. However, our capacity for empathy is as much the result of our experience and practice as it is of our genetic makeup. Educators can enable this experience and practice. Some key elements in my own teachings include: 

      1. Safe Space: The environment supports my ability to be present, to listen deeply and to feel heard. I know that I have the power to share, keep private, or take back any part of my story.
      2. Deep Listening: I feel truly heard and not judged. I know that the act of sharing my story itself takes precedence over the final product.
      3. Reciprocity: Rather than one person holding all the power, the experience of storytelling is mutual; everyone has skin in the game.
      4. Continuity: I recognize the larger purpose for which my story is shared and that my story “belongs” to something bigger than myself.
      5. Action: An action highlights my connections with others in a shared world that needs our energy to make it a better place.

      We learn empathy when we experience connectedness and surface shared values. To that end, I started an organization, Threshold Collaborative, which designs learning opportunities and experiences to promote empathy. We piloted a project called A Picture is Worth in a high school in Reading, Pennsylvania. Although the students were initially resistant and nervous, they explored powerful life experiences that they had never shared, either because of shame or the belief that no one would be interested. What they once felt ashamed of became a source of solidarity and energy for action.

      Of course, a single class or even a personal experience might not increase someone’s “empathy quotient.” But I am convinced that, if we want to teach empathy, we need to first find and create opportunities that allow people to feel and share it. Oral history and story sharing offer meaningful ways to do just that.

      Alisa Del Tufo is the founder of Threshold Collaborative and an Ashoka Fellow. She works at the nexus of practice and policy with the goal of ending violence in the lives of women and girls and addressing other deep social challenges. She has authored two books on domestic violence and child abuse, taught at several colleges, and consulted with individuals and organizations using community engagement strategies.

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