VOICE is about projecting the voices of individuals conveying their personal experiences. Our writers come from all over the world, such as Bolivia, Kenya, or Liberia, from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. What they have in common is their dedication to their social, humanitarian, development or peace-building work in their home country. Unfortunately, not all of our writers are able to reveal their identity as they have to fear repercussions or persecution in their country of origin*, meaning we cannot introduce all the amazing individuals that share their stories through VOICE here. Because this issue is close to our hearts, all profits from book sales are donated to PEN International, an international NGO standing up for writers´ rights and freedom of expression.
Interested in further insights on how we work with our inspiring writers? Skip directly to the HOW WE WORK section at the end of this page.
“I wanted to be free of dictatorship. I wanted to be able to speak my mind without being punished. I wanted to decide for myself what I wanted to be in life. Nobody should decide for me.”
HINTSA SOLOMON - ERITREA / GERMANY
Our youngest writer, Hintsa Solomon, fled Eritrea at 15 years old. Before leaving Eritrea he attended school in Asmara. Now living in Germany, he aims to become a doctor in the future and to return to Eritrea to help establish a better healthcare system. He is 19 years old.
“I saw the issues and difficulties that families are facing, which they don’t find easy to overcome. I started to ask myself “What can I do in order to contribute to make people happier?” Because of that, I developed the idea to come up with an organization that would be able to address some of the needs of the families.”
SIMON MBENG - CAMEROON
Simon Mbeng is the Director of Better Family Foundation in Fundong, Cameron. He holds a master’s Degree in Biblical Studies and a PhD in Special Education. Simon has a great interest in humanitarian services, and writes about his experiences in this field. He is married with three children.
“One of the most honourable experiences for every soldier is the opportunity to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission as a blue beret peacekeeper.”
UN PEACEKEEPER - WEST AFRICA*
Our West African writer is an officer in his country of origin´s armed forces and has wide- ranging experiences with peace and security issues at a national and international level. He participated in the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2010 and 2014. Previously, he had worked as a Teaching and Research Assistant at a University Psychology Department. He also holds a Commonwealth Executive Master Degree in Public Administration and Master in International Security, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Political Science. He writes about his experience as a "blue helmet" serving as a peacekeeper in Liberia. He has since worked in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
“The classes were densely populated with a single class holding more than 50 students, with four or more pupils sharing a single desk. You would have thought it would be difficult to find any form of motivation in such a situation but the performance of the students was beyond encouraging. It is embarrassing to admit, but their performance surpassed our own.”
ALVIN WALUBENGO WAFULA - KENYA
Alvin Wafula is a graduate of the Bachelor of Arts in International Relations programme of the United States International University Africa. He is currently the Vice Chairperson of Tuwakuze Africa, a youth led society in Kenya that focuses on improving the lives of underprivileged primary school children through education, mentorship and practical skills that can ensure self-reliance and sustainability.
“I made a decision that my life would not be defined by my circumstances but instead, I would choose a path of excellence.”
SHEILA CHEPKOECH - KENYA
Sheila has done volunteer work in various fields in her home country in Kenya and is writing about the diverse experiences she made in her various capacities. Sheila is also a member of the VOICE team, and is the regional contact for our writers from African countries. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the United States International University of Africa and a master’s degree in International Development from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po). She currently lives in Nairobi.
“It is important for people to know that every country and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and we have to mutually figure out a way in which we can work together and achieve our goals without butting heads.”
GOLDA PONI - SOUTH SUDAN
Golda Poni is passionate about working with vulnerable people and in sustainable development. She has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management from Uganda Christian University and currently works with Christian Relief and Education in South Sudan, overseeing their women’s empowerment programme. She is 24 and lives and works in South Sudan.
JOVITA S. MLAY - TANZANIA
Jovita is happily married and a mother of three children. She has a Bachelors degree of Commerce in Accounting and a Masters degree in International Trade, both from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.She worked as a public servant for eight years from 1988 to 1996. Jovita then moved to private sector as a business woman in 1997 and joined the Non-governmental Charity sector in 1999. Since then, she has been engaging in developing conceptual understanding of gender, policy advocacy and capacity building for women and girls to take charge of their lives and their children. As part of this, she founded SASA Foundation, an NGO aiming at achieving gender equality, women´s empowerment and social transformation. Jovita is sharing her story in VOICEs Shifting Lines. We also cooperate closely with Jovita as part of our Outreach.
“The current Indian government is really excited about technology but I think that rather than such things as smart cities or the like, access to education for all should be the priority. What do people prefer in underdeveloped countries? Access to water or access to Internet?”
GEORGE JOSEPH - INDIA
George Joseph comes from India and has a master’s degree in International Development from the Paris School of International Affairs (Sciences Po). Prior to this, he worked in many non-profit organisations in India, with a specialism in education, agriculture and gender equality.
“Unfortunately, natural disasters happened one by one. These were the Sichuan Earthquake of 2008, the Haiti Earthquake of 2010, the Philippine Typhoon of 2013 and the Nepal Earthquake in 2015. The many mission stories I experienced were a gift and reward which inspired self-reflections and inspiration for my own life.”
TSE KAR YEE (CAROL) - HONG KONG, CHINA
Carol comes from Hong-Kong where she is an Operating Theatre Nurse at the Prince of Wales Hospital. As well as this, she is part of the Hong-Kong Red Cross and has been deployed several times to respond to natural disasters. She writes about these experiences for VOICE.
“The orphanage gave me the love, care, hope and support I needed after the death of my parents. I strongly believe that everyone around me, going through what I went through in the past, deserves to experience the same love, care, support, hope and opportunity that my family at the orphanage gave me.”
CHAMUELA* - BOLIVIA
Chamuela is a doctor in a small town in rural Bolivia. She is head of the Accident and Emergency programme in her hospital, as well as the medic responsible for her regional social insurance programme, which helps those who cannot afford insurance to pay for their hospitalization and medical treatment. She writes about her experiences of practising medicine in a rural setting. For fear of negative consequences, she chose to write under a pseudonym.
“The number of avoidable deaths is very high.”
BOLIVIAN GHOSTWRITER* - BOLIVIA
This writer is an anaesthesiologist, who has worked in both rural areas and city hospitals in Bolivia. He shares his experiences working in operating theatres and hospitals. For fear of negative consequences, he cannot disclose his name and has chosen to write under the name Bolivian Ghostwriter instead.
“So, I’m not complaining but I want to let you know that my colleagues and I are standing up for a cause, a health cause… that literally is killing Mexicans.”
BÁRBARA DEL BOSQUE SALMERÓN - MEXICO
Barbara del Bosque is a nutritionist in both a private and a public hospital in Mexico, and also works as a volunteer Emergency Medical in Orizaba, Vera Cruz. She shares her experiences of working and volunteering in both of these roles, and her experiences of working in a public health setting. Barbara is also the regional contact for Central and Latin America for VOICE. She is from Mexico City, where she lives and works.
“Girls no longer marry at 14, they do not school stop at 14 – this is probably one of the best things we have done for the community. It is not easy to change people’s mentality and their convictions...”
NOHA RBEIZ - LEBANON
Noha Rbeiz is director of Mouvement Social's school in Jnah, a southern suburb of Beirut. During over 20 years of directorship, and nearly a lifetime spent serving in civil society and childcare, Noha has had a special interest in serving vulnerable children and communities. Born in Lebanon into a Palestinian family, she previously worked with the orphan-focused organisation Beit Atfal Assomoud. Now, she oversees a diverse school which is home to a number of children from migrant communities: Palestinians, Kurds, Syrians and displaced Lebanese from the Civil War.
“Every child and every woman I would listen to would be a challenge but also the greatest satisfaction – to hear them say how much they appreciated being heard and respected.”
CHARLOTTE TANIOS - LEBANON
Charlotte Tanios works in the Lebanese organization Mouvement Social as a programme coordinator within the field of juvenile and women’s detention programmes. Charlotte’s work spans across advocacy tasks, policy and programme development and intergovernmental collaboration. Part of Charlotte and Mouvement Social’s mission as a whole is that of offering alternatives to youth and women in prison, and working on limiting recidivism.
“Knowledge was my most powerful weapon as it enabled me to stand up and argue my cause while the best society could do was calling me rude for talking back to the patriarchy. I knew my rights and I knew my audience.”
MAISAM ABUMORR - PALESTINE
Maisam Abumorr is a political and women’s rights activist from Palestine with a background in media and gender research. She is specialised in Middle Eastern culture and politics. She was recently elected as a committee member of Amnesty’s Women’s Rights Action Network.
How we work depends a lot on the cultural background of individual writers and varies for each VOICE writer. We support them individually along the way, and are always there to help them with any questions and problems on an individual basis.
Traditionally, our writers draft their stories in writing, supported by our team. However, while working with them, we noticed that VOICE writers often find especially the first draft of their story incredibly challenging and very time-consuming. We therefore tried to find a way to help writers across this big hurdle. Also, as most of our writers are incredibly busy, the last thing VOICE wants to do is keep them from their work. Equally, we do not want to put off or constrain those writers who feel less comfortable drafting their story in writing. This is why in November 2016, we started a second track of writing. In this track, rather than producing a written first draft, writers talk to their personal contact in the team in a recorded conversation, which will later be typed out by the team and send to the writer as a first draft. The writer can then use this as a basis to work from.
VOICE not only supports writers in their writing processes. Many of our writers come from or work in areas where access to technology or necessary communication means can be very difficult or even impossible. Working across borders, vast geographical distances, time zones and differences in infrastructure is a daily challenge for the VOICE team and the VOICE writers. Which is why we not only support our writers in the actual writing, but also around that. For example, by offering two loan laptops for writers to work on their stories, or by covering the costs of postage where no internet connection is available to send drafts to our team.
Before our writers start working on their story, we give them a thorough introduction to VOICE, how we work, what we aim to achieve, and what it means to be a VOICE writer. Our team makes sure they are happy with contributing and have no further questions before starting to write their story. We introduce our writing team to them and make sure they know how to get in touch with their dedicated individual contact and the rest of the writing team, should any questions arise in the future.
There are two ways to produce a first draft of a VOICE story: By writing it (Track I), or through a recorded conversation (Track II).
Track I: A first draft of the story is produced by the writer in a written form. To support the writer in starting their story off and letting it flow, we provide a writing guide with useful tips and examples of different ways of storytelling. These are meant as guidelines, not rules, and the writer is always free to choose the way to tell their story.
Track II: To produce a first draft of the story, we record and transcribe a conversation with the writer. This is then send to the writer as a basis for further work. The conversation takes place over the phone, skype, facetime, whatsapp call or whatever other medium our writer choses. It is led by the writer, who will tell us what they want to say - however, we will help with prompts and ask questions to bridge cultural gaps for our audience. We deliberately do not set this up as an interview, as this is our writers´ story and we do not want to lead them in any direction. Their story is theirs to tell. But we will be there all the way - we will start them of and we will help them if they are unsure about how to go on. This is where our regional contacts and their specific cultural knowledge comes in to make sure we avoid stereotypes and can support writers as best as possible in this conversation.
Once we have received the first draft (Track I) or transcribed the recorded conversation (Track II), we will add comments to help our writers expand or refine their story. We bridge cultural gaps and make sure the story can be understood by our audience, which might not be familiar with the writer´s country or region. We will also do grammatical editing to ensure the story flows well. However, our writers always see the changes we make and get to choose if and how they respond to comments.They then send the new version with their changes back to us, and we repeat the commenting process. Aside from our internal writing team consisting of the regional contact, Annina as the head of VOICE, Catherine as our writing advisor and two internal readers, we also involve two external readers to make sure tour writers stories are up to the highest standards and we can help our writers as much as possible.
Once the story is up to publishing standards, we add it to our colelction of stories for our next publication. Together with the other stories of the publication, it then gets send of for professional proofreading and one last light edit before being published by VOICE. Of course, authorship for their individual story remains with each individual writer, and the story will be published under their name, an alias, or anonymously, depending on the writer´s preference.
VOICE, Voices Of Individuals Conveying Experiences, is a project aiming at telling the stories of individuals dedicating their time to working or volunteering in social, humanitarian, and development fields in their native country or region. For more information, get in touch via the contact form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To keep up to date with VOICE, sign up to our newsletter.