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Oral Testimony Project, Panos Institute

posted 17 May 2013, 23:01 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 9 Aug 2013, 23:57 ]

The Mountain Voices website contains over 300 interviews that have been gathered as part of a project in the Panos' Oral Testimony Programme. The presentation of the project on the website is an example of how testimonies can be standalone narratives as well as contribute to a thematic analysis of what is happening for marginalised people within a community, and across many communities internationally.

The project had local people conduct interviews in local languages in the Himalaya, the Andes, the Sierra Notre, Mount Elgin, Ethiopia, Lesotho, China, Pakistan, and the Sudety mountains in Poland. The project was about supporting those with the least power and voice within these societies to 'speak for themselves'; to be their own experts rather than this role being filled by outsiders.

The interviewers were not researchers but rather trained local people who then conducted interviews with people like themselves, in relaxed settings where sharing occurred between narrators and their interviewers. Interviews were recorded and then transcribed, translated and summarised. The aim of the project was to

"...amplify the voices of those at the heart of development: people who are disadvantaged by poverty, gender, lack of education and other inequalities."

The oral testimonies that were collected are described on the website as

"...full of human detail, individual experience and personal opinion...[they] are subjective, anecdotal, selective, partial and individual... Oral testimonies offer clues as to how people interpret events and... what their priorities and values are. Ultimately, they tell us less about the fine detail of events and experience than about their meaning for people. And they highlight the complexity and variety of experience within any "community".

The website provides an introduction to the areas that narrators are from and it is possible to access and read people's full testimonies. In addition the themes arising from the testimonies are presented on the website. The challenges people within the various communities face and the aspirations they have are presented alongside quotes from their testimonies. Other quotes related to each theme are also included.

A risk in the development field is that the voices of those who will be most affected by development are not heard. Projects that facilitate marginalised people to tell their own stories, share their opinions, and talk about their hopes and aspirations in their own ways can help reduce this risk. Gathering and listening to such testimonies can therefore help ensure that development work does not further embed inequities within a society.

Related posts

Testimony, 4 April 2013

A testimony to education, 5 April 2013

Testimonies of forced removal, 16 April 2013

Testimony and Human Rights, 18 June 2013

'Village Journey' - testimonies of assimilation by legislation, 10 August 2012