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Witnessing = Responsibility

In the work I've done through the years, I've always been aware of the privilege I have to witness certain things in life usually hidden from large swaths of my peer group. The privilege of walking alongside women and children challenged by incredible life circumstances is humbling. I have always believed that everything I have witnessed has given me a responsibility...a responsibility not just to change myself or be personally inspired, but to be an interpreter to the larger world of these unique and humbling experiences.

Whether it is the daily victories of staying clean and sober celebrated by the crack addicted inner-city mother, or the more visible heroic efforts of Gail Johnson's Nkosi's Haven or Veronica Kgabo's Diepsloot School...all of these experiences bring with them a responsibility to share, reflect and interpret them to the larger world.

At one point in my travels to South Africa, I was unexpectedly brought into the sickroom of a woman struggling with HIV. As I sat on a low bench beside her mattress on the floor, I, the uninvited guest, was overwhelmed by my role as witness.

Mama, wrapped in tattered blankets, poured out her story of death and illness. Her youngest granddaughter had died the day before...just 6 months old. Her husband, sister, daughter, brother, son and another grandchild had all passed away within the previous 9 months. The woman interpreting all this from the end of the bed was explaining how she herself is no longer taking her ARV medications in order to have money for food for this ever diminishing household.

The interpreter told me I could take a photo. The mama wouldn't mind.

But I did. I minded being there, like a spectator or a tourist invited to take photos of the "natives". I minded my role -- like some kind of parasite feeding off of the human suffering of others.

But I had not asked to come there. I didn't even know where I was being taken when I walked in the home.

And so I witnessed a tragedy not so many people in my world ever see. And witnessing this very uncomfortable and tragic reality gave me a responsibility. A responsibility to tell you this heartrending story. A responsibility to bring you to that low bench in the dimly lit room with a fully realized woman not that much different than myself, pouring out her story to a stranger. I have to believe I was brought to witness her story just for this reason. For the reason that I would share this with you.

And now, it is your turn to take the role of witness seriously. It is your turn to be responsible with her story.

Witness the reality. Share the responsibility.


olutosin's picture


My Dear DG,

Thanks for sharing this Dear, I hope the World understands what some people are facing,
Yes it is good to share the responsibility after witnessing the reality. I think it is now a cliche when I write that I can see what others are not seeing or what others refuse to see.

Lots of Love Dear, as we continue in the voyage of discovery.

Hope the world believes our story

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


Jocelynbrazil's picture

Always love your writing

Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts on what it means to be a witness. This spoke very deeply to me, as I tend to battle with my own personal concept of what it means to be a witness in situation where the people I witness have no choice but to be in their experience and I have a choice not to.
I absolutely think that sharing the stories witnessed with as much integrity as you always bring to the table is the best way to do honor to the position of witnessing.
Thank you,

midiberry's picture

witnessing the witness

thank you Dana

Midi Berry, California

I wanted to say your article was very touching. It is true that one saying "to do nothing would be a sin" and your article expresses it beautifully.


It is really wonderful to test the waters with my writing at PulseWire...! Such a supportive community of women. Thanks for all the supportive comments. It gives me courage!

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