I am Richard Siaw, the Founder of the Voice Of Inspiring Inclusive Change Equitably (VOIICE) non-profit organization. I found myself in humanitarian work just by means of following passion. I have always been a writer; I loved to write novels and poems but in my final year in the University, I started running a blog. My blog consisted of social media and a website where I addressed unspoken issues that affected Africa. Most of those issues I addressed were around mental health, abuse, religion and sexuality. The blatantness and honesty of my blog drew attention of people mostly international and my blog gained popularity in the human rights circles.
I gained an opportunity to volunteer at Amnesty International. It was indeed eye opening and empowering to see in real time, certain issues I had addressed before on my blog. I moved on the volunteer a while at the POS Foundation too, where I collated some experience as well while I continued to run my blog.
Day in day out, I received letters and emails from people far and near on how my writings have helped them cope and in finding their own voice. It was more like a door of escape for them; some found the confidence to face their fears, their abusers and many others took the bold step of finding help. It was indeed inspiring.
Male sexual abuse became popularized, people were giving voice to their stories, and the more this happened, they were giving strength to so many others. Seeing this happen over and over again was tremendously empowering. So much that, I partnered with Waisreel Productions to make a movie entitled Veiled which addressed this unspoken issue of male sexual abuse. When it came out, it triggered a wave of conversations on the matter on social media. On it’s release, it was screened at the Global Cinemas in Accra in 2016.
I visited high schools to speak and on radio stations to give voice to unspoken issues on violence that plagued the youth of our society. Unconsciously, I was building a virtual community of people of over 24,000 on social media and also people who were being inspired by my work everyday. Realizing the impact that comes from simply being the voice for persons who do not have a voice in our society, I decided to make more candid the community I had built over the years by starting the VOIICE organization.
Immediately the VOIICE organization was launched, I had the opportunity to join a production to the North to help film a documentary that gave voice to the women that are being attacked under witch craft accusations. It was indeed heartbreaking what we witnessed in the Northern region of Ghana. The marginalization of ordinary old women based on nothing but ignorance filled my heart with fury and greater love for all marginalized persons. Sharing the story with the rest of the world allowed us the opportunity to offer some help to some of these women with public support.
On my bunk bed one afternoon, being surrounded by the ‘tough’ guys from high school who could not hold back the out-pour of their sexual abuse stories which they otherwise wouldn’t have shared until I shared mine, was indeed a lesson I carried with me for so many years. We sometimes find voices ONLY in the voices of others. The mental health benefits after such rare opportunities of voicing out one’s pain and finding that assurance that you are not alone is indescribable.
I have come to realize that marginalization is borne out of ignorance which also breeds fear and misunderstanding. But if we give voice to issues, there will be no room for ignorance breeding fear and misunderstanding.
I believe beyond a shadow of doubt that building a community of young people who use diverse channels such as the arts and media to give voice to gender based violence and it’s related mental health issues will bring the change our society is in dire need of.
You can join the movement too at voiicecommuity.org/join .