Human rights organization WITNESS celebrated its 9th Annual Focus For Change Benefit during the weekend at Roseland Ballroom, raising funds to support its programs to train and equip people worldwide using video to fight for human rights.
Hosted by co-founder and award winning musician Peter Gabriel and renown women’s rights advocate Zainab Salbi, the evening’s theme “I am a Witness” invited guests to celebrate the potential in all of us to create change.
Before beginning the evening’s program, Gabriel asked guests to join him in a minute of silence to honor Nelson Mandela. Gabriel worked with the legendary anti-apartheid leader while founding The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work on peace building and human rights.
“To come out of 27 years of jail and to decide to shake hands with your enemy and preach forgiveness, that is extraordinary. There is no other example of such inspirational leadership in my lifetime. Let’s hope that a lot more people grow to be big enough to stand in Mandela’s shoes,” said Gabriel.
He continued, “My original vision for WITNESS was based on the idea that those suffering human rights abuses could tell their own stories. We have arrived at a unique point in time where technology is enabling millions of people to do just that. I’d like to pose the question ‘Did we just live in this world, or did we change it?’ We can look away or we can witness and transform.”
The 350 guests also heard from Brazilian activist Antonieta Rodrigues Simões whose home was destroyed during a forced eviction in May 2011. She is one of 250,000 Brazilians at risk of losing – or who have already lost – their homes due to preparations for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Antonieta said, “These forced evictions violate laws and human rights and they exacerbate poverty. By speaking out through video, I hope that we can show the world the real story of what’s happening in Brazil and prevent other families from losing their homes.”
WITNESS honored Dr. Mo Ibrahim with the “See it. Film it. Change it. Award” for his role in opening up communications and access to information across the African continent through the founding of his telecommunications company Celtel. The company helped foster the current environment for today’s witnesses who film and upload video via their mobile devices.
Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, executive director of WITNESS reminded guests of the unprecedented opportunity for human rights advocacy now in the hands of millions: “WITNESS is providing vitally needed support by training and equipping activists and citizens with the tools and skills they need so that their videos can create real change.”
K'naan performed at the event.
WITNESS is an international nonprofit organization that uses the power of video and storytelling to open the eyes of the world to human rights abuses. For more than 20 years, WITNESS has trained activists in safe filming techniques and how to create videos that can drive positive human rights change. Films produced by WITNESS and our partners in over 86 countries have helped put warlords behind bars, reinstated rights of indigenous peoples to return to their lands and catalyzed laws against modern-day slavery.