Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

28 posts categorized "Film and Photography"

Meet the Filmmakers of Finding North, a Documentary about Hunger in America

120309-FindingNorthA new documentary about hunger in America called “Finding North” was screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, and received excellent reviews from The Los Angeles Times and Variety Magazine. The film shows several families in the United States struggling with food insecurity, demonstrating the extensive reach of hunger in America. Bread for the World Institute was the first major investor in the film, before it was bought by Participant Productions, and David Beckmann appears in the film. I had a chance to interview the film's two directors, Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, and asked them about their inspiration and what they learned about the complexities of hunger. Read their responses below, and watch the film trailer for a sneak peak at this exciting new documentary.  

What was the inspiration for making "Finding North"?

Lori Silverbush: I was mentoring a young girl named Sabrina whose family lived in a shelter. I was shocked to learn that her family frequently went hungry. In fact, I had inadvertently made her hungrier; I helped her get into a special private school for learning-disabled kids, but it didn't offer free breakfast or lunch, which I later learned were usually her only meals for the day. The principal of the new school called me to say that Sabrina was foraging in the trash for food. I couldn't believe it.

I knew there was hunger in this country, but until then it was an abstraction to me.

Kristi Jacobsen: Once I started researching the project, I realized how pervasive and insidious [hunger] is – affecting not just children, but also parents and community members. There’s this problem affecting everyone in such a negative way and yet the average American seems to be unaware of it. We couldn’t look away. This is a story that had to be told.

Prior to making this film, what did you know about hunger in America?

LS: I knew that hunger was a problem. I knew the statistics, though they didn't feel real to me. I had many misconceptions about hunger -- namely who went hungry. I had no idea the extent to which it was a growing working class issue. I learned an enormous amount about who goes hungry and where.

But most particularly, I learned why people go hungry in this country and that charity -- while vitally important in the absence of an adequate government safety net for hungry people and laws mandating a living wage -- is not a solution. Some problems are simply too big for the private sector to fix.

What was one particular subject or story line in the film that really impacted you?

KJ: I think that rather than mentioning a person, the town of Coburn, CO, had almost no one in the town that hadn’t been affected by hunger, including the chief of police, a cattle rancher who also works nights as the janitor of the school, and a family with a little girl, Rosie. We met her because her teacher told us that she had this one student who was struggling because she was hungry.

I think one of the poignant moments in our filming in Coburn was while interviewing the teacher, Leslie. She was doing a great deal to help kids and families suffering from hunger, and then during the interview, we discovered that she was also hungry as a child. You just don’t know how many people hunger is touching until you ask the questions and that’s what we sought to do as filmmakers.

Why is hunger a topic that people should be concerned about?  

LS: I think Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." If people are allowed to go hungry when we have the resources to feed them, what does that say about us as a nation? But if compassion and a sense of shared responsibility aren't enough to get people to care about hunger, then hopefully the economics are -- the effects of hunger cost our economy billions of dollars more than fixing it would. It's in every taxpayer’s financial best interest to end hunger, and soon.

KJ: People should see this film because the stories we tell will touch them and shock them, and I believe they’ll want to become a part of the solution. There is no one silver bullet to solving this problem, but there are a number of things that we, as a nation, can do. Our government needs to take responsibility, and we as individuals should take more responsibility by putting pressure on the government. We all have a role to play as a solution and we hope that the film will start a conversation.

JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. Follow her on Twitter @jeanniechoi.


VIDEO: 'André Wouldn't Be As Healthy Without WIC'


AlliAndre_Eating_Grab Being a mom is hard.

Now imagine being a mom and not being able to afford nutritious food for your only child, a smiley boy born with a severe health problem. Now add to that being homeless and 17 years old, and you might begin to imagine how Alli Morris feels.

Luckily, there are people and programs helping Alli and her son André. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) safeguards the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 by providing monthly packages of food that supply nutrients lacking in their diets. WIC has been an invaluable program for Alli and her son.

"André wouldn't be as healthy as he is without WIC because he wouldn't have had everything he needed when he needed it," said Alli, who graduated from high school in June 2011 and now works as a bank teller. "I don't think I would have been able to supply all that."

Watch the video below to learn more about Alli and André.

Photo caption: Alli Morris feeds her son, André. She's able to provide nutritious foods for André because of a U.S. government program that safeguards the health of low-income women, infants, and children by providing monthly packages of food that supply nutrients lacking in their diets. (Photo from video by Brad Horn for Bread for the World.)

Laura-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauraepohl.


+Learn more about the mini-campaign on domestic nutrition programs for the 2012 Offering of Letters.

The Civil Wars: Raising Hunger Awareness with Song

120302-thecivilwarsGrammy Award winners The Civil Wars are receiving acclaim for their song with Taylor Swift, “Safe and Secure,” for the upcoming Hunger Games film, but many don't know that singing duo scored another film about hunger, the documentary Finding North, about hunger in America. [Stay tuned for my interview with the directors of Finding North, coming out Monday!]

In this interview below, Joy Williams and John Paul White, the artists behind The Civil Wars, talk about how they became involved in this groundbreaking documentary through the guidance of T Bone Burnett, one of the best producers in the music industry. “We could not have been more stoked about it,” John Paul White said.

It’s clear that hunger is an important issue for The Civil Wars. Joy Williams explains the importance of seeing a film like Finding North in order to understand the larger, systemic problems of hunger in America:

Forty-four million people go to bed hungry in America and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and so [Finding North] highlights food insecurity in the United States, which basically means food deserts where people literally don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. [The film] definitely puts a face to what I would consider an epidemic in the United States.

It’s refreshing to hear Williams talk about hunger so knowledgeably and it’s my hope that their involvement in the documentary will get more people to watch the film, learn about hunger, and begin advocating for poor and hungry people in their communities.

Watch the interview with The Civil Wars below:

JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. Follow her on Twitter at @jeanniechoi.


+Learn how to advocate for poor and hungry people

Photo caption: Screenshot from Magnifier video.

"Our Job and Our Call"


20111030_ElMilagro_JudithVanOsdol_0342bThe little boy was wearing short sleeves in winter and his lips were turning blue. Pastor Judith VanOsdol was surprised, but not stunned. She knew why he wasn’t wearing a coat: The majority of her congregation at El Milagro Lutheran Church in Minneapolis is poor and food insecure.

“More people than we can realize fall between the cracks or are just under the line and find themselves in situations where they are unable to feed their families and the children,” she said. "When we are in a situation of economic insecurity I think it's easy to blame the most vulnerable. And for some odd reason we look there first to cut."

VanOsdol believes it’s important to advocate on behalf of poor and hungry people so that the federal programs that help them continue to help them. This is why she agreed to be filmed as part of our 2012 Offering of Letters campaign. Each year Bread for the World invites churches and groups across the country to write personal letters and emails to their members of Congress on issues that are important to hungry and poor people. These letters send a powerful message to our country's political leaders and help us as a nation move closer to our goal of ending hunger.

"It is indeed our job and our call to be a part of these processes and decisions and legislations and pieces of legislation," said VanOsdol. "And the persons who make those decisions need to hear from us."

Watch the video below to meet Judith VanOsdol and to learn how contacting our members of Congress is an effective way to advocate for poor and hungry people.

Photo caption: Judith VanOsdol, pastor of El Milagro Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, leads the noon service on Sunday, October 30, 2011. VanOsdol believes in advocating on behalf of hungry and poor people, many of whom make up the majority of her congregation. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Laura-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauraepohl.

The Power of a Video

Ayleen Ferreras, 6, plays with a carrot from her school lunch at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, MD, on April 26, 2011. Bread for the World supports strengthening child nutrition programs as an immediate and direct way to reduce child hunger and improve health and educational outcomes. (Screen grab from video by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

You love videos, right? So do we. Which is why we were excited when InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, asked to partner with us on a video highlighting Bread's work. We provided the film footage and photographs. My colleague Racine Tucker-Hamilton wrote the script. Then InterAction edited the video. Not a bad deal. We're pleased with the results and we hope you are, too. Also, be sure to check out the other InterAction partner videos with Mercy Corps, CARE and Concern America.

*Text corrected on February 27, 2012, to reflect the fact that Racine Tucker-Hamilton wrote the video script.

Laura-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauraepohl.


My Top 5 Humanitarian Photo Blogs

These women are part of a sewing/tailoring workshop at a family center run by MRDS.org in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq. (Copyrighted photo courtesy of Heber Vega)

If people remember a photograph, they are more likely to remember the issue or event that goes along with it. As a photographer, I try to take memorable and striking photos that will help our members remember the issues of  hunger and poverty.

But when it comes to photographing hunger and poverty-related issues, there's the added responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the people being photographed. It's what I aim for in my photography for Bread for the World, and it's what these photographers do well on their blogs.

Here are my top five humanitarian photo blogs, in no particular order:

  • Esther Havens is an American photographer whose work I first stumbled upon on the Charity:Water blog. Her vibrant pictures capture people's strength, dignity, and unique personalities. Some of her pictures are even funny -- which is rare in humanitarian photography -- as you can see in this blog post about Rwandan boys participating in an education and food program. Don't miss her post about the reality of working as a humanitarian photographer.
  • Glenna Gordon, an American photojournalist, shuttles between West Africa and New York, but used to live in Liberia, where she photographed for newspapers and NGOs. If you're looking for news and music from Africa, plus fresh photographs and introspective commentary about life in Africa, then you'll enjoy Glenna's blog, Scarlett Lion. Her photo story on Harper, Liberia, a decaying coastal town, is a must-see.
  • Heber Vega is a humanitarian aid worker-turned-photographer who has been based in Iraq since 2003. His blog is a mix of his own photography -- like this post on photographing women in a Muslim Country; interviews with other photographers; and advice on photographic techniques. One thing that impresses me about Heber, who's from Chile, has nothing to do with his pictures: he founded The ONE-SHOT Project, a nonprofit that teaches photography and multimedia skills to Iraqi children.
  • Photo Philanthropy is well-known in photography circles for promoting photography for social change. Every year since 2009, the organization has granted awards for the best humanitarian photo stories from professional and amateur photographers (full disclosure: I entered the contest in its first year and didn't win). The blog features pictures, interviews with Photo Philanthropy award winners and grantees, and opportunities for photographers to work with nonprofits.

If you know any other humanitarian photo blogs that you like to visit, please share them with us in the comments. And don't forget to check out Bread for the World's Flickr stream and the Bread Blog for beautiful photos and compelling stories.

(Copyrighted photo courtesy of Esther Havens)

Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. 



Growing up with HIV in Romania

Screenshot from "First Generation: Growing up with HIV"

This video made me cry. Yes, right here in Bread's office, I cried -- not from sadness, but from hope.

Ion, the teenager profiled in this story, is spunky and energetic. In the opening sequence, he's dyeing his hair and breakdancing around a bedroom. He looks fun -- the kind of person you'd want to be friends with if you were in high school.

What you can't see -- and wouldn't know unless he told you -- is that he's an 18-year-old Romanian living with HIV. Ion's parents abandoned him when he was 1-year old. Like many Romanian children born around the time of the fall of Communism, he was infected in a hospital. Indeed, "the largest  age group of people living with HIV/AIDS is formed of  young  people (17-21) over 6,000, which are in fact the children  infected in the period 1987 – 1992," according to a 2010 UNAIDS report. For people like Ion, eating nutritious food to stay healthy is essential to batling HIV and AIDS.

"I'm fighting an enemy," says Ion. "And no matter how many pills I take, I might not win."

Watch the video below to learn more about Ion. See if you cry, too.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World.


Living in Hope: HIV/AIDS in Uganda and St. Francis Health Care Services

This red dirt road leads to St. Francis Health Care Services, an HIV/AIDS clinic in Jinja, Uganda, near the source of the Nile River.  (Video story at the end of this blog post.)

At the end of a red dirt road, near the source of the Nile River is St. Francis Health Care Services, an HIV/AIDS clinic serving some of the poorest people in Jinja District, Uganda. The power is out at the clinic, but no one is fazed.

The pharmacists continue to dispense medicine to their patients out of their small office, as sunlight streams through windows despite the drawn curtains. The medical assistants continue to diagnose patients, who wait their turn while sitting in blue plastic chairs in the hallway. And Faustine Ngarambe -- founder and executive director of St. Francis Health Care Services -- continues to work on plans to expand the clinic's programs, which serve about 600 people per week.

"HIV is not only a health issue; it’s economical, it is psychological, it is even a cultural taboo -- all of those things," said Ngarambe. He doesn't have a medical background, but in 2009, he won the Parliamentary HIV/AIDS Leadership Award from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

St. Francis offers its patients services that heal not only the body, but the mind as well: counseling, nutrition and agriculture education, financial assistance, support groups for young people and grandmothers, and more. It's this kind of holistic approach to HIV/AIDS care that has made Uganda an oft-cited role model for decreasing HIV/AIDS rates. HIV prevalence in Uganda is currently at 6 to 7 percent, according to a UNAIDS report released yesterday, down from about 14 percent in 1990, according to this UNAIDS study from 2010.

Ngarambe became interested in HIV/AIDS care in 1989 while working as a missionary in Kenya. A Ugandan friend was HIV positive, but wouldn't disclose his diagnosis; the stigma was too great.

"He was dying silently within himself," said Ngarambe. "And when he was brought back to Uganda for burial, even his parents did not even view the body."

When Ngarambe returned Uganda, he and four colleagues started St. Francis Health Care Services. The clinic has grown from just five staff members and no permanent facilities in 1998, to 37 staff members, 100 community volunteers, and two permanent treatment facilities in 2011.

In a grassy field near St. Francis's main building sits Ngarambe's latest project: A maternity ward -- half-finished and in need of more funding -- that will specialize in prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmision. The ward is a result of the United Nations designation of Uganda as one of 22 priority countries for eliminating mother-to-child transmission.

St. Francis receives financial support from local and international sources, including the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Nile Breweries, but finances -- as well as a lack of enough equipment, space, and staff -- are always a concern. In addition, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said last week it will cut funding to several countries, including Uganda. This could hurt the nationwide effort to fight AIDS.

Still, Ngarambe presses forward.

"The thing that motivates me very much," he said, "is because I've touched peoples' lives and restored -- as our slogan -- restoring hope and dignity of the people who have been devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic."

Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World.


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