Thousands of photos are taken each year in nearly 100 countries worldwide where World Vision programs help reach the most vulnerable. These 11 photos reflect the stories, the struggles and the events that have changed people's lives forever this year -- from earthquakes to famine, from hardship to triumph, from despair to hope.
Starting today, World Vision bloggers are linking up to spread the true spirit of Christmas. Our 12 blogs of Christmas represent the creativity, love, joy, hope, memories, and family holiday traditions that keep us connected to the true reason for the season.
Photography is an art.
Photography is a skill.
Photography is a form of communication.
A single picture can tell a story that crosses cultural and linguistic boundaries. It can evoke emotion or engagement (think National Geographic, Afghan refugee), freeze a moment in history (think WWII), or even start a revolution (think Arab Spring).
Fourteen hours before the start of yesterday's Chicago Marathon, four friends set off to run a total of 100 miles (74 miles to the start of the Chicago Marathon) in a bid to secure sponsors for 400 children. World Vision writer James Addis followed their progress on his own little adventure through part of the night and during the marathon itself — sometimes by taxi, sometimes by bicycle, and sometimes by train…
What a mission! Our four runners will run 74 miles mostly along the Chicago lakefront all through the night, before reaching the Chicago Marathon starting line in time for the beginning of the official race.
- Paul Jansen Van Rensburg, 37, a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois
- Rusty Funk, 26, Team World Vision staffer, based in Chicago
- Michael Chitwood, 36, National director of Team World Vision, based in Chicago
- Hannah Covert, 24, a nurse from Arizona
They all have one thing in common: They have seen sponsorship at work in Africa and are passionate to see more children sponsored.
3:30 p.m. Team meeting in a tiny hotel room. The four runners plus several support staff. The mood is jovial. Steve Spear, a pastor at Willow Creek Church, prays for the team. He asks for protection, courage, and perseverance, should the runners feel like giving up, and also for the hundreds of children who will be sponsored and whose lives will be changed. Afterward, we wander down to the lakefront for the big send-off.
I confess that, until recently, the first thing that came to my mind when someone mentioned child sponsorship was Sally Struthers kneeling next to an emaciated African child, mascara running down her face, telling the TV that “if you can just save one life, won’t it be worth it?”
As passionate as I was about social justice and alleviating poverty, child sponsorship struck me as an old-fashioned model for giving, in which a few select children essentially walked through a breadline to receive meals, school supplies, and medical attention from faraway white “saviors” whose first-world guilt was eased by letters ensuring that their contributions made a difference. I worried that child sponsorship created dependency and that families were forced to attend church in order to receive assistance for their little ones. While I could certainly see the value in saving “just one life,” I longed to invest in efforts devoted to solving the underlying problems that perpetuate poverty in certain communities, rather than simply easing the effects of that poverty among a few.
These concerns didn’t stop me from sponsoring children (especially after visiting India a few years ago), but they kept me from advocating on behalf of the sponsorship model. I think that a lot of Christians in my generation are wary of the suggestion that our responsibility to the world is limited to caring for “just one child.” We long for justice to roll down like streams of living water, not for charity to drip out like a leaky faucet.
I’m often asked how I’ve been able to photograph human suffering for so much of my career and still maintain my sanity and belief in the goodness of God.
Suffering is a mystery. I’ve met many good, righteous, faithful people who have lives full of misery. My dear sister-in-law, Karen, passed away last week after years of battling cancer. She volunteered with orphans in Haiti and gave to people in need in India. She made sure her home was always open to visitors, both family and strangers, even during her illness. She was generous to a fault, wonderfully kind, encouraging, and selfless. Her life of service was lived to the glory of God. Yet she died painfully and young. Suffering is a mystery.
One thing I do know: In the midst of the worst of the worst situations, God is still there.
On Tuesday, we asked you what questions you have about disaster aid and assistance, in an effort to help you better understand the current humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa and its implications for aid recipients and aid donors. Betsy Baldwin, whom we introduced you to, answered some of your most pressing questions. Read the post that started this: Ask an aid worker about the Horn of Africa.
[caption id="attachment_8112" align="alignright" width="196" caption="Betsy Baldwin, World Vision Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs"][/caption]
Betsy is a program officer for World Vision Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs, currently focusing on relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, where 12.4 million people are affected by drought and famine. She has degrees in civil engineering from Iowa State University and Virginia Tech, and has worked in relief development in Darfur, Sudan, Northern Afghanistan, Haiti (following the January 2010 earthquake), conflict regions of the Congo, and South Sudan. She is currently in Nairobi, Kenya, on her second visit to the Horn of Africa to assess needs and determine programmatic response.
Great question, and possibly the subject of future posts here on the World Vision Blog -- how do we actually do emergency relief? A short, sweet answer for now is simply that we make sure we have experienced, professional disaster-responders on the ground, running the relief response. This means that with almost every disaster response in which we are involved, we have a mix of both local and also international staff -- all experienced and capable.
“Can I have a snack?”
“I’m so hungry mom. Is it dinnertime yet?”
“I’m starving – what can I eat? No, I don’t want that. Do you have ____?”
So much of my day revolves around my children ruled by their bellies. They eat three meals and a snack. The youngest, with his medical condition that requires additional calories, eats two snacks and, if given the chance, would graze all day long.
They fill the air with misery if I dare suggest not eating right that instant. And the days I’m caught empty-handed when they decide they’re hungry? The wailing and gnashing of teeth makes me want to rip my hair out, don sackcloth and ashes, and carry a banner touting “Meanest mom alive.”
When I returned from visiting Bolivia, I could no longer smile indulgently at our obsession with food. After seeing true poverty, and meeting people so poor they could only eat two meals a day (no snacks!), I realized that none of us have any idea what being hungry really means.
When I first laid eyes on Holt -- a community just outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- just a few days after the April 27 tornado struck, what had once been a vibrant neighborhood now looked like a huge open field. It was a field filled with splintered wood, crumpled metal, broken glass, and shattered dreams.
Families sorted through the ruins looking for anything they could salvage.
Editor's note: World Vision's Nathan Looney reports from his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, that while neighborhoods in his immediate area were spared, towns just 30 minutes north and south have been completely devastated. Nathan, who happened to be visiting his family for the Easter holiday, will connect with our incoming assessment team tomorrow as they jumpstart World Vision's response.
I’ve seen countless pictures of destruction and hundreds of video clips of unimaginable devastation. In my few years at World Vision, I’ve sat in meetings sifting through images and articles, looking for the ones that best tell the story.
At times, those pictures and stories ended up just being a tool to me, a means to educate our donors, a device to appeal for donations. Their utility masked the unique personal story that existed beyond the letters, pixels, and paragraphs.
[caption id="attachment_4416" align="alignright" width="238" caption="Residents inspect the aftermath of overnight tornadoes that left this suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, in ruins April 28, 2011. Photo: REUTERS/Marvin Gentry"][/caption]
Two days ago, my perspective changed. That’s what happens when the “before” in a stack of before-and-after photos isn’t just an image, but a place you’ve been, a place frequented by the people you love.
I had traveled home to Alabama to visit my family for Easter. On Wednesday morning, the sound of tornado sirens woke me. For the remainder of the day, the television stations pre-empted their regular programming to talk about the storm, and the even deadlier storms that could be coming that night.
It’s common in the South for the broadcast outlets to cut into programming during severe weather outbreaks, but this was the first time I had ever seen them interrupt their schedule to warn of an upcoming outbreak. The tone of the meteorologist was ominous, almost pleading.
As evening approached, so did the storms -- tornado after tornado, many of them caught by news tower cameras and traffic cameras. They were like cyclones you see barreling across a Kansas plain in a movie, except these were placed against the backdrop of a city skyline -- my city’s skyline.
Just a few weeks ago, I walked in those places where Jesus walked in the Holy Land. It dawned on me yet again that Jesus did almost everything differently than conventional wisdom would have dictated. I visited Capernaum and Galilee, where most of His three-year ministry took place -- a "hick town" ten days' journey from Jerusalem. Not the best location to start a movement that would change the world.
I also walked in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed in agony that night -- and then on to Jerusalem, where He appeared before Caiaphas and Pilate, and where He was beaten and spit upon. Jesus was no conquering hero in the manner of Caesar or Alexander the Great. And then I followed His footsteps along the Via De la Rosa to Calvary, where He was brutally crucified. Not the best strategy to overthrow Rome and declare your new kingdom.
As a marketer, Jesus didn't seem to understand "ratings" and size of audience. As a political figure, Jesus had a penchant for telling people what they didn't want to hear -- take up your cross, lay down your life, the first will be last. And as a leader of the Jewish people itching to be freed from Rome's occupation and oppression, He commanded no army, brandished no weapons, and wielded no force.
Everything He stood for seemed to be lost that Good Friday afternoon as His disciples watched Him suffer and die. Peter denied Him, and the rest scattered. The lofty ideals had been crushed. The movement had failed. End of story.
But then came Easter Sunday...He is risen!
I sometimes feel the work World Vision does around the world is met by human suffering that never ends. Twenty-two thousand kids still die every day, 1 billion go to bed hungry, and more than a third of the planet lives on less than $2 a day.
Emergency communications officer with World Vision U.S. Casey Calamusa was deployed to Japan 38 hours after the massive 8.9-magnitude quake on Friday, March 11. I chatted with Casey on Skype last night. Thanks to those of you who tweeted in questions. Here's what he had to say....
The latest updates on World Vision's efforts and response following Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan and triggered a devastating tsunami. Two ways to donate to Japan quake and tsunami relief -- Text '4JAPAN' to '20222' to give a $10 donation. Or donate online. For updates....
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