Here, you can see Dickson ten years ago, a typical village of fifty households in the African country of Malawi. Photographed and described, five short years after the United Nations in September 2000 embraced their Millennium Development Goals, of which halving poverty and hunger by the end of 2015 is by far the most important one.
I portrayed them in their largest – usually also the only – room of their mud house. Surrounded by their meagre possessions. Exceptionally poor yet dignified. Journalist Dick Wittenberg described their daily lives. Their plans, their concerns, their shame. Their heroic attempts to lead an ordinary life.
There was a famine in the village at that time. The corn harvest, which was to provide eighty percent of the annual food, had failed due to lack of rain. Daily life showed the essence of everyday poverty: lack of choice, no control over your own existence. Villagers did not have the option to cultivate their own land, so that the following year they would, in any case, have something to eat. Hunger forced them to hunt for food. Villagers with a sick baby could not go to the doctor for lack of money for medicines. A woman did not have the freedom to say ‘no’ to a man. His food supply, however small, would be her salvation.
Publication of text and photographs in the weekend magazine of the leading Dutch newspaper “NRC Handelsblad” garnered a record number (for that newspaper) of 600 letters to the editor. The cover story under the headline “The face of poverty ‘ had touched its readers deeply.
A spontaneous fundraiser among those readers raised nearly 80,000 euro. This money was used over a period of five years to support the village; in the form of corn, fertilizer and water pumps. During that period, Dick Wittenberg returned to the village eight times in total. A committee of readers was set up to make sure the money was spent in a meaningful manner.