Most North Americans can only imagine living on $1 worth of food per day. Colin Vandenberg knows what it's like.
Vandenberg recently completed a month of hunger solidarity to raise awareness of what most people in Malawi, a country in southeast Africa, experience as a daily struggle. During the 30-day experiment, which ended last week, Vandenberg consumed no more than $1 worth of food each day.
For 30 days, his diet consisted mainly of beans and rice. He documented his experience by writing about it at foodforaday.wordpress.com.
The 29-year-old freelance photographer, who lives 100 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg near Grand Marais, also used the experience to raise funds for New Life Center.
Located in a community just outside of Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, New Life Center teaches farmers how to grow their food better. It aims to improve a family's ability to provide food for their children and open up further opportunities for them to get an education by raising their crop yields.
Vandenberg first became aware of New Life Center through Groundwork Opportunities, a California-based organization that supports projects around the world that work to end poverty. He volunteered with Groundwork Opportunities as a photographer for three weeks last November and December, travelling to Malawi to take photos of New Life Center's work so Groundwork can publicize the initiative.
Vandenberg had spent time in poverty-stricken areas of Africa before, but nonetheless found his experience in Malawi sobering.
As a documentary photographer, he believes it is important to have a certain degree of objectivity and separation from his subjects. While visiting health centres treating malnourished children, he had to suppress his emotions.
"I was there to be a witness, and it doesn't help anyone if I get caught up in my own emotions," he said.
When he returned to Canada, Vandenberg wondered what he might do with the emotions he felt during the trip.
"I don't want to become lost in this emotional response but I do want it to propel me to action. I wanted to do more than provide images."
As a result, Vandenberg devised his hunger- solidarity experiment. His goal was to raise $3,000 to put toward the $22,000 New Life Center needs for supplies and equipment.
The month-long experiment caused Vandenberg to evaluate his relationship with food.
In North America, he points out, eating is about more than nourishment and survival -- it's about pleasure. People eat until they no longer feel pleasure, or until they feel they should stop because they want to maintain a certain body image.
For Vandenberg, who typically eats simple, healthy meals, one of the biggest challenges of living on $1 worth of food per day was feeling a sense of separation from family and friends because he could not participate in meals with them by eating the same things they were.
Feeling hungry during the day also amplified stressful situations, Vandenberg said, giving him further insight into what Malawians experience.
"It's hard to feel like you can... get up and do good things in your life when you're feeling that constant pain and preoccupation," he said. "Food plays a bigger part in that than we think."
Vandenberg raised more than $800 during his hunger experiment and still hopes to reach his goal of $3,000. People interested in contributing can visit tinyurl.com/vandenbergmalawi for details.
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