(Guest blog from the director of "The Edge of Joy", originally posted on the PBS NewsHour website)
In the time it takes to read this post, somewhere in the world a pregnant woman will have started hemorrhaging and her baby might soon be motherless. One thousand women die every day trying to bring new life into the world, and this toll is what drew me to shoot my documentary film, The Edge of Joy.
I encountered many of the heartbreaking and hopeful stories that underpin this global tragedy, but it was only through the people, the doctors and nurses of Nigeria that I was able to tell them. The roughly one dozen Nigerian doctors and midwives I worked with closely over the course of making the film, didn't push agendas, or act as obstructionists when I asked tough questions or wanted to follow story lines to their natural conclusions.
Nigeria is better known for corruption and oil production than as the vanguard of fighting maternal mortality, but this small close-knit group of men and a handful of women trusted me not to create an indicting portrait of pregnancy and childbirth in their West African country.
Documentary filmmaking is an art, not a science, and at times during the making of this film, the process was challenging. I always kept my questions dignified and did my reproductive health homework so I could ask informed questions in hospitals and in the communities.
Getting permission to film in such sensitive settings requires government approval, a process that Habib Sadauki, the second obstetrician/gynecologist to be trained in the Nigerian state of Kano, helped me through.
After many meetings with the Ministry of Health and a mutual understanding that I would have a "minder" assigned to me while filming in the north, I was given permission to film in tertiary hospitals and primary health centers.
What I didn't know at the time is that the then Minister of Health Babatunde Osotimehin, recently appointed executive director of the UN Population Fund, had approved the access himself. During his tenure as minister, his office approved some ground breaking research about postpartum hemorrhaging.
I caught up with Osotimehin in May of 2009 at a health conference in Los Angeles. Our scheduled time to sit down and talk on camera kept being pushed back, so I made the bold move of taking over the role of the waitress at the café where he was enjoying a coffee.
Handing him a glass of water, I introduced myself as the filmmaker who had been documenting maternal health initiatives in Nigeria. I kept going on and on and he stopped me and said something to the effect of "you are persistent and persuasive just like they say" and with that got up, and came to sit with me for more than an hour.
We discussed safe motherhood, community leadership for better healthcare and, at the conclusion of our interview he shook my hand and said "your access is continued, enjoy your next trip to Nigeria." My field director and I began breaking down the equipment and she asked why I looked dazed. I said I was not even aware our access had to be renewed.
The freedom to shoot in medical settings was crucial to documenting the harsh realities of giving birth in Nigeria. In the film, blood became a ubiquitous character: women were losing too much of it, there wasn't enough of it when you needed it and midwives were always trying to keep it from flowing.
"Hemorrhage requires that you stop the bleeding and you repair the blood loss. If you don't repair (replace) the blood loss the woman will die," Sadauki told me.
We documented a case of severe bleeding where the midwives were able to manage a patient's hemorrhage with a drug and saline until her husband found a pint of blood and she received the transfusion in time to save her life.
And there are new tools on the horizon. A low-tech first aid device, known as the non-pneumatic anti-shock garment, shunts blood out of the extremities and back to the vital organs in cases of hemorrhage. No magic bullet, but a potential game changer for women giving birth in the developing world and new hope for the health care providers.
After I showed this film recently, I was embraced by a woman in the audience who thanked me for saving the world. Locked in a bear hug with a complete stranger, I thought to myself: "Thank you, but no, I'm not saving the world, I just make films about people who are saving the world."
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Dawn Sinclair Shapiro's documentary film, The Edge of Joy, which was featured on PBS NewsHour in April 2011 as a selection of the PBS NewsHour partnership project with The Economist magazine -- the Economist Film Project -- will premiere on independent Link TV on Friday, October 28, at 5 pm ET and Tuesday, November 1, at 8 pm ET, and will stream on Link TV's ViewChange.org beginning on Tuesday, October 25. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, an international journalism organization, has created an online curriculum that accompanies the film to be distributed to high school educators around the country; educators and others can download the film for free to accompany the curriculum at www.viewchange.org.
This week, we had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Sharon Norton, Director of Development at the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition. Link Media is collaborating with the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition this year to raise awareness about global hunger and malnutrition through Revolution Hunger. Revolution Hunger is a unique campaign that harnesses the power of teens across the United States to take on the problems of hunger and malnutrition around the world.
Hi Sharon. Thanks for joining us to talk about your work. First and foremost, what is the mission of the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition, and what type of work does it do?
Our mission is creating lasting solutions that enable nutritional well-being in children. Our work is focused on children under the age of five and particularly those under the age of two. The provision of proper nutrition to this difficult to reach and often overlooked age group can help prevent stunting, improve cognitive outcomes, and ensure more positive health consequences for life.
In terms of hunger and malnutrition, what are the major challenges happening globally?
Overall, the majority of our work is aimed at resolving hidden hunger. Hidden hunger is a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals that can lead to physical and cognitive afflictions. In Central America for example, there is a dire need for nutritional intervention to alleviate hidden hunger as evidenced by the average prevalence of 23.5% stunting regionally. Stunting is essentially where children do not grow to their potential in height and Guatemala and Honduras top the list with 54.5% and 30.1%, respectively, in stunted children under the age of 5. Moreover, anemia, iodine and/or vitamin deficiencies affect over 16 million young children and 5 million pregnant women in this region. This is a significant issue as those affected by micronutrient deficiency worldwide exceeds two billion. Dietary deficiencies are borne disproportionately by children, mothers, and those living in rural communities. Resolution of these deficiencies will result in improved health outcomes for children and mothers.
How did you find your way to the position you now hold? How do you feel personally connected to this cause?
I think it has been the combination of an open mind, a spirit of discovery and skills that had the potential for broad application. When I entered college, I was 100% sure I wanted to be a veterinarian, then I started taking nutrition classes and learned that I loved nutrition, ration formulation and working with large animals. That took me into an entirely different career, but my degree in nutrition has allowed me to work in a number of different nutrition related sectors. Today, at the Mathile Institute I am using my nutritional training to help resolve malnutrition in children. But I also get to apply other skills I picked up while working in the packaged goods sector such as technical communications and consumer understanding methodologies. My personal connection to my work stems from my belief in the "Golden Rule" -- treating others as we would wish to be treated. I believe in treating people with dignity and respect and, for children, I believe that includes their right to a healthy diet.
You have the amazing opportunity to learn about a lot of positive work happening in the field around this cause. What is one of the most inspiring stories you have come across recently?
I was incredibly inspired by an experience I had not long ago in El Salvador. We met with FUSAL, a private non-profit organization in El Salvador that channels the experience and social responsibility of a committed Salvadoran business family. This family has solidarity with the most vulnerable people in society and are dedicated to human development, which is why health and education are at the core of their non-profit organization's work. I had the opportunity to visit one of FUSAL's project sites in a rural community. The community workers were teaching the mothers about nutrition and health, demonstrating how to prepare more nutritious meals and ways to provide their babies stimulation to enhance cognitive development. I was so inspired by the sense of community, kindness and the care among these women and among those that were serving them. It was an example of the kind of humanity and action that we need to solve the problem of hunger in this world.
Another story that continually moves me the life and work of Dr. Norman Borlaug. This one, soft-spoken man, with humble, Midwestern roots, was able to change the world through his Green Revolution, an agricultural initiative, which increased crop yields so countries could feed their people. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to ending hunger. Norman Borlaug has been credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. Knowing that one person can make that type of impact is personally inspiring.
What does "under-nutrition" mean to you? Where is this happening?
Many people may hear the word undernutrition and think this means not having enough food or calories. While that is one form of undernutrition, hidden hunger that I described earlier is another and very prevalent form. But even in the developed world, we see undernutrition due to the inability to access nutritious food. While some of this is linked to poverty, many with the financial means and ability to access a healthy diet make poor food choices. They often do not consume enough of the foods they need to derive important nutrients needed for health. The bottom line is, undernutrition is a global epidemic and the first step in ending it is awareness of the issue and the causes.
Your organization has just launched a new initiative called "Revolution Hunger," what ignited your interest in an initiative that mobilizes teens?
I am really excited about this initiative and it was actually inspired by Norman Borlaug. He dedicated his life to fighting hunger around the world. His skill, passion and deep respect for communities in the developing world ignited a global movement that would feed billions worldwide. The spirit of Revolution Hunger was born out of his example and is a campaign that arms teens with information about hunger's causes and solutions and challenges them with calls to action to fight the issue. Everyone has a role and everyone can be a hunger fighter through Revolution Hunger.
What do you hope to see as a result of the work of your organization?
We hope that through our collaborative effort we will alleviate malnutrition and put an end, once and for all to the 25,000 daily deaths that result from hunger-related issues. We believe that capacity-building with initiatives like Revolution Hunger are part of the answer. We also are confident that our approach to establishing new nutritional innovations coupled with community awareness and education programs, relevant behavior change initiatives, and ongoing engagement of community leaders will produce scalable and sustainable solutions.
How can others get involved in what you do?
For teens go to revolutionhunger.org and learn what it takes to become a hunger fighter. Watch the video, take a personality quiz and begin the journey to face, fight and live the battle to fight hunger. Participate in activities to fight hunger in your local community and beyond. For adults, I would also suggest visiting revolutionhunger.org to not only learn more about hunger but also what you can do to become a teen advocate. If you are a teacher, we also have begun to develop case studies that can give students the opportunity to explore and tackle real issues in the classroom. I hope everyone will join the fight and join the revolution!
On our last couple days of programming for World Food Week, Link TV spoke with co-founder of FoodCorps, Curt Ellis. Want to get inspired and spread the word about taking real action in communities around food justice? Read this interview. And continue to visit our food page for "Hungry Planet" airtimes, to watch programs online, and to learn more about these critical issues.
Hello Curt, thanks for joining us. Could you tell us a little bit about FoodCorps and how your organization specifically works to fight hunger?
FoodCorps works with a network of young leaders around the country in a kind of Peace Corps for healthy school food. Our service members teach children about healthy food and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens that help kids to grow and cook healthy food themselves, and work with school food service staff and local farmers to bring high-quality food into school lunch. Taken together, these three things -- knowledge, engagement and access -- address two big problems at once: childhood hunger and childhood obesity. It sounds paradoxical, but those two problems are closely linked. Kids who don't have reliable access to healthy food don't get a balanced diet, and all too rarely get reliable access to healthy fruits and vegetables -- so food insecure populations are often the ones with the highest rates of both hunger and obesity. As we see it, school is the best place to start fixing both these problems: 32 million children eat roughly half of their calories 180 days of the year in school. In helping to make that food fresher and healthier, we're setting kids on a path out of hunger and into lifelong health.
Food Corps does a lot of work with youth. What do you think the importance of working with youth around this issue is?
We have a serious health crisis in this country, and it's directly related to the food we eat. Studies show that the relationships we build with food -- healthy or unhealthy -- start in childhood. Children who are eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, as children will grow up to be adults who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. And, likewise, children who grow up being served fast food in their school cafeterias will feed their own families' fast food someday. If we help kids understand from an early age that healthy food tastes good, that it's fun to grow and prepare, that it makes you feel good, and that it doesn't have to be out of reach financially, we can put powerful and positive change into motion.
What would you say are the current root causes or main factors that contribute to hunger both within the United States and globally?
Unfortunately, much of the food that is seen as affordable in America -- fast food, processed food -- is also some of the least healthy. So we have a shocking number of people in our country who are simultaneously obese and malnourished. Until we have solved problems of access to fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high-quality protein -- both in terms of physical access and financial access -- we'll continue to have these problems of hunger and obesity.
As I see it, if that solution is going to start anywhere, it's going to start in our schools. My grandparents' generation made an important decision: that the children in our country should have lunch in school, so we can be sure they all have an opportunity to get at least one healthy meal a day. Now, with the addition of school breakfast and after-school snack, school food is even more important than it was a generation or two ago. But the food we're serving kids these days looks all too much like fast food, and too little like carrots. We need to change what's on the lunch tray and make sure the tools we're using to fight hunger -- like school lunch -- are really solving the problem they set out to fix.
What do you think are the most pertinent problems in the food industry today?
For a long time, the food industry -- and its consumers -- prioritized quantity over quality. I applaud the efforts to give all people access to an abundant food supply, but I think we took that ideal too far. It's hard to think of anything more important than food, yet we don't treat food, or farmers, with the respect they deserve. I think the food we produce and consume as a nation should have integrity. It should be grown and processed in an ecologically sustainable way, by farmers and workers who are compensated fairly, it should be safe and healthy for people to eat, and it should be accessible to all -- even the least fortunate members of our society. I think those are standards that are important to uphold for something as fundamental as the food we eat. And if we live out those ideals, hunger won't be a problem anymore. Diet-related disease won't be a problem anymore. We won't see Florida tomato growers getting brought to trial on charges of slavery in the fields. And the soil we depend on will continue producing high-quality food for eons to come.
What are the advantages of eating locally grown foods?
Locally grown foods are fresher, so in most cases they'll taste better and be more nutritious to boot. Vitamins are fragile, so vegetables that are trucked long distances can lose half their nutrient content! Also, sourcing locally grown food keeps a huge amount of money in the local economy, and the reduction in transportation reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on oil. In some ways, though, I think the most important thing that comes from eating locally is the sense that food comes from somewhere. That it's grown by someone. And that's a reminder that those people and places matter.
You've also co-created a few documentaries. Can you give our readers a synopsis of those films and how they relate to food?
Before joining the effort to start FoodCorps, I got to collaborate on a few films that explored the food world. I worked with Ian Cheney and Aaron Woolf on a documentary called King Corn, which was about a year we spent in Iowa growing an acre of corn (well, an acre of corn syrup and corn-fed fast-food meat, as it turned out). I worked with those two again on a follow-up to King Corn called Big River, which explored the ecological consequences of modern agriculture. And then I helped Ian make a film about the wacky and amazing people who are bringing farming into urban places. That film was called Truck Farm, and it starts with a project we did planting a vegetable garden in the back of an '86 Dodge Pickup. You can find the first couple films on Netflix, and the third on Amazon.
How can people help alleviate hunger both on an individual and societal level?
That's a big question, and if it could be answered in a paragraph I think someone would have done so already. But I'll highlight a few things. On the individual level, I think it's important that we learn -- and help others learn -- how to grow and cook healthy, affordable food. During World War II, home gardeners were producing more than half of America's food. There's no reason we shouldn't be planting our window boxes and truck beds and vacant lots in healthy, high-quality, incredibly affordable food. On the societal level, we have some powerful building blocks for creating a healthy food environment for all. The national school lunch program is a powerful place to start. If we use that existing program as a way to make sure all children in America grow up having regular access to real, healthy food, we'll go a long way toward solving hunger in America.
What role does independent media play in raising awareness about these issues?
The mainstream media has really embraced food as an important issue in the last decade, and that's been great to see. Unfortunately, before that, I think they were missing much of the story, and it was independent outlets that were the first to highlight the way that food shapes our environment, our health and our sense of justice and equality.
What changes do you hope to see in the next 50 years?
Most importantly, I'd like to see us reverse the present statistic that this generation of children is the first that is likely to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. In fifty years I hope we have healthier children: children who feel connected to their food and have an enduring and healthy relationship with it.
I hope we can come together as a nation around the simple belief that food is important. That it's important enough that no child should go hungry. That it's important enough that it should be produced responsibly, sustainably, and ethically. That it should be available to all. If we can do that, I'll feel pretty good about our ability to solve some of the other tough problems we're facing as a society.
How can someone get involved in your organization or work?
For young leaders, the best way to get involved is to apply to become a service member in FoodCorps; applications for next year's class will be available this winter. For everyone else, if you support FoodCorps with a financial contribution, no matter how small, you can help us meet our goal of expanding our program into all 50 states by 2020. With your help, we can make sure more than a million kids are eating healthy, high-quality school lunch every day.
This week on Link TV, we are airing a week of programming uncovering various global perspectives on food. Visit this page for airtimes, to watch programs online, and to find out what you can do. In addition, we are interviewing key players and partners who work around issues of hunger and food justice. In today’s report, we interviewed Jane Sung E Bai, Director of National Programs for Slow Food USA.
Thanks for doing this interview, Sung E. First and foremost, can you tell us a bit more about what Slow Food USA does?
Slow Food USA is part of a global, grassroots network with supporters in 150 countries who believe that food and farming should be sources of health and well being for everyone and for our planet. In the US, Slow Food USA brings people together through food, organizes them to improve their local food systems, and garners that power to change legislative policies that shape our food and farming system. Slow Food USA has more than 250,000 supporters, and 25,000 members working together in 225 local chapters.
What are a few programs you are currently working on with Slow Food USA?
We are currently developing a campaign to ensure that the next reauthorization of the Food & Farm Bill (the single largest piece of legislation that shapes our food and farming priorities) in 2012 protects and invests in the efforts of those working to make food sustainable, healthy, accessible, and affordable.
While our chapters are running diverse projects to raise awareness and to change people's relationships with food and farming locally, we are specifically supporting local efforts that are focused on improving children's relationship with food (both in and out of the classroom), as well as on providing alternatives to industrial agriculture (e.g. fast food). Such efforts were illustrated by our recent $5 Challenge campaign to take back the 'value meal,' and are part of our long-standing work to promote and to protect plant varieties and animal breeds that are under the threat of an increasingly homogenized food system. We provide resources, trainings, and other forms of support to those already doing this work, and to those interested in initiating a project.
As our network of supporters is sizeable and has varied interests, we regularly run activities that raise awareness of the challenges of our current food and farming system, provide opportunities for individuals to come together with others (especially through eating and growing food), and inspire people to take collective action.
Can you describe what the "Good, Clean, and Fair" Movement is?
Good, clean, and fair refers to food that is good for us, good for those who produce it, and good for the planet. Slow Food USA believes that all are vital to our vision for a different food and farming economy. Workers must be paid fair wages, farmers need to sustain themselves and their families, all people have a right to food that is good for them, and we all have a responsibility to protect our natural resources.
What is the importance of eating "Good, Clean, and Fair" food over factory farmed foods?
There is a correlation among the growth of factory-farmed foods, decreased income for farmers, stagnation/decline of wages, surge in diet-related diseases, and continued damage to our climate and ecosystems, among other socio-economic problems our society faces. Rather than supporting farmers to grow biodiverse non-GMO crops, grass-fed animals, and sustainable practices, factory farming has unfortunately become the solution to feeding people who cannot afford good, clean, and fair food, as well as those who can! This contributes to the massive healthcare costs of nutrition-related illnesses, the contraction of family-run farms and jobs, increased greenhouse gases, and dwindling diversity of food sources -- just to name a few consequences.
We are what we eat. And what we eat is based on the economic and political priorities of government and corporations. Unfortunately, the health of people and our environment is not the priority right now. And it needs to be the number one priority.
Slow Food USA believes that we need to reshape the story of food and farming so that it is one that we can feel proud of and we can be sustained by. Our organization's story includes producing food humanely, treating workers fairly, increasing job opportunities, adequately compensating farmers, preserving (rather than depleting) natural resources, and appreciating food traditions of diverse cultures and communities.
What would you say are the current root causes or main factors that contribute to hunger both within the United States and globally?
The UN has found that the number one factor leading to hunger is access, whether to land for growing or to income for purchasing. The issue is not innovations in farming or distribution. Rather, it is an issue of poverty. In order to eradicate hunger we have to eradicate the root causes of systemic poverty.
Rather than seek to elevate solutions to hunger through supporting communities to grow food and earn a living, the drive often seems to be towards 'cost efficiency' and 'profit.' There is an invisible expense to this drive. Investment in genetically modified foods means a divestment in the livelihood and health of people -- food is not just about nourishment. Food is part of a larger ecosystem, which includes working the land to grow the food that feeds us. We need more farmers, not just more scientists. Study after study shows that we as a global community can in fact produce enough food to feed the world. We produce more than enough food for every human being, yet 1/3 of all annual food production is wasted. We need solutions that are based in values of human dignity, health, and well being.
How do you feel can people help alleviate hunger both on an individual and societal level?
On an individual level, we need to have the awareness that we are all part of the problem, and part of the solution. This means that we need to reflect on our own practices: How are we living? Sharing information (with our children, families, and friends)? Reducing waste? And, how are we supporting the survival of those who are seeking to address hunger? What can we do to volunteer or support (through money or in-kind donations) those organizations that are dedicated to eradicating hunger? You can dedicate a patch of your own garden to a local soup kitchen or volunteer to tend a community garden plot whose produce is donated to a food bank. Get involved in gleaning projects. Reduce waste.
As a society, we must first embrace the responsibility to be part of the solution. Then, we need to make a choice to start doing something with the intention of supporting the eradication of hunger. Each act contributes to the possibility of a greater motion of change.
What role does independent media play in raising awareness about these issues?
Similar to the way that our food system is structured -- largely controlled by a handful of corporations -- so is our media system. This has meant that we are hearing the same stories again and again through mainstream media, and they are sometimes skewed to uplift the interests of those who benefit from the current food system the most. Even as 'healthy living' and 'eating healthy' has taken center stage due to both grassroots activism and political interests, they are conveniently absorbed, and repackaged by the same corporations who contribute to a broken system. What is too often ignored are the root causes for why it is so hard to have access to affordable good, clean, and fair food. It is only through independent media that everyday people can hear other sides of the story -- the stories of those who are most impacted by a broken food and farming system, the stories about root causes. And as people become more aware, they are able to act from a more informed and powerful position. And as more people act, mainstream media will be more compelled to cover such stories.
What changes do you hope to see in the next 50 years?
In 50 years, my daughter will be 54 years old. I hope that she is part of raising a next generation where every day, every child in this country and around the world has a belly full of healthy food that comes from the calloused hands of farmers and workers who are able to live sustainably and peacefully. I hope 54 is the new middle age because domestic and global priorities have shifted to pool together resources and knowledge to eradicate poverty and human-made illnesses. I hope that farming and working in the food chain are embraced as dignified and valuable work. I hope that food continues to be the common ground for breaking bread and building relationships across difference.
How can someone get involved in your organization or work?
Once you have signed up to receive our communications, you will be able to find a meal to attend or a garden to volunteer at. If you do not find one in your local area, host a meal with some friends or start a conversation about the food system in your community. We also have a fast growing and active Facebook community, blog readership, and Twitter following. If you are interested in doing work related to children and food or alternatives to processed foods, please do not hesitate to contact us and join a community of volunteers who do this work locally across the country. You can also get involved in our national campaign around the 2012 Food & Farm Bill to improve legislation that shapes our food and farming system. By becoming a member, you can join a chapter, start a chapter, and/or keep up with the latest food news; obtain tips on cooking slow food, gardening and buying local; and start advocating for better food for all.
More about Jane Sung E Bai: After 25 years of racial and economic justice and immigrant rights organizing, she embraced food justice when she enrolled her daughter in a daycare that serves low-income children. Dismayed by the Board of Education-provided meals, Sung E made a commitment to prepare her daughter’s breakfast and lunch everyday and to work towards improving access to nutritious food for working people. Along with being the executive director of a community-based organization for almost 12 years, Sung E has held teaching appointments in higher education, been a certified advocate for domestic violence survivors and trainer for grassroots organizers, and served on various leadership bodies of local and national organizations. She believes in the power of everyday people making change every day.