23°, Far From Paradise - Essay for Food For The Poor, Inc.

Benjamin Rusnak

2007 - 2013

23° of latitude separate the Equator from the Northern tropic. These latitudes are home to beaches, palms, vacation resorts, idyllic paradise -- and poverty.

This is where the sun bares countless dark and desperate lives. This is where the unfortunate location of birth often condemns people to a life of struggle in an unforgiving land, beset with drought and flood, famine and tempest.

Conversely, this is where hope and resilience coexist with tribulation. For the poor, there is a duality to life. In each person, each moment holds joy and pain, a mourning for what is lost and a yearning for what may be. These lands represent a dream holiday to tourists, but they are only an elusive fantasy to millions of residents still hoping for the reality of paradise to become theirs.

I have documented the lives of the poor in the Caribbean and Latin America for a decade. The people I meet struggle, strive, hope, dream, live and die in those 23°. While this region is only one part of the globe, the lives of turmoil and legacies of hope within it are emblematic of people around the world who suffer at the same latitudes. Their lives are separated by a chasm of degrees, in contrast to those living in developed nations to the north and south.

This work seeks to illuminate this intersection of geographic lines with circumstance of birth and how the irony of being poor in paradise creates strength, resilience and a duality of spirit. I believe the broad view of the panoramic format, combined with an often intimate perspective, creates a novel way to explore the relationship between the land and those who must scrape together an existence from it.

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  • The shadows of poverty - represented here by a clothes line and barren trees - entwine with the sunbaked earth at a family's shack in Honduras.

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    May 1st is Haiti's Labor Day. To celebrate, on Saturday May 1, 2010, Food For The Poor donated more than 25,000 trees to be planted in Mahotière, Haiti, a farm community in the mountains high above Port-au-Prince, where deforestation, soil erosion and hunger are prevalent. About 1,500 local people participated in a highly organized planting of the trees on the steep slopes surrounding a Food For The Poor village.

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  • The bodies of a mother and child are brought by wheelbarrow for burial at a cemetery in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti after the earthquake.

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  • Looking for a cheap thrill and an escape from a hot afternoon, children jump off a highway bridge that crosses over their flood-prone slum in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

  • Haitian resilience and the desperate reality of poverty coexist within feet of each other at a food distribution point in Leogane.

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  • With simple tools and a strong resolve Haitians move forward a year after the devastating earthquake. Their resilience produces a harvest of survival in an unforgiving landscape.

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