Return to Stories

The Face of Poverty 2005-2015

In 2005, Dickson was a typical village of 50 households in Malawi. Jan Banning went to photograph the village and its inhabitants five years after the UN's adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the first and most important of which was the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Jan portrayed each family inside the largest (usually the only) room of their house, surrounded by their meagre possessions. Journalist Dick Wittenberg documented their lives - their plans, their worries, their shame and their heroic attempts to lead an ordinary life. At the time the village was facing famine. The corn harvest, which provides 85% of the annual food needs, had failed due to lack of rain. The typical signs of poverty were starting to show: lack of choice and lack of control over their own destiny. People were forced to go out and hunt to survive, leaving their fields fallow. Mothers couldn't take sick children to the doctor for lack of money and women couldn't say 'no' to men's offers of marriage knowing that their meagre rations would save them from starvation.

'Poverty has been by far the biggest and most widespread evil of mankind' according to the American economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Poverty is also mankind's most underestimated and neglected emergency. Poverty is passed down through the generations and people are born into poverty. Prosperity of any kind is by far the exception, not the norm. In 1990, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) tried to quantify poverty and stipulated the notion of 'living on one dollar a day' which was later raised to $ 1.25. And while the levels of extreme poverty in the world have been spectacularly reduced - achieving the goal of halving extreme poverty in the world

five years before the MDG target date of 2015 - there are still some 1 million people living below the poverty line today.The publication of the Dickson story in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblatt triggered a record number of letters to the editor (600) and a subsequent spontaneously organised fundraiser brought in EUR 80,000. Over the next five years, the money was distributed among villagers by a committee of Handelsblatt readers who invested in corn, fertiliser and water pumps for village farmers. After five years of support from the Netherlands, the villagers were left to their own devices over the following five years.

In 2015, Jan and Dick returned to Dickson to document what different the help the village had received had made on peoples' daily lives. The village is still poor but a decade has made a massive difference. Goats and chicken roam freely, mud huts have given way to brick buildings, children are attending school, the sick go to see a doctor and single women are able to stay independent. The UN's Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015 and will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, a much

wider development programme for the coming 15 years.

In many ways, a small microcosm like Dickson has performed admirably in terms of MDG achievements including indicators like primary education, child mortality, maternal health and environmental sustainability. Jan and Dick returned to see how a little outside help had changed peoples' quality of life, showing the villagers in the same way as earlier - in their houses, surrounded by their things. The images and stories ask whether poverty had been eradicated as much as was hoped and why development in other parts of Africa remains anaemic.

After the first visits, Jan had sent images and copies of publications Dutch papers back to the village for people to keep. When he returned, in 2015, he found these same magazines and photographic prints distributed throughout many of the houses. The second set of portraits, therefore, contain signs of the first visit and it seemed only right to document these signs of the first 'interference' to illustrate the overarching idea of the two-part story - how white man's influence and presence in the village had changed the course of its history.
powered by