The small child was sitting in the middle of a Guatemalan garbage dump. But even if her size caused her to be overlooked, her wailing would not allow it. The young girl caught the eye of Benjamin Rusnak, a photographer for the international charity Food for the Poor. More recently, the image of the child captured the attention of editors who gave it a place in the Photo District News annual of outstanding photography.
Rusnak has documented extreme poverty and the work of the Florida-based relief and development agency for nine years. In that time, he has traveled extensively through the poorest countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, and has captured the stark reality of lives in desperate need. This young girl and her situation, in particular, caught his attention.
“Our team was documenting the conditions of people who, out of economic necessity, must work in the garbage dump near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, when I heard a young girl crying,” Rusnak said. “I turned around, and she was only 10 feet away from me, but worlds apart, sitting at the base of this mountain of garbage.”
“I later learned that she was crying because another child had stolen a toy she had unearthed from the trash,” he said. “But I instantly knew that this scene – this girl’s anguish, lost in the midst of a smoking garbage dump – was symbolic of the plight of all those working there and the struggles and pain of all the poor that we serve.”
The photo also won first place in the Gordon Parks International Photo Competition in 2008. The competition honors photography that represents the important themes of Gordon Parks’ work: Social injustice, the suffering of others and family values. Parks established his reputation as a world-renowned photojournalist for Life Magazine, chronicling the Civil Rights movement for two decades. He later went on to become an acclaimed filmmaker and author before his death in 2006. In the photo contest, Rusnak won first place with two photographs from Guatemala.
“Ben’s photos help us tell the story of need, and also of hope and promise in a powerful way,” said Angel Aloma, executive director of Food for the Poor. “Ben serves as the eyes of those who cannot travel with us, and helps us call attention to the needs of the poor.”
Food for the Poor is the largest international relief and development organization in the nation. More than 97 percent of all donations in 2008 went directly to programs that help those in need. Food for the Poor provides nourishing food, safe shelter, necessary medical care, educational materials, support for orphans and the aged and much more to the poorest of the poor in 17 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.
For more information, visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.