In 1984, Grossfeld and Globe reporter Colin Nickerson hooked up with a rebel group bringing a food convoy from Sudan to Ethiopia. As Grossfeld recalls, they traveled at night and hid by day to avoid detection.I can still remember the smell of death and the pinpricks of light streaming through the tent at one refugee camp we visited. The emaciated children were too weak to shoo away moisture-seeking flies. Their cries sounded like cats wailing. I watched one beautifully regal Ethiopian mother lovingly comfort her starving child. My camera’s viewfinder filled with tears. I forced myself to think about technical issues—the light was low and a very slow shutter speed was necessary—but the tears didn’t stop. The child died later that day.
When I returned home, I saw a TV feature on gingerbread candy houses at the mall and I was disgusted. The only difference between those refugees and us was our birthplace on planet earth. It’s just the luck of the draw.
The photographs heightened global awareness that drought plus civil war cause famine. Good things happened. Catholic relief services said the Madonna and child photo raised more money for hunger relief than any other image. I donated all my award winnings and joined the New England board of Unicef.
But I am still haunted by that mother and child and the fact that we have failed to eradicate world hunger. Currently, according to Save the Children, more than 10 million people in Ethiopia—including 5.75 million children—are in urgent need of emergency food aid. Millions of people still die because they have neither food nor access to clean water. Although the Internet and social media have shrunk the world, our collective intelligence has also declined. Compassion fatigue is increasing and a dangerous xenophobia is emerging. Instead of building bridges, one party’s candidate for president wants to build a big wall.
It’s enough to make you cry.