Law professor and charity founder Tom Nazario sounds tired when I call him on the phone.
It might have something to do with how Nazario has spent the last two years. With Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Renée C. Byer, he’s traveled to 10 countries in four continents, documenting a small fraction of the 1.2 billion people living in the world’s most extreme poverty.
The product of their work, a powerful book of photographs called Living on a Dollar a Day–with an introduction from the Dalai Lama–includes hundreds of pictures and stories that deal with daily starvation and disease. Nazario and Byer traveled to Ghana, where they spoke to kids sorting and burning computers and electronics dumped by the Western world; to Eastern Europe’s Roma communities; to Liberia, where they met a woman deliberately starving one of her children to make more money begging on the streets, and more.
These are only a handful of stories from a world in which the richest 85 people control as much wealth as the 3.5 billion on the lower rung of the economic ladder.
Nazario, who founded The Forgotten International in 2007, clearly intends this book to be for the relatively affluent of the world, but also for anyone who can afford to give even a small amount. Each section, which focuses on a different community, includes information on how to donate to aid organizations directly involved with helping the people there.
“[It’s for] people who want to help but don’t have the knowledge or the access that they might need. People who are willing to share their fortunes with others,” Nazario says. “And we’re not thinking of necessarily very, very rich people; we were thinking of regular middle-class people.”
The subjects of the book, while given a stipend for their time and stories, won’t see proceeds from the sales. Not directly. Instead, Nazario says his primary goal was to expose small slices of reality to those that can afford to help on a larger scale.
But Nazario also doesn’t shy away from pointing out the parallel trend that partly enables these economic circumstances, either. The book includes a section on extreme wealth, the consolidation of which has, rather than trickled down, exacerbated exploitation half a world away. Consider the women, for example, who died in the devastating Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, earning $39 a month for retailers selling single items of clothing for as much.
“It’s a question of whether that’s acceptable, whether we want to live in a world where these disparities are growing,” Nazario says. “And how do we encourage those who have so much wealth to share that wealth with others, to show that the reason they have this wealth wasn’t necessarily of their own doing.”
But the book, both well-intentioned and jarring, does raise one important question after that: Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of having to rely on the kindness of donors’ hearts, we set standards for the global economy so that it encouraged fair wages, stewardship of natural resources, and basic human rights? A donor’s dollar means a lot to a person who makes that much in a day. But it shouldn’t have to.