FOOD FOR THOUGHT
On behalf of Michael Kors’ Watch Hunger Stop, Halle Berry bridges the gap between fashion and reality with an eye-opening trip to Nicaragua. By Anne Slowey
Halle Berry and Michael Kors team up for the Watch Hunger Stop campaign
Most Academy Award winners would be hard-pressed to find a destination where they can go unrecognised. Certainly Halle Berry, with her all-American good looks and that killer body, would draw attention even if she weren’t a household name. But when Berry’s helicopter touched down in El Cuá — one of the poorest and most remote regions of Nicaragua — this past July, it was clear that the group of local labourers who had gathered to watch had no idea who any of us were, Berry included.
The actress is here to raise awareness for Watch Hunger Stop, the charity founded by Michael Kors to raise money for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which provides emergency food assistance and food storage to developing countries. Kors started working with God’s Love We Deliver, a meal provider to disease-afflicted individuals, 20 years ago; expanding his focus to eradicating hunger globally was a natural extension. “It’s shocking to think that one in eight people go to bed hungry every night,” the 55-year-old designer says. “But the number of hungry people has fallen by 130 million since 1990, so I think this is a problem we can really solve.” Kors is certainly doing his part: For each sale of his specially designed WHS 100 Series watch, 100 meals are provided; in July, the total surpassed the 5-million-meal mark.
Berry has long supported organisations that help victims of domestic violence, such as the Jenesse Center, Inc., in Los Angeles, and has raised funds for cancer research as a Revlon Global Brand Ambassador. But this is the first time the 48-year-old actress has inserted herself at ground zero, so to speak. “It’s important to come and put yourself in the place,” she says. “As an actress, it obviously brings me to a greater emotional depth, but as a mother, it’s
important my family understand that we live a different kind of life but are still citizens of a world.”
The WFP provided food to more than 97 million people in 80 countries last year; in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 53 million people face severe food shortages and difficult security problems, nine million receive assistance from the WFP.
In Nicaragua, the second-poorest nation in the region after Haiti, the WFP focuses on school meals that parents take turns preparing. It also helps store and protect the food, and specifically targets mothers with children under the age of two — children two and under being the most vulnerable, due to malnourishment and to physical and psychomotor development issues.
Despite Nicaragua’s growing hipster status as an in-the-know surf spot, most of its six million citizens suffer from a lack of infrastructure and social and government support due to years of a corrupt dictatorship, a devastating 1972 earthquake and the Sandinista Contra war. Though Nicaragua’s current president, socialist Daniel Ortega, is in his third term and the country is at peace, labourers earn less than US$2 (or about RM6) a day, and in the past five years, a drought has devastated the local coffee export industry.
El Cuá, a village of about 2,000 people that was once the seat of the Sandinista movement, lies about 60 kilometres from the Honduras border. Getting there starts with a drive north from Granada into the jungle, where we spend the night at a hotel in the small city of Jinotega. The area produces 80 per cent of the nation’s coffee crop, yet still has the feeling of a town untouched by modernity. Its colourful buildings are festooned with flags and paintings of local lore, and every Friday night the high school marching band hits the streets playing a mix of indigenous-inspired music.
The following morning we continue another three hours by car on dirt roads to El Cuá, where Berry and I will meet her helicopter. The region is mountainous and strung together by a series of volcanoes, the terrain a mix of small patches of scythed land and coffee plants growing under a canopy of acai, bougainvillea and palms. The heat is excruciating, and since this is the rainy season, it only gets hotter after a downpour.
With Berry, we visit two local schools: one with 85 students, the other with 136. The children, who range in age from three to 12, are small. They have no books, no pencils, no school uniforms. Only 20 per cent of the 100 or so homes (mostly dirt-floored wooden huts) in each of the small locales have running water from the communal waterhole. The rest gather their water from unsafe shallow wells.
Despite all of this, there are no reports of serious illnesses besides asthma and occasional intestinal issues. Berry engages the children by meeting with each class, enquiring about their work through a translator. At one school she joins in the distribution of food, which amounts to a handful of rice and beans with a piece of tortilla and a vitamin fortified drink. For some, it’s the only meal they’ll receive all day. For others, like Juan Francusco and his wife, Zorayda, whom Berry visits at their home, their four children now may have another tortilla for breakfast and dinner.
“There’s nothing harder than witnessing small, innocent children with glazed-over eyes,” Berry says. “There’s such a need and despair and yet joyfulness. That’s a lesson for us all.”
To make a donation to Watch Hunger Stop and the U.N. World Food Programme, visit destinationkors.com/watch-hunger-stop.
Michael Kors and Halle Berry Berry serving schoolchildren their daily meal at El Progreso
WFP staff and local community members delivering food
A typical WFP school meal served in Nicaragua
Watch Hunger Stop digital takeover in Times Square, 2013
Berry talking with students
Berry with smiling students at a school near El Cuá
Michael Kors Limited Edition 100 Series watch
A family home in El Cuá Aerial view of Jinotega province, Nicaragua
Chrissy Teigen, Candice Swanepoeland Lily Aldridge modelling the 2014 Watch Hunger Stop T-shirt