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

ELLE (Malaysia) - - CALENDAR -

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 des­ti­na­

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

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