Forty women. Forty cameras. A common focus: The experience of hunger and poverty and their ideas for change.

Witnesses to Hunger is about participation and action. Through a technique called “photovoice,” the Philadelphia GROW Project at Drexel University provided digital cameras to more than 40 mothers in Philadelphia so the mothers could frame the issues most important to them and their children. Exhibiting their photographs to the public is only the first step in this dialogue; the GROW Project will incorporate these photos and stories into recommendations for policymakers and will work with the mothers who want to testify for changes in legislation.

We say as a society that everyone has basic human rights: access to healthy food, affordable and safe housing, the highest attainable standard of health, education, and the chance to reach their full potential. What these women show us with their photographs and stories is the difference between what people are entitled to and what they actually get. The women of Witnesses to Hunger share a complicated portrait of public assistance—from hunger to health, from the devastation of neighborhoods to the creation of communities. These women are teachers with invaluable lessons to impart.

Although there are many advocacy groups seeking to eradicate hunger, those who have experienced hunger are rarely provided with an opportunity to participate in the national dialogue. The importance of providing a space for these mothers to speak out cannot be underestimated—in meeting on equal footing with policy makers, academics, and Americans with little awareness of poverty in this country, these women are combating the invisibility of poverty. The Witnesses are not passive recipients of welfare or simply the subjects of a new research project on the urban poor, they are mothers working for better opportunities for themselves and their children and they are their own advocates for change.

What these mothers know -- and what their pictures show us– is how hard it is to nourish a child when every day presents limited opportunities and impossible trade-offs: rent or medicine, heat or breakfast, diapers or fresh fruit. Each of us is invited to look and listen for their guidance.

1. www.witnessestohunger.org