There is only one thing to wear when trying to bring food and sustainability to hungry villages in a malnourished, foreign country: a little black dress.
Joy Bruce, 36, and Amber Herlocker, 32, have their cocktail dresses picked out for the Nov. 7 Ansanm Ministries gala at Hendrick Motorsports Team Center off Morehead Road near Charlotte Motor Speedway. The swanky event will feature food by Doughgirls Catering of Kannapolis and entertainment by the Josh Daniel Band.
The same evening, 1,200 miles away, young girls will be barefoot, wearing tattered dresses made from pillowcases, and balancing buckets of wet clothes, supplies and materials on their heads as they walk miles from the river to their sticks-and-mud huts.
In the Haitian villages of Cange, SiteJane and Bernaco, the children have eaten their only meal for the day while they were at school. Bruce and Herlocker have met these children, and their hearts are consumed by them. That is why they celebrate.
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Nov. 7 will be a time to recognize the accomplishments of Ansanm, the nonprofit ministry established by Bruce and Herlocker, photographers-turned-business partners who own Joy and Amber Photography.
The Midland residents attend church together with their families. In March 2012, they were invited, as part of a church mission trip, to teach creative arts as a means of stopping hunger in Cange, Haiti.
“We came up with a workbook including how to turn on the camera and the very basics of photography,” said Herlocker, who taught the art to middle and high school students in the impoverished country. “They were amazed. Most had never seen an image of themselves in print. …We take things for granted, including our gift (of photography). You take it there and it changes their lives and their perspective,” said Herlocker.
She explained that teaching photography gives the students an industry that can bring an income to their family and the ability to feed their villages.
Besides the Haitian people now selling their artwork in Haitian markets (primarily as souvenirs to missionaries and tourists), a section of the Joy and Amber Photography studio on Union Street in downtown Concord sells artwork made by Haitians. All the proceeds from the Ansanm shop are returned to the villages in the form of food and supplies.
When Bruce and Herlocker first returned from the Haiti mission trip, they partnered with Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief agency that coordinates food distribution with organizations around the world.
Ansanm has shipped four 40-foot freight shipping containers – each with 285,000 packaged meals – to feed the children of 12 Haitian schools for 10 months. Herlocker and Bruce travel to Haiti at least twice a year to check on the Haiti-based side of the operation and to determine the evolving needs of the villages.
“We are not trying to Americanize the people of Haiti,” said Bruce. “The goal of missions is not do something for them, but with them. ‘Ansanm’ means ‘together’ in Haitian Creole, (and the ministry is named so) because we are doing this together.”
With the help of Ansanm, people of the identified villages have established gardens to produce their own food source and provide sustainability. In turn, the residents can help their villages and recommend others who could benefit from the same type of support from Ansanm.
“We are there to support the Haitians with their visions and projects, with the communities that they choose,” said Herlocker.
In December, 2012, the ladies learned of a remote village struggling to survive. They followed a narrow, 6-mile path across winding mountainsides to reach the village of huts. Their photos show lethargic children, slight and frail, with a red tinge to their hair, an indicator of malnourishment.
“We are storytellers. We want to capture and share their struggles,” Bruce said.
Ansanm helped to start a village garden, teaching the people of the village to plant, farm and harvest, to feed the community and sell the surplus at markets.
In June 2013, Bruce and Herlocker returned to Haiti and photographed children playing. The children had huge smiles and trusting eyes, and the crimson tone in their hair had vanished.
“This is how we communicate,” said Herlocker, “through pictures.”
Bruce and Herlocker are inviting the community to attend the gala, enjoy the entertainment, silent auction, dinner and open bar and join in the event. Items made by Haitian locals will be featured in the silent auction.
Herlocker and Bruce will share the stories of the Haitian people, the efforts of Ansanm and opportunities to sponsor students and end hunger in Haiti. The $75 gala ticket raises money for gardening, packaged food and education for the children of Haiti.