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Giving Voice and Hope to Those in Need

Renee C. Byer

Eighty-five people have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion people on the planet.

The statistic comes from a recent report by Oxfam, the global group of 17 organizations working worldwide to alleviate poverty and injustice.

It’s been worse.

The World Bank in 1981 reported that two in five human beings subsisted on a dollar a day; now that number is about one in seven. Improving from 40 percent to 14 percent is good news, but that means that more than 1 billion members of humanity live on a dollar a day.

That’s still staggering.

However, a former downstate Illinois photojournalist has captured hundreds of images of this phenomenon and not only puts human faces on statistics, but worked with an advocate to suggest resources to do something about it.

Renee C. Byer, an ex-Peoria Journal Star photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, for decades has empathized with the less fortunate, and in the new "Living On A Dollar A Day" (Quantuck Lane Press, 348 pp.) she presents stunning photos that, together, provide a sense of balance as effective as presenting possible solutions to verified problems. Herein are glimpses of squalor and joy, sweatshop labor and familial love, struggle and hope, despair and dance, plus waste and hunger and tears and disease on the one hand, and LIFE on the other – personified by profiles of individuals who’ve successfully made a difference.

In 10 chapters delving into slums, health care, child labor, the exploitation of women, and the subsistence existence of the rural poor, readers see – FEEL – the circumstances. But before hopelessness can paralyze the spirit, co-author Tom Nazario offers valuable resource listings.

Bill Knight

A longtime advocate with the nonprofit Forgotten International, an anti-poverty group advocating for children and the poorest of the poor, Nazario in his Introduction writes, “I began to realize what I was doing was simply not enough.”

In a thoughtful, poignant Foreword, the Dalai Lama writes, “While some people possess more wealth, more good fortune, and more resources than they can ever use, so many others lack even the basic necessities of life. This great unfairness in the human condition can only be remedied when people everywhere care about economic injustice and feel the moral obligation to help those less fortunate than themselves.”

It’s possible if we look – and SEE. Byer makes that possible.

Throughout her career – in Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington and California after leaving Peoria in 1988 – the 1980 Bradley University grad sought out and shared images of everyday people in crisis and in unusual predicaments and the humanity we all share. While in Peoria, Byer effectively portrayed images of the old Peoria Rescue Mission, of people involved in prostitution, and of a Pekin boy who lost his legs in a train accident and who had months of grueling rehabilitation.

Now based in Sacramento, Byer traveled to Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cambodia, Ghana, India, Liberia, Moldova, Peru, Romania and Thailand, and with colleagues interacted with subsistence farmers, factory workers, prostitutes, fishing families, herders, garbage recyclers and beggars. Her work ranges from the heartbreaking shots of a 9-pound two year old intentionally starved by a parent to make begging easier, to boys at play, to the inspiring Miguel Rodriguez, who founded an orphanage outside Lima, Peru, where more than 800 “street children” were rescued.

Byer and others involved also visited charitable clinics, community centers, foundations, and aid organizations, and offer reasons why poverty grips so many in so many different ways. Throughout, she blends beautiful but shocking pictures with a respectful journalism that results in giving dignity and voice to those in need, and giving readers ideas on involvement.

In an Afterword, Byer writes, “I’m asking you not to turn the page quickly. I’m asking you to immerse yourself in these photographs as if this was your reality.”

It’s so disturbing, that it’s not easy.

Byer’s talents help make it easier.

In this splendid work, hardships, hard work and hope coexist, resulting in everyday people helping that 1 billion number fall farther faster.  

Contact Bill at; his twice-weekly columns are archived at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.