Since 1994, Vitamin Angels has provided lifesaving vitamins to more than 40 million mothers and young children in more than 50 countries in its fight against malnutrition, the number-one cause of preventable child death. On their journey to combat poverty and encourage healthier lives, Vitamin Angels founder Howard B. Schiffer and talented photographer Matt Dayka created Dreams for Our Children: Vitamin Angels’ Journey to Change Lives , a photography book that gives a face to the organization’s cause and depicts the hope and integrity that lie hidden behind impoverished eyes. Dayka recently answered a few questions via email about Vitamin Angels, the book, and the nonprofit’s ultimate goal of going out of business.
What is the main concept of the book? Although the solution Vitamin Angels offers is simple, the problem is extremely complex. Globally, people’s lack of proper nutrition is linked not just to poverty, but education, cultural beliefs, access, and availability. We wanted to walk people through an understanding of how interconnected these issues are and show how something like vitamin supplementation and nutritional education can help break the cycle of poverty and even save lives.
Why did Vitamin Angels create this book? We created this book as a way to connect viewers with the people Vitamin Angels serves: as a glimpse into their everyday lives, to offer an opportunity to understand the challenges these people face, and educate viewers on the simple yet dynamic solution we provide.
How do you feel that the photographs in your book exemplify Vitamin Angels’ cause? Vitamin Angels’ mission is one of hope and positivity. While the people depicted often live in deplorable circumstances, you see that so many are smiling and full of life. There is a true sense of joy and dignity in their everyday lives, and we choose to focus on that. The photos show viewers that despite their conditions, these are people, just like the rest of us. Children all over the world play the same way, and every parent wants the best for their children.
What have been two to three of your favorite memories or projects while working with Vitamin Angels? After having traveled internationally with Vitamin Angels on over 30 trips, I have an incredible amount of cherished memories. Without a doubt, though, my favorite part of the work is playing with the children. Oftentimes, we are visiting communities that nobody visits; not locals and certainly not foreigners. The children are usually a little shy and reserved at first. Each community I visit, I have to engage the kids, play with them, and get them to open up before I can capture the genuine moments I am after. Additionally, I am often traveling with donors who are visiting, for the first time, the projects they help fund. The experience they have witnessing firsthand where their contributions go can be a life-changing experience. People’s hearts get blown open, and I am honored to be a part of that experience with them.
What has been your most rewarding experience while working with Vitamin Angels? The most rewarding part of working with Vitamin Angels has been the opportunities I’ve had to connect with people all over the world. My perspective of the world has been forever changed by the kindness, generosity, and grace I’ve encountered in people from all walks of life, and the lessons they have taught me.
What about Vitamin Angels first appealed to you? What first appealed to me about Vitamin Angels was their respect, optimism, and integrity. They didn’t want to showcase the conditions or despair. Rather, they wanted the joy in people’s lives to be center stage and to highlight their dignity and humanity. It’s easy to guilt people into giving by showing them the horrible situations that exist in this world. It is much more profound to make people realize that we are all the same, and that each of us deserves an opportunity to live a healthy life. Positivity courses through the veins of this entire organization.
What are your hopes and goals for the future of Vitamin Angels? The ultimate goal for Vitamin Angels is to put itself out of business. Howard [Schiffer] has always imagined a world where the services this organization provides are no longer needed. Until that day comes, the goal is to continue to raise funds and reach out to more and more people falling through the cracks of the various systems in place.