Exploring vast worlds with Harrison
Student helping people see problems
as not unconquerable
Harvey blends work, study with passion
for civic participation
by Elizabeth Whelan
still havent reconciled Zambia, writes Elizabeth
Whelan in the introduction to her honors thesis, which documents
in photographs and poetry her time spent there in the Kasisi
Orphanage. Above are some of the children who live at Kasisi.
thesis also includes photos and poems that reflect her time
in Honduras, and how people, like this farmer tending his
cornfield (below), are trying to rebuild following the devastation
of Hurricane Mitch.
By Robert Brickhouse
Whelan, a photographer and writer, has few illusions that anyone
can solve all the worlds social problems and inequalities.
by Andrew Shurtleff
Elizabeth Whelans Honors Thesis, "Rainy Season"
Ive always been drawn to art, but Ive questioned
its practicality. For a long time I wished to have an interest
in medicine or something that could produce a tangible, beneficial
response to a problem. Though I never saw my artistic tendencies
as more than a source of pleasure, art always naturally found
a space in my life. But somehow my perspective has undergone
a radical shift. I increasingly see art as having the potential
to be both beautiful and useful. The process of trying to
express suffering is part of the process of its diminishment.
The action of creation is bound up with justice. In this sense,
there is nothing more practical than photography and writing.
she believes a bigger danger is to give in to despair or cynicism.
So she uses her frustration to work for change, even if
it appears to be insignificant. Shell spend next year
with a National Hunger Fellowship, one of about 20 people in the
country selected by the Congressional Hunger Center to work at
grassroots levels with national anti-poverty organizations.
Phi Beta Kappa English and religious studies major, Whelan once
volunteered to teach preschool at an orphanage in Zambia, took
hundreds of photographs and, through an independent study project,
created a Web site with a photo essay. It has helped raise funds
for the Kasisi Orphanage in Lusaka, where many of the children
next summer, with a Harrison Undergraduate Research grant, she
spent six weeks at a remote village in Honduras, documenting the
role of religion in peoples daily struggle to recover from
Hurricane Mitch. This essay, including photos and poems, was published
in U.Va.s undergraduate research journal Oculus and presented
to several forums. Another article and more photos about the village
appear in the current issue of the Womens Centers
national-circulation journal, Iris.
you pass someone from this place on one of the steep mountain
trails and greet them, when you ask how they are they will often
respond, luchando, or fighting, she wrote. This
is how they understand themselves: as fighting for survival in
a world that is indifferent. ... I would have called their fields
idyllic if I didnt see how hard they worked. Every so often
they would stop hoeing, look up at me with my camera, and laugh.
has been one of Whelans passions since high school. Shes
a natural with a camera, and her skilled handling of black-and-white
is becoming a rarity, said one of her advisers, the
photographer-anthropologist David Sapir.
said she hopes the people she photographs are seen as someone
not all too different from the viewer. She doesnt
want anyone to think how sad but, rather, This
problem is not unconquerable. How can I help?
by her parents, she has always been interested both in art and
social issues and has managed to put the two interests together.
Among a handful of students accepted into the English departments
poetry-writing major, she credits several of her teachers, including
the poets Rita Dove, Debra Nystrom and Lisa Spaar, as helping
her see that creativity and social concerns arent mutually
also has been awarded several scholarships for public service
and leadership at U.Va. She was co-founder and president of a
group called HOPE that promotes discussion about eating disorders.
Many young women at U.Va. worry about these issues,
she said. Like hunger, an eating disorder is a nutrition problem
and an indicator of something amiss in our society, she said.
Food is an obsession for most people, whether one has it
was brought up in a socially conscious family. Her mother, a teacher,
and her father, an agricultural economist, took her and her brothers
and sisters to Africa for an aid project and wound up staying
for five years. They lived in a comfortable house, but it
was not unusual to find my mother collecting food in the pantry
for a hungry passerby at our door, Whelan recalled. I
learned that hunger was, and is, everywhere.
she went back to Zambia as a U.Va. student to volunteer, she suffered
a period of disillusionment. She didnt see how such work
did much good. She remembers seeing a once-lively girl she had
known who was now stricken by AIDS. Whelans brother Matthew,
a U.Va. alumnus in the Peace Corps, advised her to try writing
poetry to deal with her frustration. Soon she joined him in Honduras
for another photography-and-writing project.
brother, Kevin, also joined the Peace Corps after graduating from
U.Va. Her younger brother Joseph will enter U.Va. in the fall.
herself, with her Congressional Hunger Center fellowship, will
work for six months at a food bank or community kitchen and then
go to Washington for six months at the headquarters of a national
organization involved in the fight against hunger or poverty.
And, of course, she plans to keep on with her writing, poetry