Chip Duncan walks the walk
Filmmaker and author Chip Duncan perched comfortably on a stool in the living room of friends Friday night as he retold story after story about his travels to Afghanistan, Darfur, Ethiopia and Pakistan, the focus of his latest book, Enough To Go Around (SelectBooks, $34.95)
He had the rapt attention of a crowd of more than 30, who came to see this award-winning documentarian who produced the recently aired public television biography on Herbert Hoover and is currently working with the likes of Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte on a production about Kenyan photojournalist Mohamed Amin.
Dressed in jeans and a sweater, Duncan worked the audience with his eyes and gestured with his hands to emphasize his points. But the Waukesha County resident didn’t have to. His words about the security scares and custom details he encountered in these embattled regions are often documented on the nightly news, making the subject matters all-too familiar to the group.
His main focus has been to find ways to empower women and children, usually the last to remain in the poverty-strickened, war-ravaged regions he’s visited. But Duncan’s desire is not to conjure up pity for these women but rather solutions in the form of sustainable employment, microloans and anything else to help them and their children survive long term. And, in the case of his travels to Afghanistan, his objective was simply to witness the opening of schools for girls.
“There’s so much we can do individually,” he said.
During his presentation, Duncan proudly passed around a leather-wrapped milk jug that women in Ethiopia use to make butter and later sell at market. He also passed around a container of sand from North Darfur, Sudan, a symbol of the area’s sheer desolation.
So much has been said of the dangers and bleak emptiness left behind in these areas that Duncan decided to take an entirely different approach with his book project (released this fall); he focuses on the faces and humanity of his subjects, not to trivialize their situations but rather to show how they somehow find a reason to live — even when women are raped, genocide is soaring and water supplies are sullied.
While his descriptions may be sobering, the images and stories in his book are universally heartwarming. There are doting parent/child scenes, happy kids and busy neighborhood folk (although the neighborhoods might consist of plastic-and-stick structures) working together to make their lives better.
Duncan explains that he didn’t choose the areas that are the focus of his book, but in affect, they chose him, thanks to various assignments and charitable ventures he’s been involved in.
He talked a lot about the word “ayni,” a term in Quenchua, a South American language associated with the Andean people of Peru and other areas. While it doesn’t quite translate into English, ayni means sharing without thinking about sharing. Even though the word has South American roots, Duncan experienced ayni a lot during his travels and thinks that such a value is worth practicing here, too. In fact, he tried to capture ayni in the photographs that give his coffee table read its depth.
Although Duncan has stayed in hotels that were still ripped apart by earthquakes in Pakistan and witnessed the mind-numbing effects of genocide in Darfur, you can tell that he’s not backing off. And, he doesn’t want others to, either. His hope is that his book will help to dispel stereotypes and help people to see others for who they are. Perhaps the last page of his book says it best: “End irrational fear.”