Photography Book

Companion to the Documentary Film by Madonna and Nathan Rissman

Author Proceeds From Book Sales Donated to Raising Malawi

"I am grateful to the author, Kristen Ashburn, for her remarkable ability to capture the truth."

-- Madonna

Through breathtaking images and the poignant voices of its subjects, I AM BECAUSE WE ARE provides an intimate look at the AIDS pandemic in Africa. The book introduces its readers to seven Malawian children orphaned by AIDS. These seven children are just a handful of the 1 million AIDS orphans in Malawi, a country of only 13 million people.

“I AM BECAUSE WE ARE is a book that touches the heart. In photographing the grieving, devastated, still beautiful, children of Malawi, victims of the AIDS epidemic that has murdered their parents, Kristen Ashburn gives everyone on the planet the opportunity to come to the aid of those most bereaved and helpless in this world,” said Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple. “It is a rare gift she gives: for we know in our deepest emotions that without the world coming to the defense and care of these children, the least of these, there will be no world peace.”

The book is a companion to the documentary film of the same name, produced and written by Madonna and directed by Nathan Rissman. The film features interviews with President Bill Clinton, Bishop Desmond Tutu, economist Jeffrey Sachs and many others, and was called, “a shocking and incredibly moving film” by the London Times, and “too valuable to ignore” by Time Out New York, among other rave reviews. 

Both the book and film share the stories and images of children living with the effects of HIV/AIDS. Joyce, a 12-year-old, is forced to care for her younger siblings while her parents die of AIDS; Fanzio, an orphan at 14, declares that he will rise above his own difficulties and ultimately finds help to do so; Sinode, an HIV-positive 6-year old, is carried for hours by bicycle to get the care he needs. 

Each child’s story is accompanied by a series of powerful photographs by photojournalist Kristen Ashburn, images that – in the words of Madonna – capture “the paradox of beauty and tragedy that exists today in Malawi and many other countries in Africa.”  Ashburn has photographed the impact of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa for almost a decade and brings her passion for the issue to bear on every image.

I AM BECAUSE WE ARE takes its title from the traditional African philosophy of ubuntu which speaks to the interconnectedness of humanity, reminding us that the fate of AIDS orphans in Malawi is inextricably tied into our own, that we all rise or fall together.

Across Africa, more than 12 million children have faced the same uncertain fate as these Malawian orphans.  With the authors’ proceeds from the book going to Raising Malawi, a non-profit organization working to help give orphans a better life in that country, the book also provides a ready opportunity for each of us to help make a difference.

“Kristen Ashburn has the rare gift of finding dignity in the midst of suffering, and strength in what ought to be despair,” noted Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliners. “I Am Because We Are should not be hopeful. But it is.”

About the Charity

Raising Malawi is dedicated to bringing an end to the extreme poverty and hardship endured by Malawi’s one million orphans. Co-founded by Madonna and Michael Berg, the organization uses a community–based approach to provide immediate direct physical assistance to create long-term sustainability. It supports education and social programs, and builds public awareness through multimedia and worldwide volunteer efforts. Executive Director Philippe van den Bossche is available for interviews about the organization, book and film.

Author proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the charity for their extensive work with orphans throughout Malawi. For more information on Raising Malawi, please see www.raisingmalawi.org

About the Author

Kristen Ashburn is a documentary photographer who has received numerous honors including a nomination for the 28th Annual Emmy Awards (2007), NPPA- Best of Photojournalism (2007, 2006, 2003), the John Faber Award- Overseas Press Club of America (2006) and two World Press Photo prizes (2005, 2003). The Getty Grant 2006, Canon’s Female Photojournalist Award in 2004, and the Marty Forscher Fellowship for Humanistic Photography 2003. In 2004 she was recognized as one of Photo District News ‘30 under 30 photographers’ and participated in the prestigious World Press Photo “Joop Swart” Master Class. In 2003 she was a speaker at the TED Conference www.ted.com

She began to photograph the impact of AIDS in southern Africa in 2001. Ashburn’s work has also taken her to Iraq a year following the US-led invasion; Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Sri Lanka in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami; Russia to cover the spread of MDR-tuberculosis in the penal system. Her work has appeared in many publications including The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Life and others. She lives in New York and is available for interviews.


Kristen Ashburn