When you buy this book, you are buying four separate small volumes in something akin to comic book format, each one focusing on a different country, a different major social issue, a different person or people. The people are those who lack a voice – a missing teenage girl in Juarez, Mexico, where pretty young girls disappear almost nightly; an AIDS-infected mother and baby in Malawi; children enslaved in the sex trade in Burma. The stories they have to tell us, either in their own words or interpreted by one of the named authors, are not easy to hear. The pictures that accompany their stories, created by artists for maximum emotional impact as well as bizarre beauty at time bordering on purposeful shock and ugliness, are not always easy to look at.
Mia Kirshner was a successful young actress when she decided to turn her life in a different direction and use her resources to help the lost and dispossessed. She states that her father was born in a displaced-persons camp in Germany, and her mother "was displaced from Bulgaria when she was six." This gave her an inner drive to locate and assist people who have no home, no nation or support. In her acting career, Mia has portrayed oddball, mildly perverse characters. In her parallel life as a social activist, she reaches out to the most distressed victims in the world – victims of crime, of war, of social disregard and displacement, and victims of unspeakable perversity.
Kirshner herself went to Burma to record stories of girls (for they are the expendable ones) sold by their parents. Perhaps their parents believe the child will work as a maid, or perhaps they know the truth but ignore it, only knowing that they can't feed her and someone else can. The girls quickly learn that it is their virginity, their vulnerability and smallness that attract attention. Older girls try to be kind to the newest arrivals, but they are also jealous of the attraction of the new ones, taking away from the pittance of income they have learned to generate by submission to strangers. The dark cartoons that illustrate these horrors are difficult to look at. Kirshner was nearly arrested by Burmese authorities, escaping only because her translator swore she was a missionary. Apparently it's okay to be a missionary in Burma as long as you don't ask questions about the local version of sin. In Burma, as in the other countries highlighted in the four volumes, we see that in most of the world, men continue to coldly and savagely dominate women and children.
In producing this remarkable work, one project was founded, focusing on a Juvenile Center in Lilongwe, Malawi, where boys of all ages languish in despair in appallingly crowded conditions, mainly because they are orphans who have no adult to speak for them. I Live Here will sponsor a creative writing project designed by author Chris Abani at the Center.
The creators of I Live Here work directly with the marginalized people and their families to produce artwork such as this four-part packet to sell and support further initiatives. When you buy the book, you are buying an instrument of change, a charitable arrow shot into the air. Though you may find the stories hard to read and the pictures may haunt your memory, you will know that by opening the books and sharing them with others, you are sharing your concern with the subjects of these tragic tales and perhaps helping them to believe that there are others who care about their plight.
I recommend this book to all who want to make a difference in the world.