Photo Stories: African Women and Kids
Affected by AIDS Share their Lives


Neal Baer

Neal Baer, M.D. co-created the House is Small but the Welcome is Big and is a member of the Venice Arts' Board. He is a Harvard–trained physician, practicing pediatrician, and award winning television writer and producer. Since 2000 he has been the Showrunner and Executive Producer of the NBC series "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." Before his tenure at Law and Order, he was Executive Producer of "ER." He was also an adjunct professor (2001–2005) at the University of Southern California teaching in the area of health communications, health promotion and disease prevention, and sex education.

Dr. Baer's primary medical interests are in adolescent health and he has written extensively for teens on such topics as teen pregnancy, AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse and nutrition. He also serves on the boards of numerous health care organizations, including the Venice Family Clinic, Advocates for Youth, Children Now, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Dr. Baer has a unique ability to address the intersection between health, social issues, and media. As a television writer and producer, for example, Dr. Baer has developed public–health messages in conjunction with stories from the hit TV show ER, as well as after–school specials for teens on STDs. He also has presented locally and internationally to medical and public health students and faculty, television producers, and others on such topics as: Utilizing the Media to Effect Social Change; Storytelling and Social Change; Domestic and International Policies Affecting HIV and AIDS; Teens, Sex, and T.V.; and Health Messages in Prime Time Television.

comments from website visitors:

Hello; this is a wonderful project! I am a huge fan of your shows (starting way back with ER and love SVU!). I would love to assist in this project in any way possible so please contact me! I love to help others and believe it is my mission while here on earth.
Ms. Treyce d'Gabriel
Phoenix, AZ
Posted Monday, October 08, 2007 3:31PM

Neal, You and the other volunteers work is inspiring and you are a great example not only to these children, but honestly to the adults in this world who don't know how to help.. And the bottom line is.. Find a way and do it.. Awesome man.
Thom Bishops
Posted Thursday, August 16, 2007 1:27PM

Neal, How terrific to see their stories. Great work I am in awe of all of you. B
Brian Ann
Los Angeles, CA
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2007 9:05AM

Just when I thought I couldn't be any more impressed by Dr. Baer than I am I ran across this! THANK YOU Neal for your incredible heart and wonderful work. Andrew
andrew brewer
Posted Tuesday, August 07, 2007 12:08PM

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Shooting back

Neal Baer
M.D. / Filmmaker

Posted 9:45AM on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 Pacific Time

Eighteen children orphaned by AIDS are pointing their cameras with aplomb and shooting images of their lives: stark, compelling, lively, hopeful. They range in age from twelve to sixteen, and they've got a lot to say through their images about living without their parents, most often in small shacks by themselves. That's the harsh truth about AIDS in Africa. Millions of children are growing up alone, a generation without the guidance or love of parents. But there is hope, because of organizations like Reencontro, which make sure that children orphaned by AIDS have food, schooling and a place to live -- even if it's without adult supervision. There are too many children orphaned by AIDS and no orphanages; no real foster care. Unicef estimates that there will be 20 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa by 2010, so we must speak out now for more financial aid to Africa. These children are Africa's future and they deserve the same opportunities to fulfill their passions and dreams as our children have.

Soon on our website you will see the photographs the children of Reencontro have taken that document their own lives. I can tell you from being with them today that you will be moved by their images and stories. Over the past two days, the children, along with six teen activists from UNICEF-Mozambique, have been learning the fundamentals of photography from our talented mentors. Yesterday was spent taking portraits of one another; today was down and dirty in the streets of Maputo, practicing their craft. Tomorrow, their lives at home.

The second part of our project involves making a documentary. Following the same philosophy as "The House Is Small," this film will not be made by an adult, but by one of the children of Reencontro. Today, Chris Zalla, a writer and film director who won the Grand Prize at Sundance this year, and I chose Alcides Soares to make the film. Chris and Zego, a Mozambican documentary filmmaker, taught Alcides the basics of filming. We selected him because of his passion for storytelling, his wry sense of humor, his great eye, and his drive. He's sixteen, he wants to be an engineer (and now a photographer) and he wants "to tell stories about hunger." We took him and all the kids to a restaurant yesterday. I asked Alcides if he'd ever been to a restaurant. "Never," he said firmly, but then smiled, "this is a very good start."

Yes it is. Alcides will take us to his home, where he lives with his younger sister and an elderly woman in a wheelchair. She gives him a small place to live and he cares for her, cooks for her, cleans for her -- and goes to school. Alcides will tell his what his life is like, through his movie, in a way an outsider couldn't.

The movie is being supported by ByKids, an inspiring organization headed by Holly Carter. Check out the website at Alcides's film will be part of five documentaries made by kids and mentored by renowned filmmakers.

And this documentary would not have been possible without the support of my dear friends from SVU: Mariska Hargitay, Chris Meloni, Dawn DeNoon, Jon Greene, Amanda Greene, Mark Goffman, Josh Singer, Paul Grellong, Kam Miller and Ken Storer. They bought the Canon high-def camera Alcides is using. I am so grateful.

Please keep following our adventure.

All my best,


From Madagascar to Mozambique

Neal Baer
M.D. / Filmmaker

Posted 8:55AM on Friday, August 03, 2007 Pacific Time

If you had the chance to visit any place in the world, where would you go? I chose Madagascar. It's one of the most ecologically threatened places in the world and I wanted to explore the region, to understand the importance of maintaining biodiversity first hand. My son, Caleb, and I have been introduced to the evolutionary splendor of the island by Dr. Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International. CI's mission is to protect the biodiversity of our planet, which as we all know is being treacherously threatened by overdevelopment, slash and burn agricultural practices, and dependence on fossil fuels. I've seen a dozen species of lemur, primates found only on Madagascar, and I've come to appreciate the undeniably important work Russ and his colleagues are doing to insure that all species survive our often egregious practice of destroying nature. Please go to to learn more about CI's work and how we all can support them.

On Saturday I leave the glory of nature for the city of Maputo, Mozambique. As many of you know, I am going there to continue my work on a project in which American photographers teach photography to children orphaned by AIDS so that they themselves can document their lives. This project grew out of my interest in storytelling to change lives. I've been so fortunate in being able to write on two compelling television series, "ER" (from 1994-2000) and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (2000-present), where I can tell stories on the cutting edge of social issues. It struck me some years ago that everyone should have the chance to tell stories that move them, because storytelling is the most human and fundamental way we have of communicating with each other. Just think of all the stories you've told your friends, colleagues or families today. What would our lives be without the ability to tell stories?

I was also moved some years back by the book, "Shooting Back," by Jim Hubbard a renowned photographer and Pulitzer Prize nominee for photojournalism. Jim was one of the first people to do something simple: He gave cameras to homeless children in Washington, DC, and taught them to "shoot back," to tell the stories of their own lives. This idea of Jim's was profound. In the past, photojournalists and documentarians went in to often impoverished areas and took pictures, then went home. Yes, these pictures moved us; yes, they were often tragic, beautiful, compelling. And they often moved us to take action. Recall the photo of the young girl in Viet Nam being napalmed, or Walker Evans's images of rural Southerners. As important and moving as these pictures are, they only tell one story -- the photographer's view. I wondered what the "photographee's" story was too.

So I found Jim in Venice, California doing engaging and important work with kids, teaching them to tell their stories by teaching them photography. Almost everyone can tell his or her story nowadays because technology has made cameras relatively inexpensive and easy to use. We raised money last year for a trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where Jim and Lynn Warshafsky, his wife and the director of Venice Arts, taught fifteen mothers with HIV how to shoot. The results are compelling and can be seen on our website, We are now going to Maputo to complete the second half of our project, which looks at HIV in Africa from the perspective of mothers and children. In Maputo, which has nearly half a million children orphaned by AIDS, we will teach fifteen photography so that they can tell us in their own way what it means to live without parents. Our hope is that these photos will tell Americans a story that haven't seen or heard -- and will give these children a chance to share their own tales with people across Africa.

I will continue to blog a bit about this adventure and what we are doing to link people around the world who are doing these projects. Please go to our blogsite -- -- to follow our trek.

My heartfelt thanks go to many people who have supported this project from its inception: Malena Ruth and Gerrie Smith of the African Millennium Foundation, Jeanie Linders, Dick Wolf, Paradigm Literary and Talent Agency, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Universal Media Studios, Peter Hermann, Geoff Cowen and Josh Fouts of USC's Annenberg School of Communications, the wonderful and talented members of Venice-Arts, and of course Jim Hubbard and Lynn Warshafsky for their tireless work.

All my best,



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Disclosing my HIV status was the biggest difficulty of my life. My mother has lost so many people to the virus and always said that she didn't want any of her children to have this disease.
Nwabisa Ndlokovane
Cape Town project participant

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