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Sabrina Dhowre Elba says VR tech allows you ‘inside’ poverty to rebuild empathy

Sabrina Dhowre Elba said using virtual reality (VR) to step inside the lives of those experiencing poverty will help “rebuild empathy” for those struggling.

The activist and model, who is married to British actor Idris Elba, has helped launch a VR film titled On The Brink which brings to life the consequences of the global hunger crisis amid conflict, climate change and spiralling food prices.

The film, from charity Save The Children, comes as an estimated 18.3 million people have died globally from hunger since the Ethiopia famine in 1984, according to new statistics from Hungry For Action.

“While not directly connected with the production of the film, the attention for the issue is something that I have been working for and resonates quite closely with the work that I do, it’s an important issue to me,” Ms Dhowre Elba told the PA news agency.

“We all feel that there is so much happening in the world right now, but because of everything going on, it does feel that we’re becoming more conditioned to this type of issue and that it isn’t as impactful as it maybe should be.

“The word famine alone should be enough to haunt all of us, it’s a very jarring situation and the extremeness of it should be something that’s taken very seriously, but I think unfortunately, it isn’t.

“It doesn’t resonate in quite the same way especially when you see governments cutting budgets and short-sighted funding.”

On The Brink was shot in drought-affected communities in Somaliland last year, where years of failed rains, conflict and rising food prices have plunged millions into poverty.

World premiere of Luther: The Fallen Sun – London
Idris Elba and wife Sabrina Dhowre Elba (Ian West/PA)

Using 360 technology, photographer and Save The Children ambassador Misan Harriman captured the story of Ayan, who lost her four-year-old son to malnutrition, and Faisa, whose one-year-old grandson died from hunger-related illnesses.

UN Goodwill Ambassador Ms Dhowre Elba told PA: “I think this type of VR tech allows for someone to feel they are in that person’s shoes, they’re on the land, they are in the situation, in a way that we couldn’t do before.

“We used to see on TV child after child, and you start to feel disconnected, but now with this type of technology, to see people’s stories and to feel like you’re inside, and you’re there where they are, I think that kind of changes things and allows us to connect a bit more emotionally.

“I think the biggest distance between two people is a story.

“It’s just about learning each other’s stories to rebuild that empathy.”

The film’s production creates interactive scenes by stitching together thousands of pictures to make a fully immersive experience.