By WorldLink Intern Renata Del Riego, High Tech High Chula Vista
Approximately 1.2 billion people worldwide currently live in extreme poverty. That is nearly 3.75 times the population of the United States living everyday in these severe and rampant conditions. There are a vast variety of global organizations and initiatives that are presently working against food insecurity, acute famine, and extreme poverty. One of these initiatives is Live Below the Line, an annual anti-poverty campaign that raises awareness through challenging its participants to live below the poverty line for five days. Additionally, each participant who takes the challenge has the option to choose a global organization that they would like to raise funds for. I chose to fundraise for the Global Poverty Project, which aims to end extreme poverty by 2030.
When I heard about this amazing campaign I was excited about being able to fundraise for a cause as big and important as this one, but later on when I found out about the five-day challenge, I knew I definitely wanted to get more involved. The instructions for the challenge were fairly simple:
1. You have a total of $7.50 to buy the ingredients for all of your meals for 5 days.
2. You cannot grab a snack from the pantry unless you count the cost of the item within your budget.
3. For items such as salt and pepper simply work out the cost of each item per ounce, and budget your shopping proportionally.
4. You can use food from your garden as long as you account for the price of production.
5. You cannot accept donated food from others.
6. You can count tap water as being free.
I did my research, thought of recipes, and told my parents about my endeavor. Of course, they were terrified because they thought I was going to faint out of hunger. I tried to explain to them that I was aware of the possibilities of hunger pangs, lightheadedness, dull thinking, moodiness, difficulty to focus at school, boredom of the food, etc. I knew it was going to be a hard process, but I had the lucid certainty that I wanted to undertake this challenge to contribute to the cause.
The night before beginning the challenge, I went grocery shopping with the limited amount of money I was allowed to spend. Instinctively, I walked towards the fruit and vegetables section only to realize that there was no way I could afford fresh foods. Disappointed, I directed my shopping cart to the “pantry” aisle, and I knew I had found the right place. I ended up buying one bag of white rice, one bag of black beans, half a gallon of milk, a couple of potatoes, oatmeal, and a bag of corn tortillas. As an indulgence, I also bought three bananas and an orange.
Day One: The first day wasn’t very hard. For breakfast I ate half a cup of cereal ($0.19) with a cup of milk ($0.17). I didn’t take lunch to school, which was the hardest part of the whole challenge, since I’m used to eating 4-5 times a day. Once I got home, I had a serving of white rice ($0.18) and two servings of black beans ($0.30). Before going to bed, I had one banana ($0.12), a cup of milk ($0.17), and two boiled potatoes ($0.24). My food for Day One came out to $1.37.
Day Three: My meals began to get repetitive since the recipes didn’t vary much. However, it wasn’t until Day Three that I started to feel the effects of hunger. The third day of the challenge happened to be the day I was taking a very important test, and I realized something was wrong because I couldn’t answer the questions with ease. I had to read each question 3-4 times before understanding what it was asking, but after I did, I didn’t really know how to solve it. Additionally, I had really intense headaches throughout the day and felt as if I was about to faint. Although these effects made it hard for me to perform well in school, there was a sense of satisfaction in that pain and frustration. I knew that what I was doing was part of a bigger purpose, and that I still wasn’t feeling half the hunger others face in the world.
Later this day, I was sitting with my friends at lunch. Not only did they have what appeared to be an obscene amount of food, but they were also playing with their food. They threw apples at one other and threw away their bags of chips that were only halfway done. I was about to say something when a friend of mine intervened. She said, “Let’s not play with our food like that. There are kids in Africa who are starving!” While my friend’s comment was true, what she didn’t realize was that her words also described kids in New York, Los Angeles, and even San Diego. We appear to be indifferent to the fact that 1 in every 6 Americans faces hunger, even kids at our local schools, including myself. It dawned on me that we often don’t realize that our actions can impact and affect people who are very close to us, even if they don’t appear to be going through hardships.
Day Four: Another very powerful realization came to me during a bake sale after school. These school fundraisers tend to be relatively inexpensive. However, looking at it through the poverty lens, it becomes completely disproportional. A friend asked me if I wanted to buy a cookie for $0.50, and while normally I would consider that amount to be extremely cheap, it constituted one third of my daily budget. I started to look at the way in which we spend our money, and how subjective the words “cheap” and “expensive” are.
My five days of “living below the line” taught me how hard it is to not have enough to eat
and to not have the option of choosing a healthy and balanced meal. It taught me that even if something appears to be inexpensive, it could be a whole family’s weekly income. Thus, we must be responsible about the way in which we use our resources. While I feel proud of myself for having been a part of this noble challenge, I understand that those who actually live below the poverty line have no other choice. Unlike me, they do not have the option to stop the challenge after five days, which is why I think that empathizing and putting myself in other people’s shoes is the least I can do to hopefully raise awareness about extreme poverty and inequality. It is our responsibility as global citizens to ensure that people who are living in acute famine thrive, and not just survive. Gandhi said that “Poverty is the worst form of violence,” and after experiencing these tremendously transformative and powerful five days, I definitely agree.
To access Renata’s Live Below the Line fundraiser profile, visit: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/renatadelr.