We often hear some form of the statistic that 80% of the world lives on less than $2 per day. But what does that mean? Turning a person, a family, a people into a statistic cuts off our empathy and understanding. We make excuses, saying we’ll contribute next time or that homeless person is just going to take our money and buy booze.
I’m not asking for any contributions. I am asking for you to reconsider the way our world works. You can read more about the Live Below the Line Challenge here, but this is a chance for me to experience what we so often hear about. To take facts and statistics out of the ether and give it a story with a soul. To empathize with my fellow human beings – not to prove any point, but simply to feel compassion and connect with our shared humanity. To know what it is, just a little bit, to feel the tangible burden of hunger or poverty. To practice a little knowledge, without judgement.
I do believe in direct donations to worthy, efficient, and progressive causes – organizations that alleviate current crises, but also establish a base of self-sufficiency for the future. Some of my favorites are Concern Worldwide, Oceana, Betasab, Kiva, The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, several local groups to assist returning veterans, Charity:water, WWF, Partners in Health and many more. I have a rotating group of organizations that I donate to, contributing 10% of whatever I spend on myself for the month.
In the short term, donating money is a great solution, or making a small microloan investment to help others help themselves. But I think we need to change the SYSTEM that brought us here in the first place. We shouldn’t buy cheap goods because they keep others in a cycle of poverty or exploit the environment. By paying just a little bit more for fair trade, sustainable, and eco-friendly products, we’re investing in a system that saves our planet, helps small business owners, and treats everyone as equals.
One thing I learned at my internship for Concern Worldwide is that “charity” can sometimes come with an assault on human dignity. If we only portray people as victims, hapless suffering victims, we rob them of their dignity. We don’t share the whole story: of a man who just wants to feed his children, a woman who wants to start her own business, a child who hungers for sustenance AND a good education. Aren’t those stories found the world over? People looking to love their dear ones and make the best life they can? These people don’t require our charity – they just require the same chance, the same opportunity, afforded to us.
That’s why, for me, this challenge isn’t so much about charity. It is about EMPATHY. It’s about doing what is right because we’re all connected. We’re all human. We’re all equal. We all love a damn good bar of chocolate. And we all think orangutans are cute and cuddly, at least the baby ones, so we should all buy fair-trade palm oil to save rainforests and large primates.
So how am I going to live on $1.50 per day? Well I must say first that I am incredibly grateful that this is an experiment with a finite period, because to imagine the stress of always having to decide how much your family gets fed or what bills you can afford to pay – that’s where the “grinding” comes in the phrase “grinding poverty”. Worrying about money all the time hurts your soul.
In this challenge, you are encouraged to stock up on groceries before the 5 days begin. I won’t be eating anything or doing anything that will damage my health. My main staple is going to be chicken bones, which I can buy for under $1.00 here in Japan. They have a little meat on them, so I’ll make a stock to nourish me throughout the day and make sure I can get essential nutrients and protein.
I’ll be trying to forage for some of my own food. My friends went to the beach and spent an hour digging clams in the sand, and they shared their generous harvest with me. We’ve started a community farm, so I might be able to get some vegetables from that. The kindness and generosity of acquaintances is a much greater necessity when you don’t have funds in abundance, and I think that many of us are missing out on a community experience that comes with shared resources and the courage it takes to live with less and still be happy & grateful.
But mostly I’ll be holding out, rationing what I purchased a few days ago, and being incredibly grateful for clean, running water, a definite assurance of food every day, and all the other simple things that so many go without. I consider myself extremely appreciative for all the love and warmth, friendship and support that I have in my life, and you are a part of that. Thank you for being a bright spot in my life. If you feel so inclined, you can be a bright spot in others lives too.
And, just for kicks, more fur & fuzz: