MY EXPERIENCE LIVING BELOW THE LINE 2014

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You would struggle to take 15 people out for dinner for $150. But that amount had to feed 15 of us – not just for one meal, but for an entire week.

Last week, myself and fourteen friends from work lived on the equivalent of the extreme poverty line as part of the Live Below the Line campaign. This involved living on just $10.00AU worth of food and drink from Monday until Friday to raise money and awareness for extreme poverty.

There are two major differences between someone living below the extreme poverty line in actuality, and a group of people undertaking a challenge like Live Below the Line.

The first is that $2.00 had to cover our food and drink for the day. For someone in extreme poverty, this amount would have to cover all of their living expenses – food, education, shelter, clothing, medical attention… everything.

The second is obviously the timeframe. Living below the poverty line was our reality for one week, but it’s the everyday reality for 1.2 billion people who live in extreme poverty around the world. While we had a choice to return to our normal lifestyles last Saturday, for people living in extreme poverty this is their normal. Indefinitely. This should not be anyone’s normal.

The campaign is meant to induce understanding and empathy for the people around the world who live under the extreme poverty line. I’ve finished the challenge in previous years feeling overwhelmingly grateful and humbled for the comfortable circumstances into which I was born. Food security is not an issue. I never have to go hungry and I never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from.

This year, I gained an understanding on a different level. A couple of weeks before I started Live Below the Line, I tore two ligaments in my ankle. I went to the physio who immobilised my ankle in a supportive boot, because putting any weight through the joint was causing the tibia and fibula to splay apart. I realised that if I were living in extreme poverty, I would likely have to walk many kilometres – splaying the bones on every step – in order to get medical attention. And I would have to undertake this massive journey on less than $2.00 of food, likely without access to any clean drinking water. The cost of seeing a medical professional  – if there even was a qualified medical professional – would probably mean I would have to go without food or another basic human right for several days or more.

Living in extreme poverty is about more than going hungry. It’s about not having access to basic needs such as access to a medical professional, clean water and education. It’s also about having the opportunity to earn a decent living so you and your family do not remain trapped in the cycle of extreme poverty. A decent living means a family does not have to choose between two basic human rights, like food and medical attention. A decent living means being able to support your family, even when unexpected setbacks – like injury – arise. A decent living means dignity. This is why I am so passionate about buying Fair Trade. It’s a tangible action we can all take in our everyday lives to empower someone to earn a decent living and work their way out of poverty.

This is also the rationale for signing up to Live Below the Line. It brings attention and understanding to these issues. I’ve said it before, but I’ve never learned as much about extreme poverty as I have done when ‘living below the line’. Some scoff at the concept of awareness raising. But I firmly believe that the more people know about extreme poverty, the more they care. And the more people care, the more they do. Same concept for Fairtrade – the more people buy fairly, the more companies do about ensuring their workers in poverty earn a decent wage.

Beyond awareness raising, Live Below the Line raises money to fight extreme poverty. This year, the money raised will fund educational resources in East Timor, a country where 50% of the country live in poverty, and 60% of this number live below the extreme poverty line. Did you know that for every year a girl stays in school in a developing country, her income rises, on average, by 10%? For boys, it’s 5%.

So, I’m waffling a little. How did we do Live Below the Line?

In previous years, I’ve done Live Below the Line solo. This year, since I was in a group, we got to pool our money to try to get more bang for our buck.

To work out how much food we would need, we wrote a menu for one person and then multiplied it by fifteen. Then we set a ‘price to beat’ for each item. We split into groups and delegated each group with the task of finding a number of items for the price to beat – or less.

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Luckily, every group absolutely smashed their target and we ended up around $40.00 under our intial budget! With our extra money, we bought some nice extras that I’ve never been able to afford in previous years living under the line: coffee (5 teaspoons each), tea, salt, some extra eggs and milk.

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This is what our food for the 15 of us for the week looked like:

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Our crate of food for the week!

The meals were much more glamorous than previous years… but still simple: oats made with water and a splash of milk for breakfast. Lentil burgers or 1/2 a can of baked beans on toast for lunch. Carrots for snacks. ‘Fried rice’ (plain rice, some onion fried in butter and some frozen veggies) for dinner. The apple and coffee rations were a treat.

I posted about how I feeling on my Live Below the Line page. In summary, I felt worst on the first and last days of the challenge. On Day 1, I had a massive headache. On Day 5, I preferred to go hungry than eat another bowl of plain starches. I felt ill and, despite being hungry, I didn’t want to eat.

All week, I felt really lethargic and foggy. But as with previous years, the main change was in my mood. I felt flat and  hopeless.

To end on a positive note, my group and I raised over $8000 AU, enough to train 32 teachers. It may seem over-simplified, but I believe all these little actions contribute to change…

I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” – Helen Keller

Yours Fairly,

Ashlee

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