Some mornings I stop for breakfast on my way into work -- my egg and cheese bagel and medium iced tea runs me about $4.80. A recent student initiative is making me think about that purchase. As it turns out, that $4.80 I spend on one breakfast is more than a lot of people have available to them for a full three days of essential living expenses.
The Global Poverty Project reports that 1.4 billion people are forced to cover all of their living expenses, including food, drink, housing, health expenses, transportation, and education, with only $1.50 per day (this figure is adjusted for US inflation, the international poverty line is actually $1.25 per day). Last week, sixty-three Wellesley College students spent five days “living below the line.” The women lived on just $1.50 each per day for food purchases – an amount symbolic of the extreme poverty line.
Live Below the Line is an awareness and fundraising campaign designed to bring attention to the plight of the extremely poor. First year students Elizabeth Haynes and Zoe Moyer learned of the project while attending the 2011 Millennium Campus Conference in September at Harvard University and were inspired to bring the challenge to Wellesley.
Arrangements were made with the campus dining halls to make 50-cent meals or portions available to participants; one lunch, for example, consisted of just 4 ounces of chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole.
“We get far larger potions than you would, say, trying to feed a family of 3,” Haynes said, acknowledging an advantage to having meals prepared in bulk. But the larger portions didn’t lessen the impact or the lesson. “Although some foods fill you, its obvious that in the long run they would not provide enough stable nourishment to live healthily.”
Haynes and Moyer both report struggling through the experience. By Wednesday, Moyer said she was so hungry and was eating so little that even walking to the dining halls seemed like a waste of time and energy. She spent Thursday counting down the hours until the end of the challenge on Friday which, she says, was when she realized how truly fortunate she is.
“I realized that I had Friday to look forward to,” Moyer said. “People who live in poverty don't have a last day of their challenge. A family in poverty will never have certainty that there is food at the end of a week. And, while this realization is nothing particularly revolutionary, it was incredibly impactful when I was hungry and sick and looking forward to the end.”
Participants each sought sponsors to raise money and each student was encouraged to raise around $50 this year. “We did the math and realized if, at some future date, we could get the participation of every Wellesley student and each student gets supported to the tune of $10 per day, we could raise $100,000 for Global Poverty Project in only 5 days,” Haynes said.
Wellesley College’s Office of Religious & Spiritual Life, along with the College's Dining Services team, and the staff of the Global Poverty Project, provided support to participants throughout.
A national Live Below the Line event will take place May 7-11, 2012. Haynes and Moyer decided to organize a separate effort at Wellesley College so that the event wouldn’t interfere with other student’s preparations for final exams. Both women report that they will participate in the national challenge this May.