"Poverty is the worst form of violence" ~ Gandhi
Have you ever wondered what it's like to live on $1.50 a day? That question was in the message line of a recent e-mail from a friend. There I found a link to a poverty awareness project called Live Below the Line.
From May 7-11, CARE, a humanitarian organization working to end global poverty, is partnering with Live Below the Line – a campaign to change the way people in the U.S. think about extreme poverty. Live Below the Line is an initiative of the Global Poverty Project started in 2009 in Australia. It’s an education and campaigning organization whose mission is to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action against extreme poverty.
The campaign’s strategy is to give a glimpse into the lives of the 1.4 billion people who live in extreme poverty by challenging individuals to live on $1.50 a day for food and drink for five days. The challenge is set at $1.50 a day because this is the current equivalent of the World Bank’s International Extreme Poverty Line. And for people who live in extreme poverty, that $1.50 has to cover far more than food and drink. That’s the U.S. equivalent of the money they have daily to pay for everything – health care, housing, transportation, clothing, education and more.
I won’t be accepting the Live Below the Line challenge the first week of May, but I’m aware of the power of such efforts. The stories and statistics on the websites of participating organizations are sobering. They’re far from my reality, so different from the abundance and comfort of my life. I’ve carried the images in my mind ever since receiving my friend’s e-mail, and they’ve reminded me of other times I’ve had heightened awareness of the violence of poverty.
One memory is from my first trip to Nicaragua, chaperoning a group of high school students on a service/learning trip. One day as we dug a hole for an incinerator at a medical clinic, an airplane flew overhead. The Nicaraguan man we were working with looked up at the plane and asked, “How much did it cost you to fly here?” We told him our tickets were about $600 each.
“That’s how much I make in a year,” he said, simply.
That evening, I listened to the students debrief their day. I knew how hard they all had worked to raise money for their trip expenses and what a stretch it was for many of their families to cover the costs. Until then, none of them saw themselves as wealthy. Discovering that their plane tickets alone would use up an entire year of income for a man they’d worked with all day was a powerful economics lesson.
I don’t have to go to Nicaragua to find poverty, though. Even in my prosperous county, it’s evident that many here struggle financially. Paper grocery bags line the hall outside my school nurse office. During the week, staff fill them with boxes of dry cereal, canned soup, and pasta. On Friday, kids on the free lunch program cart the bags home to avoid hunger on the weekend. Many gardeners in my community participate in a “Grow-a-Row” program to share produce with people in need, and many others depend on the local food bank and fresh food pantry to feed their families.
For me, the Live Below the Line awareness campaign is a signal to discern anew what more I might do toward ending poverty. One Quaker organization doing good work to alleviate poverty in India, Kenya, and Sierra Leone is Right Sharing of World Resources. I’m grateful to those who are called to this work and remain open to ways I might serve.