Throughout the week of Oct. 24, members of the ONE Campaign at the University participated in a voluntary challenge to live on $1.50 per day — the projected amount those living in extreme poverty in Africa and throughout much of the developing world rely on to survive. This experiment was part of a Campus Challenge to raise awareness of the escalating famine in the Horn of Africa and the incredible potential of Feed the Future — a lifesaving program under the United States Agency for International Development that works to reduce poverty and hunger by training farmers and equipping them with the necessary skills and supplies to help better feed their families and entire communities.
The challenge coincided with the present budget debates in Congress, where less than 1 percent of the budget goes toward proven programs like Feed the Future, which are at risk of being cut. We became even more passionate about the devastating effects these cuts would have after realizing the difficulty of surviving on $1.50 a day. We would like to note that before participating in this challenge, we were aware that it would only serve as a model and was not a realistic interpretation of what living in extreme poverty is like.
The start of the experiment proved to be the hardest for most. Participants frequently complained of eating rice and cooking beans for hours. I personally became sick half way through the experiment and was forced to stop. However, in my first two days, I noticed that I was perpetually tired, experienced mood swings, found it difficult to pay attention in my classes and had no energy to take part in my daily activities. Some ONE members had similar responses.
“When you go shopping with only $10.50 for the whole week, you realize quickly that you have to sacrifice good, quality ingredients for the cheapest option you can find. When the last two days came around and food was running really short, I started getting a panic feeling that I may not be able to feed myself,” said Mary Kate Cartmill, an LSA senior and student leader of the University’s ONE Campus chapter. “By the third day, I was having trouble staying awake in class and a three-hour shift at work drained my energy. I didn’t realize how huge of an impact diet has on concentration and productivity, which are both essential as a student.”
At the end of the experiment, we reflected on our experiences and had similar responses to the effects of the challenge. We agreed that it made us more aware of the famine and food crisis currently taking place and allowed us to better understand the difficulty faced by the inconceivable number of people living on this amount or less every day.
“I can’t say that at the end of this challenge I know what it’s like for the 1.4 billion individuals around the world living on $1.50 a day because I always had the comfort of knowing that at the end of the week I was able to revert back to ‘life as usual.’” Cartmill said, “but I think the first time seriously asking yourself ‘What am I eating tomorrow?’ really makes the plight of those individuals sink in a little deeper and brings the entire issue a little closer to home.”
Since this project, ONE members have made phone calls, written letters and collected petition signatures to help stop cuts for programs that are saving and improving lives throughout the developing world – all for less than 1 percent of the entire U.S. budget. Our experiences from the $1.50/day challenge are driving us to engage University students and inform them of this escalating crisis.
Michelle DiMuzio is an LSA freshman.