Coralie’s Experience Poverty: Facing up to what being truly poor means

On Monday I am starting Experience Poverty, a worldwide challenge designed to raise money for and awareness about extreme poverty. The challenge asks you to feed yourself on £1.50 a day, the average amount a poor person in a developing nation has to spend on food. I am going for a week, and am excited and apprehensive.

This post was first published on Giving What We Can

UNICEF-IF-300x246 (1)My excitement is mainly due to the overwhelmingly positive reaction I have received to my fundraising page. Acquaintances have sponsored me. Strangers have sponsored me. This only goes to show how generous and willing to help others people really are, when given a little push in the right direction.

I am apprehensive because I have a lot going on in my Experience Poverty week. I have three job interviews and have recently taken up weightlifting. I have already been told by several people that I must take it easy and make sure I get enough calories, and they’re right. If only it were that easy for those in real poverty.

Extremely poor people typically spend their time doing manual work, farming and travelling on foot for long distances. They can’t choose to ‘take it easy’ – they must do physical work on the limited calories they have, otherwise no food comes in at all.  Some reports even show that during bad times, children are often fed significantly less than they need so adults can eat more; this ensures that the physically  capable parents have enough food in them to keep working, and their children have just enough to survive in a severely weakened state [1].

I don’t have children, but the idea of having to deliberately starve my children in order for myself to keep working to maybe –and it’s a big maybe– get enough for them later on, is horrific to even contemplate. By comparison, spending seven days on low calories is nothing.

Actually, I was feeling quite smug about my chances of doing well on Experience Poverty in the run up – £1.50 over seven days is £10.50, about what I used to try to spend at the supermarket as a student. This is what I bought for my week, and it does look a bit like regular student shopping.

When I bought it however, I started to feel uneasy. Yes, that was what I approximately spent at the supermarket as a student, but I also ate out more. Got a coffee between lectures. Had a snack at a friend’s house. Got a kebab after a night out. Went home for dinner.  Whereas, I won’t be able to accept so much as a cup of tea while I am doing the challenge.

In fact, as part of my challenge, I decided to donate the difference in what I would usually spend on food in a week and what I was spending during the challenge myself, confident it wouldn’t be hugely different.

The difference was £38, and a genuine shock.

I’ve been spending a lot more on food than I thought – and most of it is just stuff I want (like a nice coffee or a chocolate bar), not stuff I actually need. After the challenge, I could spend more carefully and actively think about my food consumption. I could save money, and therefore maybe have more to give away to effective causes like Deworm the World, where all the Experience Poverty sponsorship money is headed.

That’s scary and exciting too.

[1] –  Dasgupta, Partha, Economics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (2007), pp.101-103)

Next read about why Larissa is starting experience poverty next week…

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