Guest Post: Life Below the Poverty Line is a Horrible Place.

My Shopping List:

Penne pasta: $0.78

Jasmine rice: $1.29

Can of beans: $0.89

Can of spaghetti: $0.89

Oats: $0.99

Bag of carrots: $0.99

Can of tomato soup: $0.74

1 onion $0.41

Sultanas: $1.03

Milk: $1.09

5 small pears: $0.92

Total: $10.02

Day 1:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats in hot water and a pear.

Lunch: Canned spaghetti (this was an operations error. I meant to buy two cans of beans to mix with rice for protein but came home by mistake with spag.). Handful of sultanas.

Dinner: Rice with onion, carrots and beans. A carrot.

It’s not so bad. I thought this would be far more difficult, although I am surprised that I feel hungry already, because I am still eating three meals a day.

Day 2:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Remaining canned spaghetti and a pear.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato soup on it.

I have a headache, and I am hungry and grumpy and anxious. My body is simultaneously withdrawing from caffeine, sugar, nicotine, and quite possibly any other number of food- and wine-related chemical addictions. My body feels as though it’s put together all wrong and I am having difficulty focusing on anything for any length of time.  Woe begets any person who wakes, disturbs, annoys , or—let’s face it—even talks to me right now. My final 18,000-word thesis for a masters degree in International Development is due in two and a half weeks and I am supposed to be focussing and working hard, but all I can think about right now is coffee, coffee, coffee! It is strange, because this is not the first thesis I have written, nor the hardest academic challenge I have faced, but it is the first time I have faced any of it without coffee. This is my Everest!

Day 3:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Rice with carrot and onion pieces and beans and a pear.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato soup on it.

I ‘m going to be honest with you: I want to cheat.  I want to eat a tub of fried food, drink two gallons of coffee, and finish off with a 1kg slab of Cadbury’s finest. But I won’t, partly because so many people have paid money to see me suffer, but mostly because I want to have a better idea of what it feels like to live in extreme poverty.

If I were truly living off this two-dollar budget, then I would have no toothpaste, no shampoo, no soap, no (eek!) makeup. I would not be living in my lovely light-filled, fully furnished open-plan apartment 10 minutes from the beach, with polished floorboards and a security gate. I wouldn’t be typing on this computer. I wouldn’t be warm, and safe.

Take it from me, who has only lived here for three days: life below this line is a hungry, headachey, horrible place. And I sleep at night in a secure apartment, in a queen-sized bed, with thick blankets to fend of the cold, and electricity and plumbing and a fridge and any other number of comforts. The police are a phone call away if I feel scared or threatened, and so are my family and friends if I feel lonely. I live in the knowledge that if I get sick or injured, I will have a choice of doctors who will treat me. If I lose my job, I will have help from my government, a government who I have a hand in electing, and a chance of holding accountable if required, and a government who has real authority. Hunger is no real threat to me here; I am hungry now, only because I have chosen to be. I am so lucky. But the most important thing is, now I know it; it’s a small insight, but an important one.

Maybe the hunger is making me sentimental, but I think half of the challenge is to understand what it is like for those who suffer below the line; it is knowing the physical limitations of living there.  But the other part is understanding that the people we are trying to help are not fictitious, or lesser, or abstract, or really all that different from ourselves.  The people who live there are not faceless or nameless, though often they are depicted as so. They are young people, old people, women, children and men, who have dreams and ambitions, who have extreme determination to survive. The people who live there are wilful, funny, and intuitive; they have great capacity for innovation and great instincts for survival. They are all different kinds of things: hardworking, honest, reliable, efficient. They are human, and come in as many varieties as the people we know and love.  And I think one of the most important things about Living Below the Line (aside from raising money) is that we understand this, not remove ourselves from those who suffer by painting abstract images or pretending the problem doesn’t exist.  Because it becomes too easy to accept the status quo; to say, “there is nothing I can do; this is just the way it is.” Because it is not true! By changing the way we think, by looking at the way we live, we can make a difference.

Day 4:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Rice with carrot, onion pieces,  and beans, and a pear.

Dinner: Rice with carrot, onion pieces and beans.

I hate oats.

Day 5:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Rice with carrot and onion pieces, and a pear.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato soup and a carrot.

In just one week, we have raised enough money to build 7.8 remote classrooms in Papua New Guinea and also provided six full time scholarships to first time students in Cambodia. In just one week, we have made a real and tangible difference to the lives of others, by providing education to people who would certainly not get it otherwise.It is not too late to sponsor me, or someone else, if you have not already. If not now, it is certainly worth considering taking the challenge yourself. Please donate kindly; any amount can go a long way to helping in the fight against poverty. Or think of taking the challenge yourself next year!

On a final note, I also swear to never pay out Aldi supermarket again! For $10 I got more than I hoped for. My advice to anyone thinking of doing this next year is: don’t waste your time and money trying to get some variety. You won’t have variety, and the more things you get the worse quality they will be. If I did it again next year, I would forget the pasta, which tasted like glue, and the tomato soup, which tasted like salt and smelled like vinegar and made me want to gag. This money would have been better spent on eggs or more vegetables for nutrition, which would do more to feed the hunger. (It’s not that there is not enough to eat, the food is just not nutritious so you don’t feel good or satisfied after most meals.) I thought the onion was a cheap way to put flavour in the meals, but forgot that I wouldn’t have any oil to cook it in, so had to either boil, or grill it, which didn’t help much on the flavour front. I wouldn’t waste my time with that either next time.  The pears were a great find, the oats were bearable (they were cheap and powdery, but they were still oats) and the rice was, well, rice; you can’t really go wrong there!

Thank you to everyone who supported me! I hope I wasn’t too much of a pain to anyone who had to put up with me and my constant whinging Facebook status updates!

—Tessa Keane.

Related: Living Below the Line.

Guest Post: Living Below the Line.

For a week this May, I will be living on $2 a day to raise money and awareness for the Oaktree Foundation, in their increasingly successful Live Below the Line campaign. I’ve pledged to live on just $2 a day for five days, from May 16th to 20th.

At first it seems an impossibly small amount, but then you realise that actually a truly ridiculous number of people live on that amount every day.

$2 is the Australian equivalent of the international extreme poverty line—and through this challenge I’m hoping to raise awareness about the issue, but also money to make a difference. You might think that the $2 would go further and buy more in developing countries (that’s what I thought too)—but actually the $2 is worked out to be the Australian equivalent of what life is like for over a billion people. Extreme poverty means $2 per day buying Australian stuff, with Australian dollars. It’s pretty incredible to think about.

It’s definitely going to be hard (those of you who know me, know how much I like good food and wine). There’ll be no coffee, no sugar, no flavour, no alcohol, no snacks and not much nutrition. But if through this I can get a better insight into what life is like for those trapped in poverty—and raise money to make a difference for them—then it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Particularly if you consider that the average Australian spends more per year on confectionary than people living in extreme poverty have to spend in their entire budget. I will spend my $2 a day on food, but if I were one of the people this campaign is raising funds and awareness for, my $2 a day would also have to cover shelter, education, and healthcare as well as food and other basic needs.

Those of you who are able, please donate generously:

  • $50 will provide a classroom in remote PNG with all the stationery they need for a year.
  • $100 will provide a scholarship for a poor student in Cambodia so they can attend school for the first time.
  • Any amount will make a big difference, so please sponsor me with whatever you can spare.  Even $2 each can add up quickly, so dig deep, or take the challenge yourself to raise funds!

Anyone who has any tips on how to survive of this amount, they will be most welcome, so please leave your comments bellow. I will be sure to keep you posted via The Scarlett Woman, with how the challenge is developing and would appreciate any insight that can be offered, because I am not a good cook—I can’t even cook rice!

—Tess Keane.