The nuts are proud to have a fellow Carleton graduate, Julie Savard-Shaw, guest post today! Julie holds a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management and a Master of International Affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. She is the Campaigns Officer at RESULTS Canada, a grassroot advocacy organization that is committed to creating the political will to end global poverty and needless suffering, and to demonstrating that individuals make a difference when they exercise their political influence. Read on to learn how Julie brings her important work home with her…
Many of us in the development sector have spent part of our careers working in “the field”. For me, it was India. Living there for nearly a year was a formative experience, it allowed me to witness the reach of extreme poverty, but more importantly it has become the lens through which I judge many of the projects I currently work on.
I still remember the drive from Mumbai to Pune. As soon as I stepped out of the air-conditioned hotel, the air was hot, humid and polluted. I thought I’d get accustomed to breathing water in the air and to clothes clinging to my body because of constant sweat, but I never truly did.
When we entered the outskirts of the city, I could distinguish from afar the first signs of a slum. The fragile shelters were made out of plastic and paper. The apparent misery of the slum was, and still is, heartbreaking. I felt guilty. My heart was throbbing in my chest and tears filled my eyes. There I was, driving by in an air-conditioned car, money in my pocket, on my way to study at the University of Pune while children were rummaging through piles of garbage.
As is customary for foreigners and more well-off Indians to do, I hired a maid. To supplement her income, Parveen and her 15 year old daughter also spent hours making fresh flower garlands, used for Hindu ceremonies.
While Parveen probably lived above the poverty line, every single Rupee was accounted for. Recognizing the nutritious benefits of fruits and vegetables, Parveen would make sure to buy bananas and apples when her kids had exams- a luxury they did not enjoy on a daily basis. I also often noticed that Parveen would only eat if there was some food left over.
Looking back, I realize how sheltered I was from the realities of extreme poverty. Even when I was working in the remote village of Rajgurunagar, eating the same meal as my neighbors three times a day (rice and dal), I could supplement my diet with fruits or snacks whenever I was hungry because I could afford it. Ultimately these luxuries will always be available to most of us here in Canada and arguably there is nothing morally wrong with enjoying them; however, at the very least, we should appreciate them.
While I work to combat global poverty on a daily basis through my advocacy work, it is easy to feel disconnected from the issue. I have therefore decided to take on a personal challenge: from April 29, 2013 to May 3, 2013 I am going to Live Below the Line, eating and drinking on $1.75 a day for 5 days. It is not about pretending to be poor; instead, it is about experiencing what it is like, if only for a short time, to have limited choices.
The experiential nature of Live Below the Line also makes it a really effective way to raise awareness about extreme poverty, without using the standard facts, figures or intangible information because it is a personal experience. And a personal experience it already is! Anytime I mention that I will be living on $1.75/day I get one of two reactions: “You won’t be able to do that” or “Well, that’s easy, just buy [insert a cheap food item, ex: Kraft Diner, ramen noodle soup, etc.] for each day”. Easier said than done. Yesterday, I went grocery shopping with my coworkers for my upcoming challenge week and let me tell you that it was not easy. Comparing prices, planning meals ahead of time, counting grams and cups and caloric intake; it was a nightmare. While I don’t think I’ll be hungry, I anticipate experiencing major cravings, caffeine withdrawal and overall dissatisfaction.
It will be difficult and I will be cranky, but I keep reminding myself that millions of people live below the poverty line. Millions of people eat like I will be eating for the next 5 days. I can do this. I am doing this. I am doing it for Parveen and her daughter and for the countless women I met in Rajgurunagar who struggled to feed their families.
To find out more about Live Below the Line, visit: www.livebelowtheline.ca
To donate to my challenge visit: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/jsshaw