Last week I participated in the Live Below The Line, a fundraising challenge to live on a food budget of £1 a day for five days. The aim of the fundraiser is to draw attention to the lives of 1.2 billion people who live on less than a £1 a day and raise money for charities that help some of these people. I fundraised for SCI, a Giving What We Can recommended charity, which creates and scales deworming programs with impressive cost-effectiveness.
I was surprised at how difficult I found the challenge. First of all, it was very time consuming. Thankfully I had lots of advice from other people who had done the challenge before, but even so, planning out my weekly shop took up a lot of time and poor planning meant I had to do an extra shopping trip in search of cheaper oats. Second, the food was very boring. I didn't expect this to bother me but I found myself craving variety and a bite of my friends' tastier food. But the biggest difficulty for me was how restrictive the food budget was on my decisions. I couldn't do anything out of routine, for example, forgetting my lunch for work became a stressful scenario. But I also had to miss out on social experiences as simple as having a drink with friends. All of this sounds relatively trivial but when compressed into a week has an impact on your life experience. To claim that this was anything like as difficult as the situations people actually living in extreme poverty face would be preposterous, but I do feel I gained a better appreciation of the power of money and the role it has in our lives.
One of the hardest things I find about challenges such as Live Below the Line is how to react to such an experience. What should my take away be? There's something grotesque about realising how difficult it is to live on a restricted budget and then blowing the equivalent of my week's food budget on a breakfast of French pastries, without changing my actions.
What do I do with the realisation that I undervalue the experiences I have and that most of life involves a cost which is a luxury on a global scale? I'm not sure there is any completely appropriate way to respond.
The most important thing for me is not to let this realisation result in inaction. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of inequality and not do anything. For me capturing that passion to help and make sure something really tangible happens involves doing something practical, easy, but powerful. It's also something anyone can do:
This doesn't radically change my way of life, I still eat croissants, but it does have a huge impact on the lives of other people.
You can still donate to my campaign here. I reached my target of £2,000, but the more donations to SCI the better!