LIVING on $2 dollars a day for an entire week isn’t easy. Lunnie Gan recently undertook the ‘Live Below the Line’ challenge in an effort to draw attention to poverty and shares what she learnt from her experiences along the way.
My stomach growled. It was hungry and it’s been hungry for a while now. I took another bite of the slice of bread in my hand, and took another eager bite of it, hoping it would silence the rumbling.
Never had I thought so dearly about chewing on stale bread.
Recently, I took part in the Live Below the Line challenge, a grassroots campaign founded by the Oaktree Foundation, whose aim is to raise much-needed funds in order to break the cycle of poverty. The challenge asks participants to live on only $2 dollars worth of food each day for five days in May.
As a result of living on a mere $2 dollars worth of food each day, plain white bread became my favourite snack. Oats and pasta were my surviving essentials, and Woolworths Homebrand products became my best friend.
So why did I want to put myself through this anguish? How was starving myself going to help the poor?
I consider myself one of the lucky ones and recognise my privilege; I have never gone to bed on an empty stomach and education — whether abroad or back home — was a given in my family. For me, the challenge was a way to gain an even greater understanding of what poverty was all about, even if my five days of living below the poverty line was but a small glimpse of what some youths around the world face everyday.
But more than just to know what facing poverty was like, I wanted to also help raise awareness and give back. I wanted to raise money to help those in need but also wanted people within my social circle to start talking about poverty and to take the conversation around it seriously.
I started the challenge on May 2. With only $10 dollars to spend from then until May 6, I survived the week mostly on carbohydrates: pasta, oats and white bread. My craving for my meats and sweets had to be put down.
And it was hard. Food is my one and only love — what used to be butter and Nutella on toast for breakfast or takeaway pizza during study time was now replaced by some pretty boring food.
Whenever I had to meet with my friends to eat out during the week, I had to bring my own plain pasta and only drink water while everybody else was feasting on barbecues. I stared miserably at my soggy egg sandwich while my housemates were enjoying their fried to crisp shrimp, drenched in creamy sweet sauce.
During my five day challenge, I received a lot of support from the Live Below the Line Connect Group on Facebook. Seeing other people also complaining about having one banana for lunch let me know that I wasn’t the only person struggling in the challenge and that helped me find the strength to keep going. For those that do decide to take the challenge, the community there can also provide advice on how to cook up decent meals from limited ingredients.
And while it was nice to know that others taking the challenge were in the same boat I was, it also helped to know that my contribution was making a difference. Support from friends and others helped keep me inspired, and in turn, inspired them into action.
Though the five days were difficult, waking up that Saturday morning felt like a blessing (don’t ever leave me again Nutella!).
But for the more than one billion people living day to day below the poverty line, they won’t get that privilege. As great as it was to wake up knowing I could have different food, it was also a sobering experience. Because even though I did end up raising funds, got people talking about poverty and did my part to support those less fortunate, I also knew that my struggle during those five days was nothing compared to theirs — what’s five days when the impoverished live like this everyday.
The problem was so much bigger than I imagined and although I had been aware of poverty, to experience it first-hand was something else entirely. And because of that, I grew to become more sensitive to those issues. I began to appreciate that which I had taken for granted and I can only hope that all those who have taken the challenge, or are planning to, begin to appreciate and acknowledge the luxuries and privileges that they have in their lives.
To learn more about the Live Below the Line challenge, visit the campaign’s official website and find out how you can participate.