Of the 7.2 billion people living today, 1.2 billion live below the line of extreme poverty.
In order to combat this grim reality, Concern Worldwide, an Irish charity dedicated to the eradication of extreme poverty in the world’s poorest places, became one of several Live Below the Line partner charities for the first time this year during the annual Live Below the Linechallenge.
Live Below the Line is an organization that aims to raise money and awareness for the 1.2 billion people in this world who live in total destitution. In their efforts to raise awareness along with funds, they challenge individuals, corporations, and their partner organizations to live as the extremely impoverished do, that is, to eat and drink for less than $1.50 each day.
This year’s initial challenge ran from April 27 to May 1, and Concern had 363 participants sign-up for their charity. 56 of these fundraised, and they have raised $19,000 to date.
Their top fundraisers were Joan Carroll (a Concern board member), her friend, Krista Kilburn, andConcern’s ambassador, Gabe Kennedy. CEO, Joe Cahalan, and a few key staff members were also some of the top fundraisers. Concern’s minimum goal is to raise $25,000, and there is time for that yet.
Though the initial Live Below the Line fundraising challenge has ended, there is still one more contest from Live Below the Line. The 20 to 20 contest runs from May 20 to June 20: any participant that fundraises any amount during that period will be entered to win a volunteer trip with Volunteers for Peace, while general fundraising will continue on until the end of June.
The extraordinary sum of individuals living on the scant amount of $1.50 per day is dumbfounding indeed- especially since all the other elements of basic living must come from that meager sum as well. To imagine it is difficult, and to try to experience it for even a few consecutive days has proven to be a bigger challenge than those involved in the Live Below the Line challenge anticipated.
Sylvia Wong, the Community Engagement and Program Manager at Concern, was one of many fundraisers who participated in the challenge. She tried her best at the challenge for just a single day, and found the whole experience to be both difficult and instructive. As an added challenge, Wong experienced the hunger pangs of two individuals, as she was 36 weeks pregnant at the time.
“I kept on wanting to cave as I’m so used to the multitude of choices before me each day that I don’t think twice about,” Wong recalled, “but having to restrain caused me to reflect on the lack of choices that people living on the poverty line face. I realized how serious these consequences were for the health of a pregnant mom and her existing and future children.”
The impacts of hunger and stress on an unborn child have been shown in study after study to have an enduring effect on the lives of children, even long after they are born. It is not just the difficulties of their environment, but the effects of stress and hunger can actually alter an unborn child’s DNA, and almost always with unhappy and irreversible results. Many women, like the children that they bare, have little choice in this matter, and must continue enduring such privation one generation after the next.
Gabe Kennedy recently reflected on his work in Haiti, where he promoted the Live Below the Linechallenge and acted as an ambassador for Concern. Kennedy, who is amongst other things, the most successful contestant ever to compete on ABC’s The Taste, the visiting executive chef atBon Appetit magazine, and an all-around champion for responsible human consumption, explained his reaction to the challenge and to his trip to the poorest part of Haiti, where extreme poverty manifests itself in almost absolute ubiquity.
“Going to Haiti, I was really just shocked. I was expecting to see poverty, but I wasn’t expecting to see poverty on that level. I was expecting to see poor people, but I wasn’t expecting every single person to be really poor,” Kennedy said.
“Poverty doesn’t mean that you just don’t have money. Poverty means that you don’t have access, you don’t have education. You’re poor in opportunity, you’re poor in education, you’re poor in environment and lifestyle. Its not just a financial thing. Its a really large complicated system that needs to be addressed if we want to make a difference.”
When I spoke with Kennedy about his experience, he recognized that he is a chef who prepares his culinary creations “from a place of privilege,” and he compared his situation to that of those that he met in Port-au-Prince, who had to struggle every day with limited options in a system that provides them with little opportunity. Though he sensed an underlying somberness emanating from the ramshackle streets and shantytowns that he encountered, he “was also deeply humbled by the positive sense of of hope that accompanied all of that.”
The president and COO of Concern, Aine Fay, also took part in the Live Below the Line corporate challenge, which left her ruminating on themes of privilege and motherhood as well:
“What I re-learned is how privileged I am: to be able to afford a varied healthy diet every day; to be free to choose better quality, fresher produce; to take pleasure and joy in being able to add treats to that diet; and having the opportunity to choose to live a healthy life. I already knew I was privileged and I am so hugely grateful for the choices I am able to make, but shopping on Saturday for 15 people at 50c/person really put that privilege in perspective.”
“But it got me thinking about the people with whom Concern works and how much more difficult this would have been for them. They would not have had the extra money to purchase greater quantities to get overall savings, and while I made the very suspect assumption that $1.50 could be spent entirely on a day’s food, the reality for 1.2 billion people is that this amount must cover everything: rent, healthcare, schooling, and much more.”
“Yes, in many of the countries in which we work the commodities are cheaper, but I still cannot fathom how a mother makes the tough choices that she must make every day: Do we have two meals but not send our daughter to school? Do we eat more rice (or whatever staple food is applicable) to feel full, but have no added protein or vitamin-rich foods? Do we go to the doctor when we so badly need treatment or do we pay our rent to avoid eviction? I am so privileged that the choices I have to make are not life and death ones.” ♦