Even though I signed up to Live Below the Line weeks ago the challenge really snuck up on me this year. And by snuck up on me I should say, in all truthfulness, that I quite purposefully ignored the fact that in the near future I would spend 5 days living on $1.75 per day for food and drink.
This is my third go at Live Below the Line, but my first time taking the challenge in Canada and I was dreading it. You might think that after 2 years of LBL I would be an old pro with nothing to worry about. You might think I’ve perfected the art of buying 5 days of groceries on such a small budget and making the most out of the food that I purchase. You might think that the challenge would be a breeze by year three. And those things might have been true if I still lived in the UK. But after being back in Calgary for 6 months there’s one thing I’ve come to learn – food is more expensive in Calgary than in the UK. In fact, from what I hear from friends and family, food might even be more expensive in Calgary than in other major cities across Canada.
It might appear that I get more money to spend in Canada at $1.75 per day versus £1 per day in the UK, but this amount has been adjusted for purchasing parity which takes into account the difference in food costs. Despite the ‘increase’ I knew this year’s challenge was going to be more intense than in previous years. In the UK we could purchase a box of 100 Fairtrade teabags for .80p and a package of 16 custard creams for £1 thanks to the ‘basics’ line at Sainsburys or other similar low cost options at other shops. But there are very few low cost options at major grocery stores in Canada. Most stores have their own product line, which is usually a little cheaper, but is not aimed at the low budget consumer in the same way that the UK shops cater to this market.
This realisation, that even though I technically have the same amount of money to spend the challenge will likely be more difficult this year, has led me to a second, more important understanding of extreme poverty. I often tend to think of the ‘world’s poor’ in very generic terms. When I hear about the 1.2 billion people who continue to live in extreme poverty I often get the same image in my mind – you may have a similar image – of a person from a particular ethnic background who lives in a dusty, dry rural area and must walk miles to obtain water from a questionable source. But, in the same way that my Live Below the Line experience is completely different depending on whether I do it in Canada or the UK, people living in extreme poverty also have extremely different lived experiences. I don’t know all the stats about who lives where, but I do know that not all the world’s poor live in Africa. Many live in Asia and South America. And not everyone who continues to live on less than $1.75 per day lives in a rural community. Some live in cities. Living in extreme poverty looks different from person to person. And that means that ending extreme poverty is going to look different for each person, community, and country. And that’s what I love about Live Below the Line – there are thousands of people in Canada, the UK, and the U.S.A who are living below the line in support of a variety of charities who are all doing excellent work to help end extreme poverty. Despite my dread I simply couldn’t sit out on the opportunity to raise funds for a charity that is doing such excellent work. Which leads me to why I’m taking the challenge for the third year in a row.
The reason is simple – I believe it’s possible to end extreme poverty and I believe that the lives of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty have value. And we have cause to believe that these fundraising efforts work. The number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990. This has been accomplished in part thanks to the strategic efforts of hundreds of charities world wide. But there are still 1 billion people in the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. There is still more work to be done if we are to end extreme poverty by 2030. And that’s why I’m living below the line in support of World Literacy Canada, who are working to empower people, especially women, by teaching them literacy skills to increase their employability so that they can support themselves and their families. Please consider sponsoring me as I live below the line for World Literacy Canada and be part of the movement to end extreme poverty.