Live Below the Line the Canadian Version – Why I’m Taking the Challenge Again


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.


Fair Accessories for the Holidays

Is anyone else out there suspicious of all those sparkly, glittery accessories available at the mall? I certainly am. I want to know who made them and how much they were paid. You’ll have an extra glow at the office Christmas party this year with these Fairtrade and Fairmined accessories.

Need to add a little something to jazz up your holiday finest?


‘Double Helix’ Earings by Hovey Lee $48.00

Hovey Lee’s first jewellery collection garnered positive attention from both the arts and fashion world. Hovey Lee upholds the standards of the Fair Trade Federation and the No Dirty Gold Campaign to ensure that all her pieces are made in a way that brings dignity to miners and ensures sustainable mining practices. Add these reclaimed brass accessories to your holiday finery and you’ll feel merry and bright (clever you for seeking out Fairtrade accessories!) the whole night through.

Canada’s ethical diamonds sparkle on the hands of people the world over. Did you know Canada is also home to Fairtrade and Fairmined jewellers?


Custom jewellery from Hume Atelier.

Vancouver based Hume Atelier specializes in bespoke jewellery using Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. They believe in connecting clients to producers and helping people become aware of the people behind their unique products.

T’is the season to pop the question!


Engagement rings from the Fairtrade Jewellery Company in Toronto.

Toronto’s Fairtrade Jewellery Company was the first Fairtrade certified jeweller in North America and is proud to use Fairtrade and Fairmined gold for their jewellery. If you’re planning on popping the question this holiday season make sure the future of the gold miner will be as bright as your future together.

2 Gifts To Warm You Up On A Cold Winter’s Day

The temperature in Calgary has dropped into the -30s (celsius) over the past few days and staying warm is a challenge! Below are two ethical gift options to help you warm up as the temperature plummets.

Calgary boasts several ethical options for the coffee lover in your life.


Three month seasonal direct trade coffee subscription from Phil & Sebastian $105.00

Keep your coffee lover stocked with seasonal coffee that will keep them buzzing well into the new year. The three month subscription from Phil & Sebastian delivers two 12oz bags of seasonal coffee to their doorstep each month. Phil & Sebastian’s dedication to top quality coffee is evident in the relationships they’ve built with small farms in places like Kenya, Guatemala, and Panama. These direct trade relationships mean top quality coffee in your cup and top dollar for farmers and producers.

Warm winter accessories are essential when braving the elements.

embroidered-fairisle-mittens-5302c2e3959fEmbroidered FairIsle Mittens from People Tree $32

embroidered-fairisle-beret-391e5a474f92Embroidered FairIsle Baret from People Tree $32

Your head, hands, and heart will stay warm in hand knitted woollen accessories from People Tree. These woollies are knit by women trained at the Kumbeshwar Technical School (KTS) in Nepal. The partnership between KTS and People Tree ensures that these Nepalese women earn a decent living wage and also puts money back into the community ensuring that children can go to school.

24 Gifts That Can Change The World

It’s that time again when we head out to the shops in droves, debit and credit cards in hand, searching for the perfect gift. In the frenzy of holiday shopping it’s easy to forget the person who made the product you are purchasing. Many of our holiday favourites are grown, created, or made by people in the developing world – and they’re not always guaranteed a fair price or ethical treatment for their labour. This Advent, share the hope of the season with gifts that brighten the face of the receiver and ensure a brighter future for producers in the developing world.

You may be wondering why this Advent gift guide is kicking off on December 9th. Leave it to me to decide to do a series of Advent posts on December 5th and then go away for the weekend with absolutely no time to follow through. But I have found so many amazing ethical and fair trade gifts recently that I had to share! To make up for my tardiness I’ll post 2 gifts per day until I’m caught up with myself (which I estimate should be on December 18th) and then we can savour one gift at a time from then until Christmas.

Without further adieu let’s open the door to today’s two gifts.

Long, cold winter’s evenings are the perfect time to stay wrapped up in a colourful throw while you relax on the couch.

kantha_throw_kantha_quilt_2597_1024x1024Pomegranate Kantha Throw from Dignify $98.00

Dignify was born when Calgary resident Shelley Jones met Vancouver based Robin Seyfert. Robin is the director of Basha, an organization that hires Bangladeshi women who have escaped the sex trade to create their signature Kantha throws. Shelley longed to see their beautiful creations, made from vintage saris, more widely available in Canada so the duo launched Dignify in 2012. These unique throws will keep you warm and ensure fair employment for a woman in Bangladesh.

Dry winters are the nemesis of soft, supple skin.


Lavender Shea Butter Balm from Ten Thousand Villages $14.95

Thankfully, Ten Thousand Villages stocks Fairtrade Shea Butter in gift packs and individual pots. Ten Thousand Villages has provided North Americans with Fairtrade products since 1946 by building relationships with people from around the developing world to bring unique, sustainable gifts to North Americans. Their regular, lavender scented, and muscle soothing shea butter balms are perfect for soothing dry skin and tired muscles after a day out braving the elements.

Will Your Holidays Have Value?

I was at Walmart last weekend. Normally, I stay away from Walmart, but my parents were visiting the big city and needed to pick up a few things. So I was at Walmart, wheeling the big blue cart through the cluttered aisles of cheaply priced and cheaply made products on a Sunday afternoon with my parents, my husband, and a lot of other people. Everyone was pulling those cheaply priced and cheaply made products off the shelves. Some people heaped those products in their carts. Most people seemed frantic to check off their Christmas list before the end of November.

I don’t remember exactly when the overwhelming feeling of sadness washed over me. But I felt sad as we snaked our way through the clothing section with rows and rows of monotonous clothes. I saw a rack of purple and pink dresses all cut in the same style. Having done my fair share of bargain shopping I guessed that the cut of those dresses was likely not very flattering and the stitching was likely not very sturdy. I wondered how long those dresses would last before they ended up in the bin or in a bag headed for Value Village.

I also thought about the people who made those clothes. In my mind I watched as a woman of Asian ethnicity hunched over a sewing machine with her hands moving dextrously. This woman was either starting or finishing a 10-12 hour day and, despite that amount of time, wouldn’t earn enough to comfortably feed her family. The clothing she and countless others stitch everyday is valued more than the labour and lives of those who stitch them and that’s not saying very much.

I felt sad when we wheeled through the holiday section. Garish gift bags hung in long rows, huge bags big enough to fit two small children inside. Boxes of cheaply made decorations in bright colours lined the aisles. I knew that in just over a month most of these bright colours would be shoved into a black garbage bag. I longed to see something of quality, something worth holding onto. A hand painted wooden ornament. Or reusable cloth wrapping ‘paper’ in place of those gift bags.

I felt sad as we waited in the long line at the checkout. So many people out shopping on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Everyone looked miserable. One woman kept bringing out one of those oversized gift bags at a time and holding it up to show her aging mother. Her mother looked so weary, sitting on her walker, and responding to her daughter quietly, in a language I didn’t understand. I wondered if she really cared which elf design would greet the receiver of her holiday shopping.

I felt heavy with sadness. When, I wondered, did we all became so content with so much less? Over the past number of months I’ve started to ask myself when we became so disengaged from the objects and items that we surround ourselves with everyday. When did we stop caring about where our clothes come from and how well they are made? When did we stop caring or even knowing where our food comes from and how it is grown and processed? When did we stop paying attention to the things that make up the world around us? When did we start accepting the fact that the things we buy are hurting people around the world, the planet, and ourselves? When did we become okay with this? Seriously, when?

I almost started pleading with people. ‘Please don’t buy that throw. That throw is one of the same hundreds of other throws on the shelf, made by someone who likely didn’t get paid fairly for their work, and will likely wear out or rip far too soon after you’ve bought it. That throw has no value.’ Or ‘please don’t buy that box of chocolates. The cocoa for those chocolates was likely picked by slaves, some of whom might even be children. Is that the message you want to share this Christmas? I care about you so have some chocolate that was processed by children who missed out on weeks of school? Please pick the chocolates with the Fairtrade label instead. They will likely taste better, which increases the value for you, but also adds value to the wider world by helping those who grow and harvest cocoa in the developing world.’

I feel a deep longing to see more products on our shelves and more businesses that add value to the world. I’m so tired of this race to the bottom where companies look for the cheapest way to make their products and we look for the cheapest price point at which to buy them. I long to surround myself with things that are valuable. Food that is nutrient dense and free of pesticides. Products that will last a long time so that I do not need to keep buying more. Items that were made by people who earn a fair wage for their labour. I’ve reached my limit and my ability to understand why we are so content to fill our baskets, our homes, our planet, our lives, and eventually our landfills with things that have no value.

Micro Finance – Crowdfunding to End Extreme Poverty

My first foray into micro finance was in 2007 while on a field study in Ghana. I went to a small micro finance office in Kumasi to interview one of the female loans officers. The concept seemed simple enough – provide people with small loans to help them build their business and lift themselves out of poverty. As with any loan, the business owner repays the loan as their business grows. When major banks only provide mass amounts of debt with crushing interest rates where could those who only needed a little help to get started turn? In the 7 years since Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank micro finance has proven to be one of the most effective ways to get people, especially women, the funds they need to grow their business.

The concept was simple for me to grasp, but the paradigm shift profound. Contrary to the long held belief that people living in extreme poverty require an endless stream of aid in the form of charitable donations, and those being barely enough to stave off total starvation, I learned that, as in Western society, most people living in developing countries desire to work, earn a living, and build a better life for themselves and their children. Learning about micro finance changed my perceptions about people living in extreme poverty and helped me to see that they were, in fact, people just like me. People who had goals for themselves, their careers, and their families. People who were happy to work hard to achieve their goals and, like me, needed a bit of help from time to time to move them further toward those goals. As a student nearing the end of my degree I certainly understood how a little (or, in my case, a lot) of financial assistance was important to helping me reach my goals. The same is true for those living in extreme poverty.

Though my thoughts about aid and and it’s ability to lift people out of extreme poverty changed my actions were slow to follow. In my interview with the loan officer I neglected to ask the most important question: is there anything I can do to get involved? In my naivety, I didn’t quite understand that the funds for these loans had to come from somewhere and they weren’t coming from any of the conventional sources. The realisation that I could play a part in the micro finance cycle didn’t occur until 3 years later. That’s when I first heard about Lend With Care, a joint venture between Care International and The Cooperative, to channel millions of £s towards small loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries. Through Lend With Care you can make a donation as low as £15 to an entrepreneur of your choice and over time the entrepreneur repays your donation, or rather, your loan. Once repaid, you can choose to take back your money or re-invest it in another entrepreneur. It actually is the gift that keeps on giving.

Once I learned that I could play a part I gave a loan of £15 to Farima, a restaurant owner in the Phillipines who needed just over £2000 to buy more food in order to increase sales at her restaurant. Farima had a proven track record do repaying small loans and growing her business. As I read about Farima’s story and goals it almost felt as though I was simply loaning £15 to a friend, or doing my part to help see a project on Kickstarter get off the ground. I gave my loan a month ago when Farima still required 80% funding. Last week she was fully funded and I’ve already received my first repayment. To be honest, I can’t wait to receive the full repayment because I’ll know that Farima’s business is growing and I can then reinvest it in another hard working entrepreneur as they lift themselves out of poverty.

Visit to give a loan to an entrepreneur and help end extreme poverty. I suggest starting with this brilliant video.

For those of you in North America, you may want to loan through Kiva whose cofounder, Jessica Jackley, shares her insights into the world of micro finance in this TED talk.

2 Words That Start With ‘E’

This video says, much more succinctly, most of the things I say below!

I just got home from delivering 1.4 Billion Reasons to a group of 16-18 year old students. I always feel slightly touched by delirium after I present, but especially when I present to young people. To know that I’ve clearly explained what extreme poverty is and provided these young leaders with clear actions to take to end it is always thrilling. But more than ever I sense the growth of an army of people who are passionate about ending extreme poverty. This sense increases every time I present to a group of strangers and receive their clear commitments to take action to end extreme poverty by the end of the presentation. It’s so exciting to have a complete stranger say ‘yes, I will join you and others to work towards ending the injustice of poverty’.

The growth of the movement was evident on June 8th at the Enough Food for Everyone IF Big IF event in Hyde Park. 45,000 people gathered together to end hunger and to demand that G8 leaders put issues surrounding hunger on their agenda. And they did! David Cameron hosted a Hunger Summit in London and, thanks to the combined campaigning efforts of more than 50,000 people across the UK, $4 billion was pledged by rich countries to fight hunger and malnutrition. Of course, this commitment and the subsequent discussions and decisions that were made as part of the G8 summit didn’t just happen because 45,000 joined together to have a picnic in Hyde Park. In the lead up to the event people signed petitions, wrote to their MPs, and hosted awareness raising events to ensure that ending hunger was at the top of the G8 agenda.

This incredible show of support from both the UK public and the G8 leaders followed only a little more than a month after the UK not only renewed, but increased its financial commitment to the end game strategy to end polio. In case you missed it, the UK pledged £300 million over 6 years  to end polio and Canada added its financial weight with a pledge of £250 million over 6 years to end polio.

In case you couldn’t guess, the 2 words that start with ‘E’ that are on the tip of my tongue this afternoon are ‘excitement’ and ‘eradication’. I’m excited because the number of people who are taking action to end extreme poverty is growing. I’m excited because it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are simple things we can do in our daily lives to help end poverty. And I’m excited because these combined efforts are leading to a world where the eradication of extreme poverty is not only possible, but completely plausible. This year the World Bank announced that, in the past five years, a further 200 million people have been lifted out of poverty, taking the number of people in extreme poverty down to 1.2 Billion people. This stat always makes my breath catch in my throat a little. This is a really exciting time in history and I’m thrilled to play a part in the story of the end of extreme poverty. What part will you play? While you think about it, check out the video above one more time, just to stoke those inspirational flames! Then make your commitment and take action by using this fantastic platform, Global Citizen.