The End of Polio: Questions from the Street

Saturday I took part in grassroots campaigning at its grassiest. Standing near a busy intersection on Putney High Street armed with a pen, a clip board, the support of two Global Poverty Project colleagues, and my most approachable smile, I collected signatures for The End of Polio campaign.


Motivated by the desire to show Justine Greening, my local MP and the Secretary of State for International Development, that her own constituents care about eradicating polio I plucked up the courage to ask hundreds of passersby ‘would you like to sign our petition to end polio?’ Many responded with simple smiles and a shake of the head as they hurried past. Others ignored me completely, refusing to even look me in the eye. With the ‘charity mugger’ culture that exists on our London high streets I can’t say that I blame them. But when people did take the time to stop and sign they often asked one of these three questions.

But I thought polio was already eradicated?

Okay, more a statement than a question, but the inflection was there. Because polio has been eradicated in the UK for over 30 years most people assume that it’s been eradicated everywhere. But that’s simply not the case. Though polio has been eradicated by 99% around the world there is still 1% remaining. Polio remains endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Now is the crucial moment for action to ensure that polio becomes the second disease in all of human history to be completely eradicated as has been achieved with small pox.

What is polio?

Polio is an infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis and even death (The End of Polio). It is highly infectious and travels easily as it spread by person-to-person contact. When a child is infected with the virus it enters the system via the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Though polio can affect people of any age it primarily affects children under five. (Global Polio Eradication Initiative)

How can my signature end polio?

This is a great question! Polio is particularly pernicious disease that certainly pays no heed to signatures telling it to go away. Collecting signatures from people around the UK helps to quantify the desire to eradicate polio. Collecting signatures from Putney residents provides further evidence to Justine Greening that her own constituents care about this issue and want to eradicate polio. With this data we hope to encourage Justine Greening to recommit funds given from the UK’s foreign aid budget to continue eradication efforts.

If you’d like to add your voice to end polio please visit The End of Polio.


A Story That Has Captured My Imagination

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Bill Gates deliver the 2013 Richard Dimbleby Lecture entitled The Impatient Optimist where he spoke about the end of polio.

Since I first made a commitment to take action to end extreme poverty the end of polio campaign has captured my imagination. The short version of the end of polio story is that what was once a crippling disease all over the world is now only endemic in three countries. Polio has been reduced by 99% and eradicating the disease is possible within my lifetime. The thought that the second disease in all of human history to be eradicated is possible within my lifetime is intriguing, but knowing that I can take part in this story is exhilarating.

The long story of polio begins, as Gates explained, in ancient carvings of people with withered limbs, walking with canes- evidence that the disease has lasted for centuries. An epidemic of polio in America in the 1950s sparked rumours that ice cream was the cause of death of hundreds of children. Images of children in iron lungs give evidence of a disease that has almost erased itself from Western memory.

But the story of polio carries on beyond its eradication in the Western world. Last month India celebrated one year without a case of polio. India was thought to be one of the most difficult countries in which to tackle polio partly because few children were brought for regular check-ups and were therefore unlikely to receive the vaccine. The vaccinations had to go out to the people. This task was carried out by one of the primary heroes in the end of polio story, the Rotarians, who selflessly travelled miles on foot carrying the vaccine and risking their personal health and safety to ensure that children throughout India would receive the vaccine.

Gates spoke about the role that innovation has had in this story. Innovations in vaccines and mapping have been turning points in the effectiveness and efficiency of vaccinating children worldwide.

And now we stand at the climax of the story. The tipping point. Gates explained that it is a myth that we can maintain polio at these low levels. It is too easy to spread. Now is the time for a final push to see the disease completely eradicated and go the way of smallpox.

This is a story that excites me and that I want to be a part of. Will you join me? We can see polio and its devastating effects on the world’s poorest people be completely eradicated within our generation. To see how you can be part of this story visit the end of polio campaign.

How To Set Up A Mosquito Net in 10 Easy Steps

5 years ago I travelled to Ghana, West Africa for 6 weeks to study Women in African Literature and Post-Colonial Literature. It was an amazing trip that deeply enriched my view and understanding of the world and some of the underlying causes of extreme poverty. Throughout those 6 weeks I experienced many firsts. It was the first time I’d been to Africa, it was the first time I read anything by Chinua Achebe, it was the first time I’d seen a millipede bigger than my hand. It was also the first time I ever had to take malaria pills and the first time I ever had to set up a mosquito net to provide further protection against mosquitos carrying the terrible disease.

My first attempt at setting up a mosquito net inspired me to write a step-by-step how to guide, which I thought I would share with you in the lead up to World Mosquito Day on August 20th.World Mosquito Day is a day meant to raise awareness about the causes of malaria and how we can prevent it, as well as raising funds to help tackle the disease worldwide. If you have a malaria related story, please share it on the Malaria No More UK website to help raise awareness of malaria’s impact around the globe.

Malaria kills over 655,000 people each year, but thanks to multiple doses of bug spray, malaria pills, and my insecticide impregnated mosquito net my experience with malaria is limited and I left Ghana without the lingering side effects of this debilitating disease.

How To Set Up a Mosquito Net In 10 Easy Steps (originally posted June 6, 2007)

Step 1: Remove mosquito net from package.
Step 2: Search for instructions.
Step 3: Realize there are no instructions just random bits and pieces of screws, string, plastic sticks, and netting.
Step 4: Question who on this planet would just assume that I know how to set up a mosquito net without instructions.
Step 5: Place tiny stool on bed.
Step 6: Have roommate hold the wobbly stool while lifting yourself up. I suggest using your roommates head for balance, but this is completely optional. Also, the sensation of climbing onto a stool that is placed precariously on a bed feels a little like surfing or perhaps experiencing a slight earth tremor…I suggest working on your ab strength and balance prior to mounting the stool.
Step 7: Once you are standing up right on the stool and are relatively balanced…laugh hysterically for at least one minute.
Step 8: Jab one of the random available pieces into the ceiling. Beware of falling debris and bugs which may cause you to jump which will inevitably throw you off the ever-so-stable stool.
Step 9: Attach net to random piece lodged in the ceiling.
Step 10: You’re done! You may carefully dismount the stool and repeat the process for your roommate!

Despite the lightheartedness of this post, malaria is a serious disease that kills one child every minute and disables many more, which can limit their ability to earn a decent wage and stay out of a cycle of poverty as they grow up. If you’d like to take further action against malaria, please write to your local MP using this letter as a guide. For a little more info about malaria, check out this video care of Malaria No More and K’naan.

Malaria No More & K’naan #endmalaria

Dine Below the Line

I’m more than a little embarrassed by how long it has taken me to get this post up, especially considering the brevity of its content.

As you may or may not recall, we held a Dine Below the Line breakfast to cap off our Live Below the Line challenge. The goal of Dine Below the Line is to cook a meal for your guests that costs just 33 pence per person. We did a little brainstorming and figured out that we could easily make enough pancakes for about 10 people for less than £3.30, complete with homemade white sugar syrup. Jonathan is the pancake making star in our home, so he hopped out of bed and got a start on the pancakes, much like any other Saturday morning. To cut back on cost we opted out of using baking powder, but kept the flour, eggs, and salt in the mix. The cost of syrup combined with the low frequency of pancake consumption in our home means that we often make our own syrup although this time we replaced our usual brown sugar with white sugar to keep down the cost. Throw in some Fairtrade tea bags for less than a penny each and we had a rather lovely Saturday breakfast, though some of our guests would have enjoyed a nice hot cup of coffee, but that simply would not fit into the budget. Fruit would have also been a nice addition, but was a luxury we could not afford.

We spent some time talking about our Live Below the Line experience with the group and lamenting the things we had missed throughout the week. Chocolate and berries were on the top of my grocery list!

We were all a little surprised by how much you could do to make a simple breakfast on such a small amount. Of course, a pancake breakfast isn’t enough to sustain anyone for a prolonged period of time or to expend any substantial amount of energy that might be required on a normal work day. But on a lazy Saturday, the pancakes hit the spot and we all left grateful for the blessings we do have here in the UK. I was especially excited to get to the grocery store to start preparing our first post-Live Below the Line meal, bouillabaisse- which is a type of fish soup, and to get my hands on some chocolate.

Overall our Live Below the Line experience was certainly challenging, but it was a great experience that revealed similar challenges faced by the 1.4 Billion people living in extreme poverty world wide. I’m excited to take the challenge again next year and to continue to raise awareness of ways that we can end extreme poverty as well as raising funds for organisations who actively work to end extreme poverty.

Will you join me and Live Below the Line in 2013?

Live Below the Line: Day 5

I didn’t feel quite human today and struggled to get any real work done. I was also extremely emotional and struggled to hold back tears at the most random times of the day and I don’t think it’s because I’m sad this challenge is over. I’ve found each day increasingly difficult and come home feeling hungrier and more exhausted than the day before. To be honest, I am so excited to be able to indulge once again tomorrow. And it’s not just the food I’m looking forward to, but the experiences that go along with the food such as a coffee out with my husband, or a picnic lunch with friends, or having a quiet night in to bake. Living on £1 per day not only limits what you can eat, it limits your social life as well, which is part of the reason why poverty can be so isolating. It’s difficult to share your life with others when you can’t afford to share common experiences with them and food often plays a significant role in our shared experiences.

We totally splurged today and totalled £0.97 per person. Here’s how:

  • Oatmeal breakfast with tea = £0.25
  • 5 biscuits = £0.05
  • 3 cups of tea throughout the day = £0.01
  • Chick peas with a splash of oil and spices = £0.17
  • Flour and water pizza dough with ham slices and courgette = £0.23
  • Noodles and broth with pork sausages = £0.26

Over the past five days I’ve come to dread the question “why are you doing this?” because I know that behind that question is another question, “how does living on £1 per day for five days do anything to solve extreme poverty?” The simple answer is that it doesn’t. I am under no delusion that the food I’m not eating and the money I’m not spending is somehow making its way to someone who lives in extreme poverty. And, to be honest, I’m glad that’s not the case. I am not campaigning for a temporary solution to extreme poverty. What I desire is lasting change. And I believe that a permanent end to extreme poverty is possible within my lifetime. Live Below the Line is, in part, a symbol of my commitment to do everything I can to see the end of extreme poverty within a generation.

My choice to live on £1 per day for five days has no immediate impact on the lives of those who did not choose to live in extreme poverty. I have had complete control as I took this challenge. I could have stopped at any point. But many do not have that choice. While I can celebrate my accomplishment of successfully completing a challenge and go back to eating whatever I want, whatever it is that I’ve longed for over the last five days, there are 1.4 billion people in the world who endure this longing, hunger, and exhaustion without an end in sight. Ghandi once declared, “poverty is the worst form of violence.” Part of that violence, I think, comes from experiencing longing and desire for extended periods of time without a foreseeable end to the struggle. Whether that struggle is to be able to afford enough food to eat each day, or to provide adequate housing for your family, or to put your children through school, to live without hope for the future because there seems no end to your current circumstance is as detrimental to a person’s health as not being able to afford groceries.

But there is hope. Though many go hungry, there is enough food in the world to feed everyone on the planet one and half times over. And there are many who believe that we are living in a unique time in history when we have the resources and the knowledge to eradicate extreme poverty. Jeffrey Sachs is one of many people who believes change is possible and he explains why below.

To see how we can all play a part to end extreme poverty why not book the 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation? Feel free to contact me for more info.

If you’d like to help me as I work to see the end of extreme poverty, please donate here.

Thank you so much to all of you who have followed along and offered your encouragement and support. Stay tuned tomorrow as I share about our Dine Below the Line breakfast.

Live Below the Line: Day 4

It’s day four of Live #belowtheline and I’m tired and hungry. We’re just not eating enough each meal to feel satisfied and there’s not much room in the budget for snacks.

I’m also tired of talking about my poverty. The bulk of the conversations I’ve had over the last four days have been about this challenge and what I can and cannot afford to eat. On one hand that means that this challenge is serving its purpose perfectly as it opens doors to talk about what extreme poverty looks and feels like. On the other hand there’s a part of me that would love to be asked about something else going on in my life right now, something other than my own personal ‘poverty’. Which leads me to wonder how often we define ‘the 1.4 Billion people’ by their poverty rather than their humanity. Just like me, those living in extreme poverty likely have other things on their minds apart from the food they do or do not have access to. Some may have concerns about their role as husband or wife, others may be struggling to keep up decent grades (which is made more difficult by insufficient nutrient intake), while others might be moving from one place to another and are struggling with the stress of that move. People should not be defined by their poverty. And when I stop to think about those living in extreme poverty as whole individuals who are made up of so much more than their current circumstance, my passion to see their lives changed and my resolve to have more conversations about extreme poverty and how we can see its end in a generation grows stronger.

As we head into the final day of Live #belowtheline I’d like to thank those of you who have offered your generous support to either my or Jonathan’s campaign! In case you’re curious, today’s budget works out as follows.

  • Sugar, cinnamon, milk with oatmeal and tea for breakfast = £0.25
  • 5 biscuits = £0.05
  • Leftover spaghetti with pork sausage, courgette, tomatoes and spices = £0.20 (the photo is of last night’s portion)
  • 3 cups of tea throughout the day = £0.01
  • A sneaky chick pea snack before supper = £0.05
  • Flour and water pizza dough with ham slices and courgette = £0.23

Our grand total for the day comes to a whopping £0.79.

If you would like to “buy us lunch” and support us as we raise money for the Global Poverty Project, please donate here.

Live Below the Line: Day 3

The sunshine was a welcome distraction today and I was perfectly content with my leftover pizza lunch and few biscuits. In fact, I was more than content and felt absolutely fine and energetic until about 2/3 of the way through my walk home from work when I started feeling shaky and had to slow my pace significantly. Fortunately, Jonathan had just started our spaghetti, courgette, tomato, pork sausage supper as I walked through the door so I didn’t have to wait too long for something to fill my belly.

You’ll recall that our oatmeal breakfast rings in at about £0.25 per person and the pizza is £0.30 per person. Tonight’s supper cost surprisingly little. We split the spaghetti meal by four, 1 serving per person for tonight and 1 serving per person for lunch tomorrow, which brings the cost per person per meal to only £0.20. Add to that the cost of tea and biscuits and my food for the day comes in at £0.82. Jonathan ate fewer biscuits and totalled £0.80 for food for the day. I agree with Jonathan who says that being able to afford biscuits feels like cheating. This leads me to wonder if, when people talk about extreme poverty, they’re supportive of helping those living in extreme poverty to gain access to basic needs, but are less enthused when those people move beyond the basics and are able to exercise choice, freedom, and even frivolousness in their day to day lives. Personally, I would love to live in a world where everyone, not only the richest, has the ability to choose what they eat, wear, where they will live, etc.. I think ending extreme poverty is about more than just ensuring the basic survival of 1.4 billion people, but about helping those people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty so that they can experience the same spectrum of choice that I enjoy every single day.

I mentioned yesterday that I’m busy enough throughout the work day that I don’t really feel as though I’m significantly lacking food. But on the way home today, especially once I started to feel less than fantastic, I longed to pop into Starbucks for a cool, creamy drink or to grab some strawberries as I walked past the grocery store. I was salivating at the thought of fresh fruits like mangos and plums. Our diet is definitely carb heavy. Spaghetti, noodles, oatmeal, dough, cous cous. There’s a lot of brown in our diet and not much colour. Fresh fruit and vegetables are a luxury we can no longer afford.

After dinner I was quite desperate for a second serving of spaghetti or another handful of biscuits or some chocolate. Desperate in a way I haven’t been in the previous two days. Desperate in a two-year-old-throwing-themselves-on-the-ground sort of way. I’ve had to remind myself that I can’t just run to the grocery store to get those one or two items I crave. But I’m also grateful that, under normal circumstances, I can afford to buy plums, strawberries, mangos, and so much more. Today I became increasingly aware of how easy it is to get something to satiate my thirst, hunger, or simple craving at any time. As I go to bed tonight thinking about all the goodies I’ll indulge in over the weekend I am struck by a sense of gratitude and a realisation of the privileges I enjoy. 1.4 Billion people in the world are far removed from the simple pleasures of fresh strawberries and a completely indulgent and unnecessary biscuit now and then, which is precisely why, as part of the Live Below the Line challenge, I am raising money for the Global Poverty Project. Please consider donating via my participant page and be part of the movement to help end extreme poverty.