Our guest blogger, Claire Anderson, took on a challenge to Live Below the Line. Setting aside £1 per day for all her meals and drinks across five days, she stood in solidarity with millions of people across the world who live in extreme poverty. Here, she reports on dealing with caffeine withdrawal, bland food, and recognising what this challenge is really about.
Five days. Five pounds. That was my budget for all my meals and drinks during my challenge to Live Below the Line. How hard can it be? For a fifth of the world’s population, this kind of poverty is not a choice. So, those of us who have plenty can do without for only five days, surely?
By the end of morning one, I was all but ready to quit. Well, retreat to my bed for the duration of the challenge at least! As it was, I had three days at work and a weekend ahead of me. My shopping basket – healthy as it was, packed with vegetables and some fruit – didn’t have space for teabags or coffee so by mid-morning I was already crippled by caffeine withdrawal. The pounding headache, fuzzy brain and just an overall sense of feeling rubbish wouldn’t be cleared with offers of hot water and happy thoughts. I wasn’t feeling anywhere near the top of my game, and working in a busy press office with deadlines coming up made me wonder if the decision to do this challenge could spell disaster for my career!
And not only was my professional life hanging in the balance, some of my purchases gave rise to concern from friends about my social life too – many of whom decided I ought to give myself a wide berth on the train after I’d eaten half a can of mushy peas and a full tin of baked beans for my evening meal the day before. I can report that no commuters suffered as a result of this meal, but it’s not a combination of food I’d recommend.
I found it unavoidable that at the start of each day, my thoughts were always on the next meal. My hunger seemed to spur on an internal clock that tracked the minutes till the challenge ended. But how does that measure up when extreme poverty is your everyday life and there’s no end in sight? How do you cope when at every meal you have to wonder when the next will come?
By day two, my brain was addled. My energy reserves were dangerously low. My emotions, always close to the surface, rocketed from highly strung to emotional to grumpy. For a fifth of the world’s population, this is the daily fight: gnawing hunger tinged with desperation to make it stop. Very quickly, I began to understand that this isn’t just about experiencing limitations in purchasing power, but also to bring understanding to the consequences of such poverty.
The charity I am supporting – The Salvation Army – works with vulnerable people in communities across the world. The money I raised from this challenge will help support the work the charity does with victims of modern slavery. That is, people who have been promised a better life by traffickers, only to be tricked and trapped into a twenty-first century slave trade, whether that is domestic servitude, manual labour or the sex trade.
Many people run the risk of becoming victims of trafficking (according to the UN, more than 800,000 men, women and children worldwide are trafficked each year), but no one should be trapped in a poverty so extreme that it can force them into false hope and dangerous circumstances. Experiencing the desperate hunger of extreme poverty – albeit, only briefly – it becomes easier to see how, when faced with a slim hope of making it stop, people will try to find hope in any place they can. I learnt a lot during this challenge – not least how to stretch the value of a pound – but the biggest lesson was empathy, and I hope I’m reminded about the daily plight of millions of people in poverty each time I take my trolley down the aisles.
Claire’s beans and peas combo
Half a banana and a roll for lunch
The Sunday treat to celebrate the end of the challenge – sweets!
You can still check out The Salvation Army’s fundraising progress or pop by my personal page. For more information about Live Below the Line and ways you can help, visit the website www.livebelowtheline.com/uk