Monday to Friday of this past week I joined hundreds of people across the globe in taking up the Live Below the Line challenge:  5 days on a food and drink budget of £1 a day - the UK equivalent of the extreme poverty line.

The picture above was my entire shopping basket for the week. It doesn't seem like much, but the week passed by more easily than I thought it would - I had plenty to keep me full and energised and didn't experience any of the hunger pangs I was prepared for.

Instead, the week reinforced what I thought it might: that no manufactured experience will ever allow me to fully understand the daily struggles faced by someone who really lives below the poverty line, whether in a third world country or closer to home. Whether I were to live on this diet for 5 days or 5 months, I would never truly know what that life is like. Here's why:
  1. My participation in this project was a choice. Today, I have eaten what I wanted, no longer restrained by a budget of £1 a day. For many people around the world, this is not an option. They do not choose to live on such a limited diet - there is no choice.
  2. My £1 a day was allocated purely for myself. i don't have anyone waiting to share my food: i have no baby dependant on my breastmilk for nutrition, no livestock needing fed, no gaggle of children relying on me to 'bring home the bacon', as it were.
  3. My calorie intake is consumed by very minor efforts. I spent my afternoons sitting down typing addresses into a computer, reading resource books and producing graphs, before getting into the car, driving to church and doing even more sitting down. I don't have fields to plough with limited machinery, or floors to scrub on my knees, or miles to walk for (dirty) buckets of water. Many people do. 
  4. I was working out of an already-stocked home full of food and drink and spices and seasoning. I did my shopping for the week and budgeted in additional things like salt and pepper to flavour my food. The amount I used was worth about 4 pence.. but you can't go out and purchase 4 pence of salt. I was only able to include these little additions in my meals because I had the money that afforded me to buy these things in the past. 
  5. The kinds of food I purchased - as cheap as they may well have been - and the effortless ways in which I cooked them are just not realistic possibilities for many, many people.

All of that aside, it was still a really worthwhile experience and something I would gladly recommend to potential participants in the future.
  1. First and foremost, it allowed me to raise a little bit of money for the Salvation Army's International Development fund, contributing to projects that make a real difference to those who truly live below the poverty line. Together, over £13,000 have been raised for the Salvation Army's fund, with a total of almost £287,000 raised for all the charities backed by Live Below the Line . (There's still time to add to that by sponsoring me here.)
  2. My participation sparked conversations with people around me that allowed me to explain something of poverty and injustice to those for whom it might not cross their consciousness.
  3. I like a good challenge. And a challenge it was. But one I accomplished!
  4. It forced me to think and reflect, it stirred up lovely memories of our trips to Tanzania (and got me longing to return), and it really made me question and consider my consumerism.

If Live Below the Line taught me anything, it taught me how incredibly blessed I am to have such a comfortable existence. The question is.. what am I now going to do to make that true for others?

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