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Why LBL is About So Much More than Food

By Allison Kooser

I spent this week taking the Live Below the Line challenge - eating and drinking on less than $1.50 a day for five days in honor of the 1.2 billion people living below the extreme poverty line around the world. Let me tell you, the challenge is hard. But it is also incredibly eye-opening. Each day, I recorded my insights - the little things I was learning through because of the challenge. And what I quickly realized was that hunger and extreme poverty are about so much more than food. 

Day 1: 

Live Below the Line round three (yes, this is my third year taking this crazy challenge!) began this morning, and the insights are already coming fast. I was flying back to Chicago this AM and struck by the fact that I could afford literally NOTHING in the airport on my LBL budget (not to mention the fact that I was in an airport about to get on a flight which would carry me over a thousand miles in under 2 hours). So I headed the the water fountain. Guys. A WATER FOUNTAIN. Where free, clean water flows for everyone. That is CRAZY.

I might be nuts, but I think that everyone deserves easily-accessible clean water (and a lot of basic necessities like food and housing and education and safety and economic opportunity, too). Let's make it happen. Help me reach my fundraising goals and fight extreme poverty!

Day 2: 

By last night, I was hungry, tired and headache-y as I headed off to tutor and visit the library (as I often do).

Education is HARD when you are hungry. It is difficult to learn and focus when you're running on empty. So not only do kids in the developing world face the challenge of accessing a high-quality education in the first place, but once they are attending a school, they have to face the daily challenge of learning on limited calories. And of course, health and sanitation limitations make education even more challenging - especially for girls.

Guys. Education matters. Big time. That is one of the most important things I know. Everyone deserves to learn. And to learn well. And there are endless hurdles to learning well when you are in extreme poverty. So let's change that.

If you've been fortunate enough to receive a high-quality education, consider making that same dream possible for someone else. Did you know that $20 keeps a student in school for a month? It doesn't take much to make a BIG difference.

Day 3: 

Here we go, day 3 of Living ‪#‎belowtheline‬. Hunger-wise, I'm doing alright, though I've got a bummer cold that is not helping the situation. This has got me thinking about health, medicine and all the many factors that make extreme poverty more complicated and challenging and consuming than we can possibly imagine.

When I get sick, I can go to the store, buy medicine, take some pills, take a (paid) day off from work, sleep and get better. If I got really sick, I could go to a doctor (using my insurance). And if the situation called for it, I could be admitted into a hospital where highly-trained doctors could take care of me until I was well.

Sounds obvious and normal, right?

But for billions, this whole situation is CRAZY. When my friends in the developing world get sick, there is no medicine to buy - and if there is, there is no money budgeted to purchase it. There is no paid sick day to rest and recover - forgoing work means skipping a day of much-needed pay. There are very few doctors to visit - most local health centers are only staffed with nurses, at best. And if a true emergency arises, accessing, getting admitted to and staying in a hospital is a nearly insurmountable hurdle (not to mention enormously expensive).

We can DO SOMETHING about this. And WE SHOULD do something.

I'm trying to kick this cold. But more importantly, I'm trying to kick extreme poverty. 

Day 4: 

Good morning, friends! It's day 4 of the Live ‪#‎BelowTheLine‬ challenge! DAY 4. That means that we are going to MAKE IT! It also means that I am officially hungry. Not just tired, undernourished and lethargic - legit, rumbles-in-my-belly hungry. I can't imagine feeling this way day after day after day with no hope of a Saturday. No hope of a day when the challenge ends. Because for over a billion people (A BILLION PEOPLE. blows my mind every time) this challenge is called life. And let me tell you from my very teeny-tiny, imperfect simulation experience - the challenge of living hungry and undernourished sucks.

But I am also encouraged this morning. I'm encouraged because I'm not alone. As I've seen each and every time I've visited the developing world, community MATTERS. When life and circumstances are exceedingly difficult, it's the people you have around you that bolster your spirits, pick you up when you are weak and give you the energy to survive each day. That's a universal truth.

So today, I'm thankful for YOU, dear friends. The ones who have donated and supported and sent encouraging words. You have helped Opportunity International raise over $41,000 through this challenge. That is INSANE. I am so grateful.

And I'm also over-the-moon thankful that I'm not taking this challenge alone. I know that my friends around the country are in this with me - and that together, we are making a difference, both in our own perspectives and in the world. And our shared experiences - the fact that their bellies are rumbling this morning too - provides an assurance and encouragement that is so needed today. So to you, dear friends - Abbey, JohnTerah, Megan, KatherineAshley, Samantha, JenniferIan, Lauren, CharisBella and the many other Team Opportunity challenge-takers - WE CAN DO THIS. WE ARE DOING THIS.

You are awesome. The end.

Day 5:

Good news, everyone! It's Friday! That means that we made it to the final day of the Live Below The Line USA Challenge. And guess what? We're still standing. That deserves congratulations. YOU ROCK.

As a three-year veteran of the challenge, I am consistently struck by the impact this challenge has on my life. Each year, I learn something new about the daily realities of those living in extreme poverty.

But I'm also struck by how unrealistic the challenge is. Because at the end of the day, I return home to a big house with a warm bed and an ice machine that makes my water (which runs freely from the tap) cold. I drive my car to work - a car filled with expensive gasoline. I have a job that requires me to sit at a desk in a warm, safe office and write clever, insightful narratives on the internet (the INTERNET, people) using a computer (again, A COMPUTER), instead of working as a farmer or a mason or a day-laborer. And I'm qualified to do my job because I have completed 20 YEARS of education.

So really, this challenge is just the tiniest fraction of the daily realities of my friends around the world. Because for them, $1.50 a day has to cover life. Transportation, healthcare, food, education, housing, water, emergencies. EVERYTHING.

At the beginning of this week, my refrigerator broke. I could have been mad, but instead I saw it as an opportunity - a chance to make this simulation just the tiniest bit more real. I scrapped my refrigerated items (including the eggs and pasta sauce that I had anticipated using this week), but decided not to replace them with other dry goods. Because for those in extreme poverty, there often is no back-up plan.

So this year, instead of eating and drinking on $1.50 a day, I was even more restricted. So far, on average, I've spent $0.91 a day on food. Even this isn't anywhere close to a perfect simulation, but I think it's just a bit closer to what my friends face. Because that extra $0.59 has to cover everything else. I simply cannot imagine.

If there is one thing I know, it is that NO ONE should have to live like this every day. NO ONE deserves to choose between medicine and food. NO ONE should have to tell their kids that they cannot go to school. NO ONE should live below the extreme poverty line.

And if there is something else I know, is that the only way we are going to end extreme poverty is if we do it TOGETHER. It is going to require everyone to be involved.

If you haven't already, I invite you to support Opportunity through the Live Below the Line challenge.  

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