Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A glimpse of how extreme poverty can affect me.

by Eilleen

Me and my children

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all having a good week. Readers of my personal blog would know that a couple of months ago, I went on a week-long $2 a day challenge for Live Below the Line. During that week, I was not allowed to live on existing items in my pantry/fridge, nor was I allowed to accept freebies or others offers of meals. Instead, I was to live on $2 a day for all my food and drink. (The reason for why $2, is in this post.)

Having only $2 a day for my food and drink gave me a very small inkling on what it is like to be in extreme poverty. I found the challenge difficult and I posted in my personal blog what I learned and I thought I'd share it here:
When stressed and under pressure, I made bad nutritional choices. This tells me that I am not immune to media/advertising that tell me that non-nutritious food is "fun" and offered an "escape" from the stress. I never realised that I could succumb to emotional eating but there you go.
As a result of my bad nutritional choices, I felt soooo tired all the time. Littlest things like getting dinner done, getting to work in time, organising my children's everyday school needs became an effort.

That despite my bad nutritional choices, there was no joy in my eating during those 5 days. It was a very strange combination of being hungry but not looking forward to eating. Food was just a means to stop hunger pangs. I certainly did not want to eat more of the same!

Without joy in my eating, and without the ability to eat what everyone around me ate, I felt isolated. I was surrounded by friends and family and I ate my own food while they ate theirs...and I felt disconnected. This highlighted for me the importance of the little things we do together to connect and without it, one's entire world becomes different.

I also realised during my $2 a day week, that if this was for real, I probably can not consume according to my values... and that my values would drastically change. And if my values would drastically change, then I would make choices using a value system that would be completely foreign to the way I am now.

And I guess this highlights for me how vastly poverty can affect a person. I wonder, if I was living on the poverty line, would I be emotionally and physically capable to get my kids to school regularly? Would I be able get a job? Would I be able to function and make choices in a way that is socially acceptable? Would I still be "me"? And I suspect that the answer to all of this would be "no". I probably would not.

The more I think of my experience and my constant efforts to live more simply, I realise that living simply is one way that can help prevent one's slide to extreme poverty. If I ever lose my main source of income, I am able to gain some precious time to try to recover because:

1. I do not live above my means. I have a comparably modest mortgage and I do not have a lot of stuff that requires a lot of maintenance. I also make extra payments against my mortgage - not only to pay the debt off faster but also it is an insurance that I can draw on if my circumstances change drastically.

2. I have the skills that already help me how to live frugally. I know how to cook, look after and repair most things. Gone are the days when I had a "disposable" mentality (when I devalued my stuff because I can just buy another).

3. I also now have a vast network of friends who can help me and I am slowly overcoming my reluctance to ask for help. This is actually a big one. I have realised that asking for help is part of being in a community. I love helping others and I need to give others that gift by asking them to help me. By practising how to ask for help for little things, then I am more capable to ask for help for big things if my circumstances change (and sometimes by asking for help on little things, one can prevent having to ask for help for bigger things).

Through the Live Below the Line Challenge, I now know that what is at stake is not only my way of life but also my values and my children's future. This reinforces to me the importance of living simply, frugally and consuming ethically.

I wish you all well.

P.S. Joyful asked in the comments below if my children joined me in this challenge. The answer is, no they did not. They wanted to, but I did not let them. My children watched me eat my food while they ate theirs and we talked a lot about poverty during meal times that week! My daughter wrote a speech (for a competition) on what she learned during that week and I shared it in my personal blog. For those interested, this is the link to her speech: