Live Below the Line (LBL), an initiative of The Global Poverty Project, is an annual fund and awareness raising campaign, that challenges participants to eat for a week, spending less than $2 a day on food. It aims to get people thinking about extreme poverty and its effects. They have offices in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Take a look at their website home page here. Notice the map of the world hiding behind links designed for visitors from only the aforementioned countries? Implicitly, people from relatively more developed countries are supposed to suffer for a week, while reflecting upon the hunger situation in relatively less developed countries.
My rant about this campaign is that it’s basically a media concern meant to get people from certain communities talking about an issue not currently affecting them. Which is almost okay, when you take it at face value. Not much different to the now defunct Invisible Children media machine, which also raised a bunch of awareness and money. But eventually pissed off a tonne of beneficiaries (remember the backlash from “Kony 2012”?) because they had no clue about or real connection with people on the ground. These awareness campaigns do indeed get people talking. Too bad they’re talking to each other and not to the people they wish to “help”.
Navigate the site, lots of links to stories and testimonials from LBL participants. But only a listing of the organizations to which they send funds. Turns out LBL considers the impact of their program as “transforming the way that citizens think about and engage with issues of extreme poverty”. Their buddy system pairs participants as they undertake the LBL challenge. Participants are paired with each other, not with someone who actually feeds on less than $2 day. So the focus stays on the “horrible” conditions of relatively less developed communities and countries, in a vacuum. With no exchange or input from those actually living in extreme poverty.
What would Ugandans (or people living in communities that benefit from LBL funds) say about this? How would they feel about strangers eating poorly for a week, in an attempt to understand the situation on the ground in less developed countries? Do they even know this initiative exists? My guess is they’d like to be a part of this conversation. They would perhaps like the participants to focus on more than this one issue. Poverty and hunger do not necessarily define whole countries, communities or families. Poverty and hunger are not always caused by a shortage of cash. Poverty and hunger is not something that is going to be solved outside of the communities where it is a problem.
In the case of Uganda, I would like to point out that $1.25 goes a lot further in our economy than it does in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, or New Zealand. Our food costs are minimized because we have a 12 month growing season, we buy locally, and often grow much of what we consume. Our meals are often taken with many people sharing together, and therefore, cheaper to prepare (and quite nice to consume, I might add).
Want to understand global issues? Want to take action and really engage people outside of your economic conditions? Want to realize that all countries do not aspire to become just like yours? I’m not sure joining a media distribution company and reading through their marketing packets is the most meaningful way. Don’t starve yourself and spread it all over social media. It kinda cheapens the fact that REAL people all over the world are truly hungry. Why not travel to or volunteer in a community or country the media defines as lesser developed? Why not actually get to know how another society is shaped? What priorities different people have? Support its economy?
Why not ask them to be a part of the challenge?