As Live Below the Line week comes to an end, and our participants hungrily stuff their faces with their week’s biggest craving, we felt it was a good time to share some of our reasons for the campaign and why we, at Oaktree, believe it to be so important.
We wanted to take the opportunity to respond to Stu O’Brien’s recent post. He is absolutely right that eating on $2 a day for 5 days in no way accurately teaches you what it is like to live in extreme poverty, nor is it meant to. We wanted to take this opportunity to explain a little more about the campaign and what we hope to achieve with it.
We’re proud of Live Below the Line
This week, thousands of Australians decided to drastically limit their diet, not because they thought it would be fun, but because they wanted to do something for somebody else. We feel that is extremely special. All Oaktree volunteers and many of Live Below the Line participants are people under the age of 26.
That means this entire campaign and the development work it allows us to support is motivated entirely by youth passion. The participants have the chance to learn about poverty, get their friends and family involved in something they’re passionate about and show leadership. Already this year we have raised over $1.2 million for education initiatives in the Asia Pacific. It is a powerful campaign, and one we all believe in passionately.
Live Below the Line is not supposed to replicate poverty
Poverty is a complex, painful and multifaceted experience – it’s not something that can simply be copied. What this campaign offers its participants is only a short experience of being deprived of choice. Eating on $2 a day, they have to think about what they eat, where they buy it, and cannot make spontaneous purchases when they’re feeling a bit peckish.
As for me, I’m a real sweet tooth. If I’m having a bad day or am low on energy I often head to a café and buy a muffin with chocolate chips. When doing Live Below the Line that muffin would cost me two days worth of food. This is obviously not comparable to needing to choose between medicine and food for a week.
However, many people in Australia never have to make daily decisions and sacrifices that could involve them going hungry or being in anyway deprived. Encouraging people to experience this on a small scale can help them imagine what it would be like to make these choices on a larger one. The aim is not to make people suffer, but to reflect on what it is like for the millions of people in the world who have few choices in their life, and to empathize with them in a way that leads to constructive change.
We only ask our participants eat on $2 a day. Medicine, transport, school fees, electricity, and water are not included. There is a simple reason for this- it would be dangerous to ask her participants to deprive themselves of these needs, just as it dangerous for those people living in poverty. We don’t want to endanger anybody’s health – there are enough people struggling unnecessarily in the world.
We don’t believe poverty can be replicated
Even if we did ask our participants to live completely on $2 for all there expenses for the duration of the campaign, this would still not be an adequate experience of what it is like to live in poverty. As participants, we choose to engage in the campaign – they can drop out any time and have a date when we know it will end. People living in extreme poverty do not have this luxury.
There is no challenge we can create that can replicate that experience. All we can hope to do is give people a small glimpse into what it’s like to live without an abundance of resources, and encourage them to reflect on what it would be like to lack even more.
We also understand that poverty is more than just low income. Extreme poverty is not only about living on $2 a day, it is about having less access to public resources, safety and security, human and social capital and the networks we all take for granted. Living on $2 a day, even if doing so for every aspect of your life, will never give you that full experience.
Live Below the Line is making a real difference for people living in poverty
At the end of the day, Live Below the Line is about giving young people a way to support their peers in the Asia Pacific to get an education. At Oaktree, we believe that young people care about poverty, but are often unsure how they can make a difference. Oaktree is about young people volunteering their time because they want to do something about extreme poverty.
Every volunteer is pivotal to the campaign’s success, every single person is valued. This campaign allows people to make a direct difference – and realize that, as depressing as the world can be, sometimes we can make a change.
In 2013, Oaktree supported seven education projects in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste. We work with local partners and rely on their knowledge and expertise to effectively implement the projects. We believe we support high-level development projects and we are constantly striving to learn and improve our work.
There are thousands of students in the Asia Pacific who are receiving a high quality education because of the funds Oaktree sends. Live Below the Line is what makes this possible.
This is why we believe in the campaign and why we will continue to watch it grow with pride.
Sara Gingold is a Cambodia Partnership Manager at Oaktree.