When Failure is Not an Option – How I Failed to Live Below The Line
My name is Kiera and for the past three years, I've been the voice of CARE's social media on Facebook, Twitter and seven other social networks. I am also a Live Below The Line dropout.
I've been tweeting and posting about the Global Poverty Project's Live Below The Line challenge since 2010, but this is the first year I was actually brave enough to try it.
While I, along with my fellow web team members, am an encyclopedia of knowledge on CARE's poverty-fighting work in 84 countries around the world, I sometimes feel a disconnect sitting at my desk in CARE's Atlanta headquarters. All of the things CARE does are happening thousands of miles away.
That's why I decided to take the challenge to live below the poverty line and eat and drink on just $1.50 a day for five days – like 1.4 billion people are forced to do every day.
I went grocery shopping Sunday afternoon in preparation for Monday's kick-off and decided to make a quiche. I bought crust, eggs, cheese, milk and flour. If I divide it into four pieces that's four meals that could only cost pennies, right?
Wrong. After putting pen to paper and dividing the cost of each item by how much was used in the quiche, and then again by four, it came out to about $1.60 a piece – more than my entire daily budget.
So, I did what any rational person would do. I eliminated the most costly ingredient (surprisingly, it was the cheese).
This was my result. A sunken egg bake in a now-shredded pastry crust.
It wasn't that it tasted that badly. It was how hungry I was just minutes after eating my lunch that threw me. My energy level dwindled throughout the work day. My productivity dropped and things didn't get done because all I could think about was my stomach.
I made dinner immediately when I got home from work – half a cup of rice with three baby potatoes. About an hour later, I knew I couldn't do it anymore.
I've had plenty of days that, for various reasons, I've eaten light. Even less than I had today. I was hungry, but I realized it wasn't about how I felt at that moment. It was knowing I had four more days to go. Four days where I wouldn't be able to think about anything except how hungry I was.
I have a job to do and a life to maintain at home after work hours. I have deadlines to meet, social media posts to write, an apartment to clean and a dog to exercise. So, I chose to fail. I dropped out of the Live Below The Line challenge.
But for a woman whose family is mired in poverty, failure is not an option – and there is no reprieve after four days. No snack waiting in the pantry for when she decides it's just too much.
And in comparison, the four days I was dreading would have been a breeze for these women. I don't have six children to feed because no one told me I was worth more than my reproductive cycle. I don't have to walk three miles every single day – burning up the few calories I can afford to intake – to the closest well because I don't have clean water in my faucet.
I don't have to hope that after my children are done eating, my husband will leave some for me because he has all the power in the relationship. Because I think that's ok. Because no one thought sending me to school would be a worthwhile investment.
But most importantly, I don't have to wonder if the rest of my life is going to be this way. I had an exit strategy. But so many of the women CARE works with have resolved themselves to a lifetime of poverty for themselves and their children. A life that can end at any moment because there is simply not enough to eat. For these families, failure isn't a humbling blog post and a hand in the cookie jar. It's either survive on $1.50 a day or don't live at all.
And frankly, after just one day, I don't know if I would have chosen the former. I am in awe of the strength and determination of the women who make the choice to survive every single day in the face of so much adversity.
Aside from demonstrating my low threshold for discomfort, my 12 hours of hunger has made me even more proud of the work CARE does. For so many people, CARE is the exit strategy. CARE provides the training to help women start businesses and earn an income – bringing in more money for food and building egalitarian relationships where husbands finally understand their wives are valuable as a partner, not a breeding machine.
CARE is teaching women about family planning. We're showing them how and why they need to wait until they are ready to have children. And once they do, CARE is ensuring that they go to school – especially the girls.
You could say our goal at CARE is to not need a CARE at all. That one day we will have empowered so many women, children and families to lift themselves from poverty that poverty is gone altogether. We don't want people to depend on us for a lifetime of support. We want them to use us as a resource until they have the knowledge they need to change their lives for good.
Last year, CARE reached more than 277 million people with our poverty-fighting programs. Just think about that. 277 million people with hope. 277 million people who could one day see an end to their hunger.
With the little dignity I have left in the wake of my massive and abrupt failure, I will finish what I've been affectionately referring to as my "sad quiche" and the entire sack of baby potatoes. Wasting the food I bought to live below the line wouldn't just be defeating the purpose – it would be contradicting it.
In the mean time, I wish the best of luck to everyone else who is living below the line for CARE this week. And if you fail, I hope you remember it was a choice. A choice that 1.4 billion don't have.