Students Lead Poverty Challenge at Wellesley

March 21, 2012

Sixty-three Wellesley College students recently spent a week “living below the line.” From March 5 through 9, the women lived on just $1.50 each per day for food purchases – an amount symbolic of the extreme poverty line. The figure comes from a group called The Global Poverty Project who reports that 1.4 billion people are forced to cover all of their living expenses, including food, drink, housing, health expenses, transportation, and education, with only $1.50 per day (adjusted for U.S. inflation, the international poverty line is $1.25 per day).

Live Below the Line is an awareness and fundraising campaign designed to bring attention to the plight of the extreme poor. Zoe Moyer '15 and Elizabeth Haynes '15 learned of the project while attending the 2011 Millennium Campus Conference in September at Harvard University and were inspired to bring the challenge to Wellesley.

Arrangements were made with the campus dining halls to make 50-cent meals or portions available to participants; one lunch, for example, consisted of just four ounces of chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole.

"We get far larger potions than you would, say, trying to feed a family of three," Haynes said, acknowledging an advantage to having meals prepared in bulk. But the larger portions didn't lessen the impact or the lesson. "Although some foods fill you, its obvious that in the long run they would not provide enough stable nourishment to live healthily."

Haynes and Moyer both report struggling through the experience. By Wednesday, Moyer said she was so hungry and was eating so little that even walking to the dining halls seemed like a waste of time and energy. She spent Thursday counting down the hours until the end of the challenge on Friday, which, she says, was when she realized how truly fortunate she is.

"I realized that I had Friday to look forward to," Moyer said. "People who live in poverty don't have a last day of their challenge. A family in poverty will never have certainty that there is food at the end of a week. And, while this realization is nothing particularly revolutionary, it had incredible impact when I was hungry and sick and looking forward to the end."

Participants each sought sponsors to raise money and each student was encouraged to raise around $50 this year. Wellesley College's Office of Religious & Spiritual Life, along with the College's Dining Services team, and the staff of the Global Poverty Project, provided support to the event organizers throughout.

A national Live Below the Line event will take place May 7-11, 2012. Haynes and Moyer decided to organize a separate effort at Wellesley College so that the event wouldn't interfere with other student's preparations for final exams. Both women report that they will participate in the national challenge.