poverty

£1 a day

Could you do it? Live on £1 a day for a week?

1.2 BILLION people around the world don’t just do that for a week. They do it every day, for ever. Unless they’re lucky and can find a way to generate some income for their families. That’s 20% of the planet’s population living below the poverty line and in Kenya that figure rises to almost 50% of the population (49.5%. It’s also worth noting that 1 in 5 people in the UK lives below our own definition of the poverty line…). And don’t be mistaken, this isn’t someone in Kenya going shopping with a £1. This is you, going to the supermarket and shopping for an entire day on a pound.

‘Live Below the Line’ is a campaign that challenges us to experience this for ourselves.

So I just googled for the Kenyan Shilling equivalent of the £1 a day poverty line. It’s 37 Shillings.

Then I added up roughly how much I spend on food in a day here in Kenya. I don’t eat extravagantly. Breakfast is a piece of bread and a banana. I go to the market near my house and buy a handful of veg and boil up some rice for dinner. But that still adds up to190 Shillings.

I know it’s naive but I’m sitting here truly shocked to realise I spend five times as much as 1 in 2 people in Kenya. I see poverty every day in this city. It’s unescapable. But to truly imagine what it would mean to get my spending on food down to that level is mind-boggling. It probably means one, very, very plain meal of rice a day.

I took a picture of my lunch at work today (Instagram alert?! #nofilter) to give you a sense of the kind of food I eat (every) day. There’s next to no variety whether you are vegetarian (as I am) or not. But it’s healthy with protein and greens. Now I realise even this is something very few people will get to see on their plates…

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You can read more about the campaign here: www.livebelowtheline.com/uk

And for the fundraising nerds out there…

This is a nice article by the guy behind the ‘Live Below the Line” campaign: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/stephen/live-below-the-line.

He makes a good point about it being one of the few experiential campaigns around poverty out there. The significant thing  about that is how unique it is in tapping into our ability to empathise or “experience another person’s plight as if we were experiencing it ourself”. Anything that can turn cold, hard stats on distant poverty and inequality levels into a truly human experience has to be celebrated. Even if you don’t like what it means for the dinner plate on your table this week!

Take a peek at the Jeremy Rifkin talk on the topic of empathy and how important it is to human development and society in the quite cool RSAnimate lecture series:

Following the muddy tracks

My placement for VSO is with Kenya YMCA – I know you will all have heard of it! And no, we don’t do renditions of the song in our break times…

Kenya YMCA is the oldest NGO in Kenya. We’ve been here over 100 years and today there are around 25 branches spread over the country. Today I went to a branch relatively close to home: YMCA Kibera, right here in Nairobi.

Kibera is Kenya’s biggest slum and the second biggest in Africa with anywhere between 600,000 to 1 million people depending on whose stats you choose to believe. That’s about 1/3rd or 1/4th of Nairobi’s population!! As a result it gets a lot of attention from NGOs.

I was there to meet the Assistant Branch Manager, Isaac, to get an understanding of the work the branch does and to see if I could help with any funding needs. Being made up of a maze of little alleys, Isaac kindly met me outside so I wouldn’t get lost. And I’m very glad he did. Crammed with shops, stalls, homes, clinics, schools and hair salons, one of Kibera’s most distinctive feature is the train line that runs straight through the middle.

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As we were traipsing through the mud, watching our step, a train whizzed straight through
with just a toot of warning for everyone to scramble off the tracks. No mean feat when you’re on the tracks selling a big pile of mangoes in a wheelbarrow or when you’re the man selling suits and advertising them by wearingevery single item you are trying to sell at once!

Once we reached the branch I was impressed to see how well established it was. There was a primary school serving over 200 children with a well-stocked library and computer lab. There was a dress-making and tailoring college with so many beautiful Singer sewing machines I thought the All Saints clothes shops in London would be envious. We were there just before building work was going to start and transform the temporary school buildings into solid, permanent structures. Kibera YMCA seemed to me a shining example of what was possible.

Just before we left, I asked Isaac if there were any security problems at the branch what with the computer lab, the brand-new industrial sewing machines and library full of coveted school books. He said not really apart from once when a thief had tried to steal some metal. Luckily though the Night Watchman spotted him and managed to SHOOT HIM WITH AN ARROW!!

I couldn’t help but ask why he was shooting with arrows…? “Because he can’t afford the bullets for a gun”.

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