This week’s blog comes from Aoife Kirk, Aoife is a past participant and leader of Insight and has been working with Development Perspectives for the last 6 months. Aoife is one of the co-coordinators of the #SDGchallenge and was outlined her experience taking part in the #PovertyBox challenge as part of the project.
Living on €2 a day for seven days: could you do it? Of course you could, you can. I finished my #PovertyBox challenge with food to spare. The challenge invites people to walk in the shoes of the 3 billion plus people around the globe who live on less than $2.50 per day (that includes everything for them, we only include food and drink). The #PovertyBox is far more than just eating the food you buy with your €14 and crossing the finish line at the end of the week. It’s about empathy, solidarity and tackling the causes of poverty.
When I kicked off the challenge on Tuesday last week, I was very determined to get to my destination and less focused on the journey I was embarking on. When I get on the train in the mornings to go to work, I never think about Connolly Station and what I’m going to do from there. I look out the window and day dream, I eavesdrop on other people’s phone conversations and usually have at least one epiphany. For half of the challenge I focused on trying not to spend money that I knew I had. I had lost the real purpose of the challenge but by Day 4 I had multiple epiphanies about the connections between Global Goal #1 and all the other goals. These moments throughout the challenge have changed my perspective on overcoming poverty and how we can do it. Coincidentally, I watched a documentary called Requiem for the American Dream, a series of interviews with Noam Chomsky- the most highly regarded intellectual of our time- which reaffirmed my convictions on how to end poverty.
The first epiphany occurred on Day 1 of the challenge. While wandering around Lidl like a headless chicken for more than an hour, with my phone in one hand and a shopping list in the other, I realised my freedom of choice was severely restricted. I describe myself as an ethical shopper- always organic, free range, vegetarian, vegan options sometimes, where I shop (I know, Lidl!), sustainable palm oil or none at all- but this time I couldn’t afford to make that choice. I was trying to shop for healthy foods instead of instant or junk. My attention however was drawn to the fact that foods which are considered bad for you are far cheaper than healthier foods. Malnutrition literally means ‘bad nutrition’ and many associate it with children in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m associating it with the obesity epidemic in Europe just as much as I am with others around the world without access to nutritious food. Our government talks about reducing the obesity rate by asking people to make the right choices in the supermarket. How can people make a healthier and more ethical choice if these items are priced far higher than items that are unhealthy and produced unethically? In this sense, No Poverty and Health and Wellbeing are interlinked. For people to be healthy they need to be able to afford the necessary foods for their diets, not just any food.
There were ups and downs for me throughout the challenge. I was starving, I had headaches and my concentration was not up to much. Colleagues in work were concerned for me. Chocolates were left on my desk, shoved into my hand or just placed in front of me and I was simply told to eat. What can I say? I took it. I had to go on a night out as well. There was bartering involved to get a few scoops, but after that I had pints of water. It felt strange to accept charity-especially when you know you have money with you. I felt guilty and inferior. They could see I was struggling and they wanted to help me out. I understand that, but did they realise how it made me feel? Did they realise that I perceived them as superior? Did they feel good about giving me something that I didn’t have? I know I could have decided not to take it. There were a few instances of refusals which were met with frustration from the donor. When I asked if they would like to join me in solidarity, they refused. It became clear that it was easier for others to be charitable than to join me in solidarity. It was easier for them to give me bits of what they had without compromising themselves. Charity doesn’t help those in poverty in the longer term. It creates division between the ‘haves’ and the have nots’. I feel that if charity was a long term and sustainable solution to poverty, we would have eradicated it years ago.
On completion of the #PovertyBox challenge I firmly believe that solidarity is the best path to reach not only Global Goal #1 but all of the goals by 2030. I feel that if a significant number of people in Ireland (and around the globe) chose to live below the poverty line in solidarity with others who do, it would cause governments, corporations and institutions to address the situation. Charity enables these powers to continue with business as usual and fails to address the underlying causes of poverty which is created by ideologies, policies and the people behind them. People’s time rather than their money is far more precious when creating change in the world. As Chomsky says, ‘…uniting and creating a community is the only way to confront concentrated power…’ and for me, this is the only way to end poverty.
Requiem for the American Dream (full version available onNetflix)
Safe Food campaign for healthier eating in Ireland and the EU