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TNS is 10: Below the Line

29th April 2013

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Over a billion people in the world live in extreme poverty having to survive on just £1 a day. Below the Line asks people to take on the challenge of living on this meagre amount of money to help understand the difficulties many people face. TNS writer Hannah Forrest was one who took the challenge.....


Live Below The LineThis challenge has come in for a lot of criticism. True those involved aren’t generally experiencing true poverty, really only eating less for one week.

We still have access to cars and heating and showers and TV. But the people that took on this challenge have done so for generally the right reasons and this is definitely not something to be criticised because at the end of the day we are doing this to show that WE WANT TO HELP!

 I shall begin...

 I never thought when I decided to take on this challenge it would: a.) require so much more will power than I physically believed possible (I mean, I like rice and lentils so how hard can this be, right?) or b.) have such a strong affect on me. 

My initial reaction had been that of genuine interest. What a great idea! It required initiative, resourcefulness and dedication. Far more effort than my usual ‘cheque in an envelope’ to the Smith Family at Christmas – this was actually requiring me to do something! I was bored of telethons, sick of people shaking cans of money at me, and frustrated at being harassed on the street, asking me what I thought about the whales, or pollution, or starving children that Angelina hadn’t yet adopted. 

Doing something actually feels good - and though charity should not be directed to how the giver feels, this challenge seemed like a great way to get the message across. 

So with very little planning, I set out with my $10 on Sunday night and bought what little ingredients were to take me through the week: rice, lentils, oats, a handful of vegetables, and then I factored in some basics that I already had: butter, flour, salt and tea (praise the Lord for tea)! 

I knew that I had taken a lazy approach and that I would probably hate myself come Wednesday for lack of planning, but I didn’t want to make this too easy on myself either. I heard about a few others who were already looking at ways they could cheat – a sneaky freebie here, a donated item there, even taking food from their own (or other’s) gardens! The thought of breaking the rules like this irked me. And it continued to gnaw at me throughout the week. 

I mean, this challenge wasn’t a fad diet! It wasn’t meant to make you look hip (or thin), it wasn’t being policed by parents, friends or co-workers waiting to present you with a trophy and applause come Friday evening. It was about trying to live within the means that over a billion people have to live by every single day. 

So I decided to plan not to plan. To only use my basics no matter how hungry I was. 

And when Monday rolled around I found I was a little excited about my meagre items. Sure, breakfast of oats and water tasted like cardboard, but I didn’t care. I was taking part in something far bigger than my need, no, my want for flavour. See this is one thing that I’m beginning to notice everywhere now. We constantly talk about ‘need’ when in fact we only ‘want’. How many times have you told yourself you need that coffee in the morning or that after-work wine on a Friday? I know I did it all the time. And if we're being honest, will probably do again after this challenge too. Ask yourself though, how often do you actually feel hungry? And not just the ‘I’m-overdue-for-lunch’ hunger, but proper, gut twisting, nauseating hunger? 

Food is everywhere, and quite frankly this week it has pissed me off! Advertisements litter bus stops and the sides of tram, magazine pages and even sing at me from the television. Food packaging looks so happy and welcoming. Heck, even when I buy petrol I can get not one, but two, overly sugared chocolate bars There is no break from the constant reminder that there is plenty of food out there and we should be buying it all the time! Food is so accessible; therefore many of us don’t ever truly experience hunger. Our kitchens are full of it, our workplaces too – supermarkets, cafes and convenience stores which are only ever a few feet apart, forever beg us to buy more, eat more, spend more! It’s ridiculously excessive! And I can’t believe I didn’t see it before! 

So go on then, tell me off for my holier than thou rant. Point out that I too buy into these gimmicks and materialism all the time, and have been for most of my life. And that with three meals a day factored into my $10 there was no need for me to think that I was going to starve, that in a just few measly hours there wouldn’t be a meal, however bland, waiting for me. 

Yes, I’m only taking on this challenge for five days, and yes, this weekend I will be eating normally again, though I do hope with a little less excess. But I truly hope that I don’t forget the things that I have come to realise this week. I hope that I can learn to live a little less excessively. And I hope that by reading this you might feel inclined to give up your after work wine (just one!) or coffee for the day and donate that $3 to the Live Below the Line cause instead – after all that’s a day and half’s worth of food and drink! Every dollar, every action or inaction, counts! And that's something those critics out there need to think about before they pass judgement on people just trying to help a cause.

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