During College, we were learning about extreme poverty in class but couldn’t imagine what life at that level is really like. We recruited two of our friends to join us in pursuing a crazy idea... Could we live on just $1 a day for 56 days in rural Guatemala to better understand the reality of poverty?
It wasn’t easy and we didn’t find any simple answers. But, we left empowered with the knowledge that even the smallest actions can have a big impact.
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Here is our journey. What will yours be?
What is it really like to live on just $1 a day?
Today, we are setting out on the most intense experience of our lives- to live in extreme poverty, on just $1 a day for 56 days. We're traveling from the U.S. to the small village of Peña Blanca in rural Guatemala. There are so many things we don't know about the next two months. What will we eat every day, how will we budget such a small amount of money, what happens if we have an emergency?
How big of an effect could not having clean water nearby have on your life?
After finding that the closest source of water is a plastic pipe coming out of the side of a hill, we aren’t sure if its safe to drink. Two weeks later, Chris is lying sick and immobile on the dirt floor and we’re not sure if we be able to afford the cost of a doctor or medicine. Is not having clean water really that big of a problem for our neighbors here? What about around the world?
What kind of food can you afford on $1 a day and what does it really mean to be malnourished?
Cooking without a microwave or stove is harder than we thought! After eating just one bowl of rice and beans every day, we aren’t feeling so good and Zach even passes out on the floor. Our neighbor, Rosa Solares, teaches us about how she uses lard and makes tortillas out of corn. Eating more calories every day, we still question whether this diet is giving our neighbors the nutrition they need to be healthy. Is this why Guatemala has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world?
What options do the poor have to get back on their feet after a natural disaster?
We realize that we have no idea how to farm and ask our neighbor Pedro for advice. Working in the fields every day makes us think about what life as a subsistence farmer would be like. Pedro tells us about a tropical storm that swept through Guatemala and how he saw 60 percent of his onion fields destroyed in a massive landslide. How would a family who is already living on the edge ever recover from a natural disaster like this?
What barriers do the poor face in finding work and how do they make a living?
Looking for job opportunities in Peña Blanca, we find that few people in the village actually have formal jobs. We decide to try to plant a small crop of radishes and quickly get a glimpse of how hard life is as a day laborer or a farmer. If there aren’t enough formal jobs for most of the people living in Peña Blanca, is leaving your family and moving to a big city the only solution?
How is it possible to budget just $1 a day for immediate costs like food and shelter and still save for long term items like your kids’ education and emergencies?
One day, we head to the bank in town to see if we could get a loan or open a savings account with only our $1 a day income and find that it’s nearly impossible! Back in the village, we talk to our friends Anthony and Rosa about how they save and borrow money without using a traditional bank. Innovative tools, like microfinance loans and savings clubs, are helping them budget their money but what kind of extra risks do these tools force Anthony and Rosa to take on?
What prevents kids from going to school and how can education respect traditional culture while also teaching modern skills?
Playing soccer with the village kids every day, we realize that Regina's family can’t even afford to send her to the public school. Why is there still a huge education gap between the rich and the poor in Guatemala if the government provides free public school? This gets us thinking about how an education gap prevents kids from indigenous families from learning Spanish. What effect does this language barrier have on someone’s ability to get a formal job, travel to a big city or even visit a hospital?
How did this experience change our perspectives on poverty and what is the role of our generation as global citizens?
Having survived the two months, we have to say goodbye to our new friends in Peña Blanca. Coming home, its hard to get used to our lifestyles back in the U.S.. How can we make a difference for the people we left back in Peña Blanca? Starting small, we begin to use our story to inspire other students that they can follow their own passions and that together, we can change the world.