How many $1 bills did you blow on the lottery? Most of us don’t think twice about a dollar bill, but two Bainbridge Island college students lived on one dollar a day for a couple of months.
“Sleeping on a dirt floor getting bitten by fleas and waking up next to Chris who had a parasite,” says Zach Ingrasci.
“Combined we lost 38 pounds in just eight weeks,” Chris Temple adds.
Chris and Zach are college students studying economics. One number kept coming up “over and over again” in their class.
1.1 billion people live on less than one dollar a day around the world. Can you even imagine what that would be like? They couldn’t, but they wanted experience extreme poverty.
Along with two other college friends, they traveled to one of the poorest places in the world and lived, not like tourists, but as villagers in Guatemala.
“In the rural areas of Guatemala, 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line,” says Temple. “It’s really representative of so much poverty around the world.”
They ended up in a small dirt-floor hut, renting a patch of land and growing radishes.
“This is the first time I actually felt real hunger,” says Ingrasci. “We had, at the most, 800 calories a day and I just felt like I was swimming. It was hard to even get up, or walk up the hill or go out in the fields. Our neighbors were eating even less.”
As bad as it was, the reality Zach and Chris always had in the back of their minds was that living on one dollar was something they would be able to walk away from. And they did.
“One of the hardest parts of the whole experience was coming home and coming back obviously to so much excess here,” says Temple. “Instead of trying to reject the world that we have here, we’ve seen it as an opportunity in recognizing what we have – the education we’ve been given, having food every day, a bed to sleep in – this is an opportunity to create so many positive impacts.”
A documentary they produced about the experience, “Living on One Dollar,” just screened at SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle. They’re using it as a tool to talk with their peers around the country and get them fired up about doing something to end poverty in their lifetime.
We’ve seen young people get excited about these kinds of third world concerns before. Remember Kony 2012?
This group of young filmmakers say their effort is different because they have a plan to help people by focusing on microloans. That’s extending very small loans to impoverished borrowers who typically lack collateral and steady employment.
The loans are designed not only to alleviate poverty, but to empower people, especially women, and uplift entire communities.
Critics of microcredit say they only offer an “illusion of poverty reduction.” And that much of the evidence on the effectiveness of microfinancing for alleviating poverty is based in anecdotal reports.
These young men are not deterred.
“We’ve got fantastic partners that we work with to ensure impact on the ground,” says Temple. “Whole Planet Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of Whole Foods, does microfinance work in 53 different countries around the world.”
He says 100 percent of any donation received goes directly to a loan.
By LINDA THOMAS