A few weeks ago, Dan and Kelly and I watched a documentary on Netflix called Living on One Dollar. The premise for the documentary is that four college kids are relocating to a remote village in Guatemala for the summer to live as the local, extremely impoverished population does: on less than one US Dollar per day. The students tried to simulate extreme poverty in several ways on top of just living on very little—the local people make money most often as hourly workers on local farms, but the income is unstable and unpredictable because they don’t have steady work and don’t know when work will be available. The students mimicked that uncertainty by budgeting $1 per person per day for their entire trip, but they broke that total budget up into different sized chunks, ranging from $0 to $9, and each day they would draw a number from a hat to find out how much money they had for that day.
Their experience was exactly what you could expect—brutal. They lost weight and felt awful because they couldn’t afford sufficient calories (eventually they started adding lard to their rice and beans, but their health definitely deteriorated in the few months that they were there). They had flea bites from sleeping on the dirt floor of their small hut, and one of the guys got extremely ill with a parasite (likely from the unclean water) and had to take medicine that they brought in case of emergencies. If he had not had that medicine (as the local residents don’t) the medicine would have been $25, a price that they definitely could not afford.
So, listen. I’m an educated adult. I know that these living conditions exist in the world. But intellectually knowing something and actually watching someone experience it are incredibly different, as we know. This experience felt especially poignant because I was watching the documentary sitting next to Kelly, and watching children his age on the television struggling with things I wouldn’t wish on anyone. When you are surviving on SO little, any tiny expense can completely derail your life—for example, the cost of school supplies, even though they are pretty inexpensive, is prohibitive for many families in this area of Guatemala. The parents want their children to be able to go to school—they want that deeply. But, as the documentary asks, how do you choose between feeding your family and sending your child to school?
It goes without saying, but will be said anyway, that we don’t face these choices. Even the poorest families in the United States are much better off than impoverished areas of the developing world, but families like ours that comfortably meet our daily needs have a standard of living that just looks absurdly luxurious when you compare it to what you’ll see in this film.
Dan and I have been talking lately about giving back—we give to charities, but it feels like it’s time to engage in some more intentional and organized giving (right now I have a few recurring donations, but the bulk of my giving happens when a friend points out a worthy cause, and I make a donation). In thinking about what our giving should look like, I’ve struggled a little bit with prioritizing recipients. There are so many causes that I find worthy and compelling. But this film, and searching my own heart, helped me cement the fact that providing food, water, and shelter to those who desperately need it are at the top of my list. So, our giving will focus on that—I’ve chosen a charity that focuses on water access, one that focuses on hunger worldwide, one that focuses on hunger within the United States, and one that provides emergency relief to refugees. It’s small, but it’s something. And my reaction when I watch this documentary is that we need to do something.
Love you, mean it.