I've just finished five days of Living Below the Line on less than £1 per day for all food and drink. And no it was not part of austerity cuts, or because I was saving hard for a luxury item (although there is that certain pair of shoes...). It was to preview a campaign to highlight extreme poverty called Live Below the Line.
This innovative campaign challenges people to spend just £1 per day for five days on all food and drink in order to raise awareness about extreme poverty and by getting sponsored to do the challenge, they raise vital funds to tackle it. This year it is hoped that over 5,000 people in the UK alone will take up the challenge on or around the week of 7-11 May 2012, raising money for a selection of international development charities, including Malaria No More UK.
Most people think of malaria as a health issue, which it is, but it is also a key contributor to poverty in many areas, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
I spent my birthday last month in Ghana, where the whole population is at risk of malaria and where we are helping support a malaria prevention programme. Spending time with local community volunteers, like Thomas, inspired me to take up the Live Below the Line challenge a few months early - so I could ask for birthday donations instead of presents and, thanks to the generosity of friends and family, I've already raised over £600 to support malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment programmes in Africa.
Thomas is one of the volunteers who distributed and hung mosquito nets in his local community - successfully increasing the number of people with access to a net from 2% to over 99%. This is part of a ground breaking partnership we are helping support in Ghana, aiming to provide nets to every home by the end of this year. Thomas was all smiles when I met him, delighted at the success of the campaign and the fact that his family could also now sleep protected by a net. Thomas has good reason to be afraid of malaria as his two year old daughter Irene almost lost her life to the disease last year. Thanks to his quick action rushing her to hospital, she survived. However, her two week hospitalisation cost him the equivalent of six months' wages, something he and his family could ill-afford.
Doing the Live Below the Line challenge gave me a small personal glimpse into the everyday limitations and far tougher choices faced by people like Thomas and the 1.4 billion more who have to live on just £1 per day, for absolutely everything.
In this context, living on £5 for five days for food and drink does not seem so hard, and it isn't. I found it a fun and fascinating way to raise awareness of the issues - it was a constant talking point - and of course a great way to raise funds, not least from the money I was able to save on my usual food and drink.
I would urge anyone reading this and thinking about whether to take on Live Below the Line to do it. It is obviously a challenge, hence the name but anyone can do it. For me, going without coffee was the hardest part. As to advice, I would suggest forward planning - take time to shop around for the cheapest deals as it is amazing the price differences you will find. My favourite top tip is to include a treat in the budget, I bought a pack of custard creams for 31 pence - enough for six each day and believe me each one was appreciated!
It was Thomas' story, his desire to make a difference for his community, that motivated me, but there are 1.4 billion reasons to get involved. Go on, take action this year, I did ... will you?
Read Andy Murray's thoughts on the challenge for Malaria No More UK