When I launched Live Below the Line in the UK in 2012 I didn't think doing the challenge was going to be difficult at all. I thought those who screwed up their faces when I proposed the challenge were simply lazy. I remember being a student - the Smart Price pies, Pot Noodles and spaghetti shapes. Living on so little for over three years, how hard could living on £1 a day for five days really be?
Just two days into the challenge week and I was already very tired and cranky. I had a headache and I was trawling the internet for things to take my mind away from the hunger. I thought about the 7p I had left in my budget and what I could buy in the local shop near the office (nothing, as it turned out). But most importantly, I already had an entirely different perspective on the lives of those living in extreme poverty.
Working in the third sector isn't particularly glamorous and it's often pretty poorly paid, so despite moaning that I had no money throughout the majority of my 20s, I quickly came to realise that I'd never experienced anything close to actual poverty, nor had I experienced the intense frustration at having a lack of choice. It changed my perspective on development and made me contemplate the actuality of living in extreme poverty in a much more meaningful way.
How could someone living in this kind of poverty be expected to find a job when they must be exhausted from poor nutrition? How could they find the energy to walk 6 kilometres to find clean water? What happens if your child gets sick - do you feed the family or buy medicine?
It was the lack of choice that made the challenge so incredibly eye opening. Poverty traps. It decides the quality and quantity of your food, it determines what you spend your time doing and makes impossible decisions a reality.
Taking the challenge isn't easy, but it is possible. After three years, I've learnt what to buy and where to buy it. While the challenge week has become slightly easier over time, the grounding reality and awareness the campaign brings remains constant. This is why I'm so privileged to run the campaign in the UK. I hear stories from across the country of people who are changing their behaviours towards food waste; people who have begun volunteering for a charity in the UK to campaign for the end of extreme poverty; people who have been inspired to take the challenge into their communities to spread the message.
In just three short years, the campaign has grown dramatically, and largely organically. We don't have the huge advertising budgets of other challenges but people really respond to it. Being the only really experiential fundraising challenge in the UK helps, and it works. Last year alone we raised nearly £1million from less than 4000 fundraisers and you can raise money for any one of over 30 participating charities. Running marathons is hard but you rarely talk to those around you about the charity or issue you're raising money for. It's always about the training, the non-drinking, the high protein diet. With Live Below the Line you are compelled to talk about the issues right through the challenge week to everyone you meet - raising awareness and money for extreme poverty initiatives as you go.
I'm sure some of you are slightly sceptical about the idea of living on just £1 a day for five days for food and drink. However, after three years of challenges, our website is full of recipes, shopping guides and meal plans to get you through. You may think you have a good understanding about poverty already but true empathy comes from walking in someone else's shoes. It's a completely transformative experience and the campaign is helping to build a movement of people willing to take action to end extreme poverty. Join us!
The Live Below the Line challenge takes place across the UK between 28th April-2nd May. Sign up at www.livebelowtheline.com/uk