I remember sitting next to this Swazi woman, we were outside her hut in rural Swaziland, just to the south of its biggest city, Manzini. She was holding her newborn baby tight and she looked sad. Sad, but not visibly upset - she wasn't going to cry. Crying is only useful or worth it when you feel a sense of injustice. Without hope, without expectations or choice, what's the use of crying?
My colleague moved the video camera to face her and our Swazi colleague sat to our right. They began talking in the local language to each other and we started filming. What she described is shocking but sadly commonplace in the developing world. Poor people are exploited by more than just big companies or dodgy governments, everyone is vulnerable and no one has any choice about it whatsoever.
She described to us how she didn't want the beautiful baby she was holding. He was a product of a rape. A man had climbed through her windowless hut. She didn't struggle, what was the point? There was no time to complain, she had a mouth to feed, water to fetch. Finding food and water was an arduous and time consuming task, especially on an empty stomach but she had no choice. With few roads near by and no energy or time to find work for income, this life was a prison. She feared the inevitable day her baby got sick - what would she do? Find and buy medicine, or eat?
We ended up building her a new house for about £200 and entering her into our food programme. That hasn't solved the big problem in her life - the cycle of poverty - but it's a start. In the Development sphere we need, what my boss helpfully describes as the "five and the two". We start with the individual and what they need - food security, water and clean sanitation, education, healthcare, opportunity to earn an income. Then we need local governments to act- good aid, good governance, and less corruption and political stability. It's these foundations we're trying to cover in the Live Below the Line campaign and through the rest of our work at The Global Poverty Project.
Yes, Live Below the Line is a fundraising challenge. And although we know money donated from the west isn't going to solve the problem alone, like the house I helped build for my Swazi friend, it is a start. But the Live Below the Line campaign does more than that. Being experiential it means you actually begin to live without your regular choices and options. Of course, it's not like living in extreme poverty but the removal of choice certainly helps you understand the challenges better.
If you understand the complexities of extreme poverty - the traps, the struggles and those challenges - you're much more likely to do something about it. That means taking action in your own life and on behalf of others. It might mean emailing your MP about protecting aid spending. It might mean wasting less food in your fridge to help ease the global food problem. Or it might mean supporting organisations that help support democracy in places like Swaziland.
Once again, I'm living on £5 for 5 days for my food and drink and raising money and spreading awareness by doing it. I'm living below the line so others can rise above it. It's not easy but it is possible and it's an incredibly rewarding and grounding experience. Thousands across the UK will join me on 28th April and raise money for a number of organisations including my own, The Global Poverty Project.
I really hope you'll join me by signing up at www.livebelowtheline.com/uk-gpp