Local couple “lives below the line” to stir up awareness
A few years ago, students at Harvard flew into an uproar when the administration decided to save money by cutting hot breakfasts from the dining halls and removing free pastries from the libraries. The enraged students resolved their “food scarcity” issues quickly, but ask any one of them how many people in the world stare actual starvation in the face on a daily basis. It’s unlikely they will know.
As we approach the season to eat, drink and be merry, perhaps now is a good time to know. One in six human beings—that’s 1.4 billion people globally; many of them children—face starvation on any given day. Ed Sulzberger, executive director of a local nonprofit organization called African Childrens Haven, says that years working in Africa with international development and research organizations on the subject of food production taught him a great deal about the realities of world hunger.
“After a colleague of ours encouraged us, my wife Linda Ercole-Musso and I participated in an experiment to try and live on the extreme poverty line for five days with an organization called Live Below the Line,” he says. “We decided to join the campaign and, after getting some sponsors, attempted to eat just $1.50 of food a day and donate sponsor proceeds to the ISIS Foundation, one of the nonprofits selected by Live Below the Line. Our interest was to raise awareness about world hunger.”
Sulzberger explains that $1.50 is a marker set by the U.N. Development Program that gauges how people in the developing world live, but it’s inaccurate. “It’s a departure from the way most Americans live and it’s challenging, but in no way does this approach the deprivation of life in a developing country,” he explains. “In the developing world, people spend a lot of time just getting water and fuel for cooking, which we did not. That $1.50 a day was the cost of the food we ate, but to say it’s equivalent to life in a developing country is untrue. It takes skill to survive on that amount, especially with a family.”
A grocery trip to Walmart with their combined $15 bought them a dozen eggs, a cabbage, four pounds of brown rice, four one-pound bags of beans, a pound of oats, a small garlic bulb, an onion and a can of tomatoes. Final cost—about $14.50. The remainder was saved for cooking oil and salt. “We got enough calories and protein, but we were deficient in vitamins and minerals,” he says.
The couple managed to raise $250 for the ISIS Foundation. “We’re planning to do this experiment again next year, but we’re going to be smarter about it,” says Sulzberger. “We know others would like to join us.”
According to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped. While 20 percent of the world’s population remains impoverished, that’s 200 million people fewer than in 2005, or approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population. The drop was attributed to more effective aid programs, increased trade with the poorest countries and improvements in governance and transparency.
What about the irate, pancake-deprived students at Harvard? “It’s not about making people feel guilty for having a lot,” Sulzberger says. “For the first time, the numbers are moving in the right direction. The real issue is how to help others lead a better life.”
For more information about African Childrens Haven, visit www.africanchildrenshaven.org.
Charity begins at home! This holiday season, help end hunger in our own community. Here are some ideas for your children, youth group or other community service organization:
- Find a good use for surplus food. Nearly 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes to waste! Help local restaurants, farmers, universities, hotels and entertainment venues find a way to get their extra food to people in need.
- Organize a food drive or bake sale and donate the proceeds to your local food pantry.
- Plant or help out at a community garden.
- Volunteer at your local food pantry, community kitchen or shelter.
- Start or support a backpack feeding program. Kids suffer from hunger most during weekends and school vacations. Help stuff backpacks with food every Friday for kids to eat over the weekend.
- Be mindful of the food your purchase and prepare for your family. The average American family of four ends up tossing the equivalent of $2,275 of food into the trash annually.