Letters from the dorm: Finding out that it hurts to Live Below the Line

By Elaine Leung, 20, Year 2, Durham University
By Elaine Leung, 20, Year 2, Durham University |

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Primary school student studying in bed at Gulong Village, a poverty-stricken mountainous area. Photo: Xinhua

After my birthday at the end of April, I took part in the "Live Below the Line" challenge. The name says it all: those who take part were asked to spend only GBP1 (about HK$12) a day on food and drinks. 

The challenge does not exactly copy what it is really like living below the poverty line, but it helps make us aware of the 1.2 billion fellow citizens on our planet who live in extreme poverty. These people quite possibly have less than GBP1 a day to spend on everything, including shelter, injections, transport - everything.

I first came across this challenge when a friend posted about it on social media. It suddenly occurred to me that I was very lucky to have the money to dress nicely and go out for a meal with friends on my birthday. 

It might seem normal for many of us to just go out for a meal, but those living under the poverty line cannot imagine it. For them, there are more important things such as health care to worry about.

The challenge was especially hard for fruit and vegetable lovers like me as those would take up most of the money, so I spent my budget on 500 grams of oats, rice and a few cans of baked beans and chickpeas. 

I strictly adhered to the challenge - I didn't even buy any seasoning, just so I could save up a little extra for a cheeky Kinder chocolate treat at the end of my five days. It was especially frustrating when my housemates were enjoying their great-smelling stews, while I had only plain rice to eat.

To be honest, I felt both excited and sad when the five-day challenge was over. Excited because I could finally drink tea and coffee again; sad because I knew that for me it was only five days of my life, but for 1.2 billion people across the world, this is the way it is every day of their lives. It really does makes you think.