One could barely think straight after five days she was so hungry. Another who is pregnant, was sapped of all energy after only one day.  Me, I caused a stink at the grocery store checkout over 65 cents, …..yes, we were impacted. I don’t think any of us will think of extreme poverty in the same way ever again.

 Live Below The Line is a campaign created to change the way that people think about extreme poverty. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on under $1.25 per day, something that 1.2 billion people in the world currently survive on. These are the poorest of poor, and to truly understand what it means to live that way, you need to experience it. Five World Moms took on the challenge, and in each of our own words here is what we found:

Hannah Ashton – USA

I’m six months pregnant, which is hard enough in itself, particularly when my day is spent running round after my toddler, Maggie, and I hadn’t been sleeping very well, for just one day, I thought I would give the challenge a go.  I could, of course, always stop, unlike the many pregnant women around the world, who sadly don’t have that option.

The day started well enough with oatmeal made with water, 2/3rds of a banana and a mug of green tea.   I used the tea bag to make 3 more mugs of tea which were like green water by the third and fourth cup.  This filled me up until lunchtime which was a kidney bean and carrot burger, using the recipe from “a girl called jack blog”, 1 oz. rice and two flatbreads.   Immediately after eating lunch I was still hungry.  It was a small amount of food and there was no more food until dinner.  I generally eat dinner with my husband when he gets home from work at 8pm.  Instead I was too hungry so I ate at 5:30 with Maggie when she ate her dinner.  My dinner was a kidney bean, carrot, onion and tomato stew with 2 oz rice.  Even though I had soaked the kidney beans overnight, boiled them for 20 minutes and let them simmer in the stew for an hour, they were still very hard, but I ate it all anyway.

  Later, as my husband cooked himself a delicious looking steak sandwich, a radish salad and drank a glass of red wine, I cooked up my two remaining flatbreads and made a fresh mug of green tea.  “It’s like we’re living in two different worlds tonight,” he commented.

At 3 am I woke up with a splitting headache and was extremely hungry.  I came downstairs, took two Tylenol and had a large piece of the blueberry pie that was left over from the weekend.   The next day, it is fair to say I really struggled even though the challenge was over.  The LBTL diet of the day before had really affected me.  I rang my husband at work in tears asking him to please come home from work earlier to help with Maggie’s bedtime routine as I didn’t have the energy to do it by myself (I have a nightly battle with teeth brushing but usually take it in my stride). I had to cancel a play date with a friend and I went to bed at 8:30.   It was only by Wednesday, that I felt back to normal.

I’ve not known what it’s like to be really hungry before; I’ve never dieted or not had enough money for food.   I can’t say if I was affected by this challenge more than others because I’m pregnant.   In a few years, I plan to revisit the challenge and complete the five days. What I can say is the experience has profoundly affected me.  No one should have to function on such little calories and the thought of a child having to go through this, especially, is completely heart breaking.

Item Total cost ($) Per day ($)
1 lb. dried kidney beans 1.69 0.34
1 lb. white rice* 1.07 0.21
24 oz. tomato sauce with basil and garlic 1.00 0.20
5 instant apple and cinnamon oatmeal* 0.89 0.18
1 lb. carrots 0.66 0.13
1 lb. flour* 0.65 0.13
1 lb. bananas 0.59 0.12
10 green tea bags* 0.50 0.10
0.5 lb. onions 0.33 0.07
Total 7.38 1.48

*items bought with a friend so we could split the cost.

beans copy

Deborah Quinn- Abu Dhabi

When I agreed to try living below the line for a day, I mostly had in mind trying to teach my kids about their relative privilege—that their status as “picky eaters” was in fact the ultimate luxury, given that a person only refuses one kind of food if he knows that another sort of food is available.  In Abu Dhabi, where I live, $1.50 converts to about 5 dirhams, or about the cost of a large loaf of bread.  I had decided that I would make a sort of vegetable, and as I selected one onion from India, one potato still crusted with dirt from Lebanon, two small carrots grown here in the UAE, I wondered whether the people who picked the vegetables were themselves living below the line in those countries.

My “soup” consisted of a chopped carrot, onion, and potato simmered in water with a bullion cube for flavor.  I confess that I used my immersion blender to puree the vegetables when they were soft, so that the soup felt a bit thicker and more filling.  I used another onion and some dried staples—lentils and rice—to make mejadra, a dish from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook.  Families all over this region have their own mejadra recipe, each with slightly different proportions of spices, but the dish is quintessential feed-a-lot-of-people-on-not-much: fried onions stirred into lentils and rice.  With my soup and my lentils and rice, I wasn’t hungry, but I wasn’t terribly satisfied, either: I wanted sugar, I wanted coffee, I wanted fresh green lettuce and ripe tomatoes.

I thought about the migrant workers in Abu Dhabi, who come from desperately poor towns in places like Goa, Kerala, Islamabad, or Peshawar, who work here for a pittance but are nevertheless making more money than they would at home.  What are they filling their bellies with, in order to face another day of work in Abu Dhabi’s broiling sunshine?  And given the world’s insistence—and reliance—on global capitalism, with its relentless emphasis on bottom line profits, how will we ever bring about permanent change, so that boullion soup is something you eat only when you have an upset tummy and not because it’s all you can afford?


Alison Fraser- Canada


My first attempt at living below the poverty line was much more challenging than I had anticipated. I had visions of making creative dishes to spread the $1.50 as thin as possible. It didn’t work. The bottom line is that $1.50 doesn’t get you much in terms of food in Canada. My meals consisted of small spooned amounts of peanut butter just to keep me going. I tried to drink lots of water to conquer the hunger, but that didn’t help much either. Fruit and vegetables were much too expensive to include in my meal plan, as winter in Canada results in costly produce.
In the end, my mind kept drifting back to my time in Tanzania where I met women who lived below the poverty line every single day. Some of these women were sick, and were forced to choose between their life and the needs of their children, as many HIV medications can only be taken with food. I can’t even imagine having to make that choice. So unfair.
This was an incredibly emotional experience and next year, I am determined to do it for more than just one day.

Elizabeth Atalay- USA

I could feel the color rising in my cheeks as the cashier called over the store manager. I had $7.50 to spend for my five day Live Below The Line food budget, and the misleading sale sign had just caused my order to ring up 65 cents over my carefully calculated bill. I could see them exchanging exasperated looks as I explained that the (crappy) instant coffee I had purchased was advertised for less than it rang up. The hunger pangs I felt later in the day were not what stuck with me from this challenge, those took place in the privacy of my home. It was the sting of humiliation as  the line of people behind me built up while I caused a scene over 65 cents at the grocery store. I was mortified, and imagined having to swallow my pride like this on a regular basis. I can describe the tightening in my chest, the flush of my cheeks,  and acid rising in my throat better than I can explain the emotion that moment made me feel…powerless, small, ashamed?   The manager explained that the sale was only for purchases of $25  or more.  They said they would give it to me anyways since I had told them, without going into detail, that I only had $7.50 to spend, and it was false advertising.  As much as I wanted to save face, I certainly wasn’t going to take the time to try to explain that I was doing it as part of the Live Below The Line campaign then, with the impatient crowd waiting for their turn. I plan to take the full 5 day challenge when it officially runs between April 28- May 2nd. After doing it for just one day I can see how impactful  it is in deepening empathy, and understanding on the issue of hunger, and what it means to live in poverty.

What $7.50 bought after sales, coupons, and making a scene.

What $7.50 bought after sales, coupons, and making a scene.

Jennifer Burden- USA

They (LBL) got me.  Big time. I’ve read about poverty, tweeted about it, gone to the far reaches of Uganda with the Shot@Life campaign, where I met children who are fed their one and only meal a day at school. I’ve also donated to local food banks, here, in NJ, USA.  I felt like I knew how important it is that there are people near and far who go hungry and that 1.2 billion people on the planet live below the poverty line, and that I was doing enough.  So, like a “know-it-all teenager” I naively went into this challenge thinking that I wouldn’t really learn much. Boy, was I wrong. Really wrong.

Originally, I signed up for a day of the Live Below the Line Challenge, and then, by Day 2, I had committed myself to the full challenge — 5 days. I thought I’d be celebrating on Day 5 that I had gotten that far, but there was a whole transformation. Check out my video from Day 5:

Every global health advocate, college student, mom, dad, teen, blogger, journalist, CEO, teacher, living human who is living above the poverty level, etc., should consider experiencing the challenge. The impact on eliminating world poverty would be profound if even more people were involved. It would be incredible. The challenge was a REAL eye-opener and new motivator for me. You’ve gotta do this!!!!!


Visit our World Moms Blog Team  Live Below The Line Page to benefit UNICEF, where you can donate to help those less fortunate, or see the impact we’ve already made in the challenge.


The Live Below The Line Challenge will run from April 28th to May 2nd and you can sign up here  as an individual or team.  Will you take the challenge?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Elizabeth Atalay, Jennifer Burden, Hannah Ashton, Deborah Quinn, and Alison Fraser.

Elizabeth Atalay

Elizabeth Atalay is a Digital Media Producer, Managing Editor at World Moms Network, and a Social Media Manager. She was a 2015 United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellow, and traveled to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow to report on newborn health in 2014. On her personal blog, Documama.org, she uses digital media as a new medium for her background as a documentarian. After having worked on Feature Films and Television series for FOX, NBC, MGM, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Castle Rock Pictures, she studied documentary filmmaking and anthropology earning a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School in New York. Since becoming a Digital Media Producer she has worked on social media campaigns for non-profits such as Save The Children, WaterAid, ONE.org, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation, Edesia, World Pulse, American Heart Association, and The Gates Foundation. Her writing has also been featured on ONE.org, Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter.com, EnoughProject.org, GaviAlliance.org, and Worldmomsnetwork.com. Elizabeth has traveled to 70 countries around the world, most recently to Haiti with Artisan Business Network to visit artisans in partnership with Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans. Elizabeth lives in New England with her husband and four children.

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