Hunger to Learn About the Hungry

pbjTwo years ago, I saw a couple of students living under a tarp in the middle of Ball Circle. I vaguely read a few sentences in the university newspaper regarding the purpose of their deliberate and sudden impoverished situation. I had some experience dealing with unfortunate economic circumstances in my lifetime, and while I was fortunate enough to never have lived in those conditions, I began to question what the objective of these people was. Why would anyone “want” to be poor for a week? What are they trying to prove?

I would be able to find the answers to these questions two years later, when I participated in the event myself. As the first days passed, I soon found out that, to my surprise, everybody actually followed the rules (some even to a shocking extent). This is something I did not expect. I began to ask my friends who had participated before more about what the point of this experience was, as everybody knows what poverty is, and therefore I thought, there is no need to experience it in a first world country. My friend informed me that the objective of this experience is not to live “like” the poor, for it is important to first acknowledge that the poor live in even worse conditions. She informed me that the Two Dollar Challenge aims to use this experience to discover and appreciate those emotional elements that rise to the top when someone’s financial and material situation deteriorates. The pursuit of this goal inevitably engenders empathy and humility and raises doubt as well.  Doubt about what our role is in alleviating poverty.

My family and I used to move a lot when I was a kid in Argentina, mainly due to financial reasons and seeking a new beginning. One day, my mother, my sister and I were traveling in a bus, as my dad was away looking for a job. We had not eaten all day; as the night quickly approached, my mother had some coins, which she used to purchase a sandwich and split it in two. It was the most delicious sandwich I had ever tasted, maybe because I had not eaten anything at all that day. Perhaps my fellow challengers will never experience what it is like to live a day without having anything to eat, but the thing is, they don’t have to. For their hunger to learn more about the hungry is what counts.  They were not mocking or toying with poverty, as many may perceive it; they acknowledge that they may not know anything about it, yet put in all their efforts to try to understand it. In a way, they were trying to understand my situation. For someone who never knew someone else but wants to understand them is in my opinion a very humble and noble thing. It is these types of experiences that will open interactions and close the gap between those who never experienced poverty and those who desperately seek to escape it.

In the quest to understand and learn about poverty, it is not necessary to be born poor, but to have the patience and eagerness to experience and live in many situations. For there are many ways of learning, and the Two Dollar Challenge is just one of them.

Without a doubt, had I just accepted the Two Dollar Challenge and not questioned it, my life would be completely different right now.

Gustavo Catillo

University of Mary Washington (2013)

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