TDC takes on the X-Men (well, at least Wolverine)
This week the TDC team was emailing students to join our Month of Microfinance by participating in our $2 a Day Challenge. A student at Wellesley College thanked us for reaching out, complimented our program (“amazing”), and mentioned another project recently launched on their campus called “Live below the Line” from the Global Poverty Project. Although we’ve been aware of the Global Poverty Project (and their celebrity spokesperson, Hugh Jackman) since their launch last spring, we had not really encountered them in our circles yet. We guess it was inevitable.
Those of you familiar with the TDC team know that at least once a year we look at what we are really bringing to the table with all of TDC’s programs, and what we can do to improve and work towards our vision, a world in which the allocation of every bit of passion and effort and dollar of aid dedicated to moving families out of poverty is guided by what works. This time our discussions revolved around the question, why would a student choose the $2 a Day Challenge over Live below the Line?
In short, we have three major advantages:
1. At its core, the $2 a Day Challenge is an educational exercise.
It started in a classroom (fall 2006), and even with its evolution outside of class there are a minimum of two discussion nights that focus on increasing the value of the experience for participants. There is no doubt that it also succeeds at raising funds and awareness about global poverty. However, the reason we continue to run, improve, and market this program to others is because of its unparalleled ability to engender empathy and humility among its participants.
2. Our week addresses many additional aspects of poverty and creates a community.
We ask participants to go beyond the constraint of living on $2 per day for food and hygiene products. Among other rules, students are asked to build makeshift shelters on campus, to choose a spigot on campus as the one and only place for participants to gain access to water, and to boil water before consuming it.
Through these constraints we create interdependence among the participants. Building shelters, gaining reliable access to water, and being able to make bulk purchases at the grocery store requires cooperation. By creating the need for cooperation, we build a community.
3. We question ourselves, our efforts, and the effectiveness of the organization receiving donations.
With our community in place, we have a space where participants find the comfort to honestly ask themselves “why am I here?” and “what do I hope to accomplish?” They also find the confidence to challenge each other’s assumptions and preconceived notions regarding global poverty. Every discussion at the shelters (which we have many) is an opportunity to probe deeper into the complexity of the process of economic development and our role (if any) in that process.
One of our favorite readings to discuss is Ivan Illich’s “To Hell with Good Intentions”. Ben Saunders, one of our former participants turned board of director, said it best when he stated that the $2 a Day Challenge “asks its participants to see that a central reason good intentions will fail in their realization is due to an inability to self-critique. By forcing students outside of their comfort zone, many realize that the limited poverty they do endure is such a struggle, that to really know poverty would be beyond their comprehension.”
Each year TDC graduates a cohort of $2 a Day participants steeped in critical thinking skills, highly attuned to the possible inadequacies of their efforts to take on global poverty, and humbled by their participation. We believe that empathy and humility make for a good starting point when taking on global poverty.