The Two Dollar Challenge: A Mother’s Perspective

Two Dollar ChallengeI grew up in India, living in a village where people were very poor. I’ve seen first-hand what that is like, and it inspired me to go into international development work.  I now work at International Food Policy Research Institute, which “seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty.”  So I think of myself as knowing quite a bit about global poverty.   But the Two Dollar Challenge helped me to really understand a different dimension of poverty: the concern that parents have when their kids are living in poverty.

When my daughter took the challenge the first time, I worried about whether she would eat properly, would get cold or wet from sleeping in the shelter, or get sick.  How would she do on her tests and papers that week, if she couldn’t eat or sleep well?  These were concerns, but I expected them.  What I did not expect was how I would react to the social stigma on my daughter.  How I felt for her when she got grungy because she could only use public restrooms.  How incensed I got when she told me that someone had said, half in jest, “so you’re the ones making the campus look like a dump.”

I knew all these aspects of poverty—lack of nutritious food, clean water, safe shelter; even the difficulties in learning on an empty stomach and the social alienation.  But what I had not fully understood was how it hurts doubly to know that your child is experiencing it.  And if I, who was not living on $2 a day, could feel this way about my daughter, who was doing this voluntarily for only a week, and could always opt out, how much worse must it be for a mother to be hungry herself, and to see her child hungry or ostracized, and to not be able to do something about it.

As the website says, the Two Dollar Challenge is, “first and foremost an educational exercise.”   When I heard about the Two Dollar Challenge, I thought of it as an amazing way for participants to learn about the challenges of the poor, and an excellent way of raising awareness in the campus or broader community.  What I didn’t realize was how much I, as a parent, would learn from the experience of my daughter taking the challenge.

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