A 2013 documentary, Living On One Dollar, explores the challenges of living below the poverty line in rural Guatemala as four American students take on the task of surviving on $1 USD per day.
Life in the Community
The students move into a small dwelling in the village of Peña Blanca where they sleep side-by-side on a hard floor. They set themselves certain parameters for their mission to make life for them as similar to that of their neighbours. For example, rather than simply spend one dollar per day, they pick out a random amount of money each day, between 0 and 9 dollars, to simulate the instability of income that many of the world’s poorest face.
The boys grapple with challenges like their inability to afford basic medication, lack of knowledge about how to grow food, low energy due to their drop in calorie intake etc. But they also meet some wonderful characters, people who are poor financially but rich in generosity and kindness. They learn about the hopes and aspirations of some of these people and about some have benefitted greatly from micro finance loans, enabling them to take the initiative and kick-start their own businesses.
Playing Your Part
The documentary would be particularly interesting for anyone with experience of Empathy Action’s ‘Poverty Trap’ simulation. It looks at the big changes that small actions can cause and challenges the viewer to play their part in battling poverty.
The film also demonstrates the difference in empathy that closeness to the situation creates. For instance, one of the non-Spanish speaking members of the group who hasn’t been hearing the stories of the locals they live among says at one point, ‘this is not that hard… I could do this for another 2 years’. Reflecting back on this, filmmaker Zach, who does speak Spanish, tells us,
I just got really angry… clearly the people we were around, they had learned to survive but it wasn’t ok and it wasn’t easy for them… they couldn’t follow their dreams because they couldn’t go to school because they had to provide for their family.
Not many of us will ever experience such extreme poverty but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to understand it better, empathise with those who live with it and join in the battle to end it. Talk to us about how you can involve your school, business or community group in the action.