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Into Poverty: Living on One Dollar

When I think about poverty, what comes to my mind is the documental four college friends did in Guatemala. As a Guatemalan, I did not need to watch the trailer to convince myself that it would be an hour well-spent. I watched the film eagerly because I wanted to see how these guys were determined to understand poverty and do something about it, because I needed to open my eyes to the reality my country lives on a daily basis.

The two friends, Chris and Zach, studied International Development together in school. Realizing that textbooks would take them only so far in their understanding of how to assist those who live in poor rural villages, they chose to spend a summer living on $1/day in Peña Blanca, Guatemala, where 7 out of 10 people live under the poverty line. Two filmmakers, Ryan and Sean,  joined them in their journey.

Recognizing that those in the village are mostly informally employed, and never know when or how much they may be paid, they simulated this aspect of unpredictable income by drawing their day’s monetary allotment from a hat each morning. Some mornings they drew a “0” and did not have any money to spend while other days they drew a 1, 2, 3, 6, or any number up to a maximum of 9 dollars.

One of their initial questions going in was whether the people living in extreme poverty planned how they spent their money, or if they just lived in survival mode–trying to scrape together what they could manage each day just to feed their children.

Early in the documentary we meet Chino, a 12 year old boy who had already accepted his fate as a farmer. The cost of school ($25 for books/supplies) is more than most families in that area could pay–40% of students do not finish school because they must work to help support the family. Children find whatever work will help them through the day, even if it means risking their lives.

Primarily, the guys witnessed the power in partial solutions when it comes to helping people progress out of poverty; specifically, that small changes make significant impacts and changing the world begins with something as simple as empowering individuals so they can help each other.

They also personally experienced the difference between loan officers who offer no solutions, and those who were willing to take risks to empower villagers by helping them help themselves. Throughout the documentary, Chris and Zach noted the small changes that had profound effects on the lives of the impoverished people around them.

At one point, Chris voiced something that made me reflect on how privileged I am, It is the situation they are in that is holding them back, not who they are.” He said that it’s not because they are not ambitious or they are not searching for opportunities; it’s because they lack the things we take advantage of every single day, and in the blink of an eye throw away.

In the film it was clear that there were no simple answers, but still managed to leave me with hope that any small actions we, the people, take can have a lasting impact.

This not only happens in Guatemala. Extreme poverty is a global problem, it’s everyone’s issue. Watching this documentary showed me how important it is for all of us to take action and that we as individuals can have an impact. No longer can we tolerate people living in these kinds of conditions, no longer can we watch people die because of lack of resources. The time to act is now. What will you do about it?

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