ChildFund New Zealand CEO Paul Brown reflects on his Live Below The Line challenge – a week of living on $2.25 a day, to make a lasting difference in the lives of children who live below the poverty line every day. Paul wanted the experience of participating but didn’t fundraise because he is currently fundraising for a marathon. While doing Live Below the Line he continued his training regime – running every day.

Paul Brown, ChildFund NZ CEO, with a group of happy kids in KenyaPaul Brown with some happy Kenyan kids

‘Why don’t you Live Below the Line this year Paul?’ One of our team said to me in passing.  There was a sense of challenge caught up in those words, to see if the boss was up for it.  No sweat I thought, $11.25 of food over five days should be fine.  After all, I had given up my favourite vice some months ago as part of my training for the adidas Auckland Marathon in November.  (And apologies to Arnotts…Classic Dark Tim Tams are so sorely missed in my life).  Surely I could cope with five days of gastronomic drudgery?

It began as bit of a novelty, a badge of honour to share with other Below the Liners.  On Monday we joked about how far we had stretched these thin budgets for the week.  The night before, after frugally purchasing a week of food, I had proudly beavered away, making a batch of pumpkin soup to be my lunch for each day of the week.  I knew I had a busy week ahead, and thought by cooking all my meals upfront it would somehow reduce the repetitiveness of the same meal of pasta with a small spoon of chilli mince for dinner each night.  Ten thin and slightly watery pancakes were also made, rolled and put in the freezer, with two to be microwave heated for breakfast.  I was ready!

Tuesday arrived with me slightly weary, the one cup of coffee allowed each morning is clearly not enough to kick start this aged brain of mine.  Others in the office nonchalantly walked by, their cardboard takeaway coffees reeking of opulence and carved milk froth.  At lunch the kitchen was abuzz with Below the Liners, prepping their meals, while others arrived oblivious of the noise and aromas their sushi, curries, pies, sandwiches made.  I scoffed my cup of soup.  When you don’t have much to eat, it doesn’t take much time to eat – a double whammy: it makes it seem even longer between precious meals.

Wednesday – halfway through and the pre-prepared meals with their monotony of flavours was getting rather boring.  I didn’t want to talk about food with colleagues.  I just wanted something tasty.

The empty feeling mid-morning Thursday was simply frustrating.  I couldn’t just trek to the bakery next door for a lousy $2.50 sticky bun.  That was my daily budget, camouflaged in icing sugar in an innocuous dainty white paper bag.  Suck it in Paul, you’ve got pumpkin soup to be devoured.  In 1 hour and 41 minutes. I arrived home that night, ready for groundhog dinner.  Microwave the chilli mince.  Boil the pasta.  Scoff.  Then onto washing the dishes – and my sons’ lunchboxes with their mum-made-it-but-I-couldn’t-eat-it-all remnants being downright cruel.

Friday meant the end was in sight – and usually the end of the working week means my wife and I spoil ourselves with a Thai curry from our local favourite restaurant.  Lemongrass…sweet basil….coconut milk…jasmine rice – sirens singing to my blanched palate.  Not this week.  Chilli mince anyone?

Hooray for Saturday!  I woke very early for a bowl of cereal (to load up for a training run), only to discover I couldn’t actually fit that much in!  To make matters worse, when I returned from my run to brew my first pot of black gold for the week I discovered I had forgotten to buy my beloved coffee!   And wham! To the supermarket it was…for a pack of coffee that was almost as much as my whole week’s food bill…

Children with nutritious porridgeThanks to ChildFund sponsors, Josie and her friend have nutritious porridge to eat

So what is it all about?  Can we shift – if only for a week – and appreciate what it means to Live Below the Line?  Of course we can, when we know the end of this challenge is hours away.  But in reality, for those constantly living below the line, it’s not.  And it’s not a challenge.  It’s not a week.  It’s how they live.  Every day.  In New Zealand, most of us have unknowingly spoilt ourselves with the food we eat – we have selection (what shall we have for dinner tonight honey?), convenience (there are more than 40 food outlets within 3 minutes walk from my desk), variety (we are awash with flavours and eateries from around the world), and an appetite for the instant, (we choose lunch based on how short the wait is).  Food is a hobby, a pastime, a trend, a channel on TV, a section of the newspaper staring at me from the table in the office kitchen.  For us it’s anything but a necessity.

Even preparing food has spoilt us: it’s there in the freezer, ready to be zapped into scalding heat in a matter of seconds. Or failing that, for lunch we convince ourselves to ‘get some well needed exercise’ and walk a pathetic few hundred metres to a takeaway joint for some mass-produced food, largely oblivious to the origins of its contents.  A bag of this.  A packet of those.  And a can of that please.  All for a Kate Sheppard.

So, I urge you to put the $10 to support those folk who are learning what it’s like to Live Below the Line.   Better still, Live Below the Line yourself.  And take the real challenge today – pledge $2.25 each and every day to support an organisation who works with the 1.2 billion people around the world, helping them to escape living below the line.

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