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Julia Cashen

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Living On One Empowers U.S. Students To Fight Global Poverty

Posted: 05/04/2012 6:09 pm

U.S. college students Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci take us on a journey into the realities of poverty as they live on a dollar a day in Guatemala. Their documentary, Into Poverty: Living on One Dollar, is inspiring a movement of young people who are passionate about tackling our world's most pressing problems. How do they do it?

The lights fade and the film starts. Identical images of typical suburban upbringings flash before me: Chris and Zach in soccer uniforms, Chris and Zach snowboarding, Chris and Zach studying abroad, Chris and Zach rock-climbing. Fast-forward, and I'm deliberating alongside Chris and Zach as they deliriously labor over the decision to spend their day's budget on a chicken. I silence my vibrating iPhone. I look up and I'm huddled over candlelight with Chris and Zach teaching Spanish vocabulary on their dirt floor to diligent, 12-year old Chino. I feel the fatigue of malnutrition as Chris and Zach work their plot of land. Fast-forward, and I'm sitting with Chris and Zach as 20-year-old Rosa tells us about her dreams to be a nurse, despite having to drop out of school to provide for her family.

Although two worlds apart, I feel as though I've been transported into the rural village of Peña Blanca, Guatemala. And from the standing ovation of the packed auditorium, I'd say everyone else had the same sentiments.

Claremont McKenna seniors Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci premiered their documentary Into Poverty: Living on One Dollar at CMC's Pickford Auditorium on Friday, April 27. The emotional response was overwhelming and their relatable experience was injected into the hearts of each student viewer. They successfully created a sense of empathy, something that needs to be on the forefront of educational content today.

With over 1.1 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, our social innovation generation needs to come together to combat this pressing issue. We stand at a pivotal point in history where unprecedented technological progression in the developed world lies in severe contrast to stagnant development in the third world, often at the hands of capitalistic demands and consumerism.

"It's clear that we can eradicate global poverty and achieve in our lifetimes what for generations has been a distant dream," World Bank President Jim Kim said.

How do we start to eradicate global poverty? How can students use their own opportunity, as the highly educated, to build opportunities for others around the world? How do we inspire a movement of young people who are passionate about sustainable alleviation solutions?

"The first step to address the problem is understanding it," Zach said.

Chris and Zach set out to take that first step. They left behind air-conditioned internships and spent the summer living on a dollar a day in the rural town of Peña Blanca, Guatemala. As economic majors and microfinance gurus, they not only wanted to experience extreme poverty, but more specifically they wanted to see the effects of reliable financial services for the poor.

They brought along two documentary filmmakers and uploaded their experience to Youtube each week, receiving a staggering 560,000 hits. From there, they went on to speak at the largest TEDx conference in the world held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They plan on screening their documentary at high schools and colleges across the country, opening students' eyes to the realities of poverty and engaging them in discussion about sustainable alleviation and microfinance.

I believe that the Living on One experience is going to ignite this movement of young people passionate about changing the world around them. This unique approach is going to wake up our generation. Why? Because Chris and Zach provide us with:


1. Relatable creative activist role models

Cooler than Bill Nye and smarter than Jackass, Living on One represents the perfect blend of relatable educational content directed at young adults. Chris and Zach are your typical college seniors, just a couple of athletic, flannel-wearing, adventure-seeking, sarcastic, quirky dudes. They aren't out to become famous. They aren't out to make money. They are putting everything they have into their vision for a better world and genuinely want to inspire other students to ignite their own creativity.

"We are our target audience," Chris said.

Amidst the celebrity status of Snookies, Justin Biebers, and Kobe Bryants, our students are seriously lacking role models in the social innovation realm. Chris and Zach are young, fresh, and believe it or not, smart! As mere freshmen, these two started the largest student microfinance network (MFI connect) and are now part of the Ashoka Youth Venture, Whole Planet Foundation, and Creative Visions' fellowship programs.

While it may be hard to relate via video to someone who lives in poverty, having the boys share their emotional connections and realizations resonates with U.S. students.

"For the past four summers I have worked for a local construction company. Knowing from experience how hard construction work is I can't imagine doing that kind of work and only eating salt and tortillas." Zach expressed.

2. An innovative experiential learning environment

In order to engage our youth, we need to start introducing educational content that is highly innovative. Instead of hopping on Miss Frizzle's animated school bus or falling asleep to a teacher's lecture, Chris and Zach take students beyond the classroom and bring them face to face with the realities of poverty.

"Some things you can't learn from a textbook," Zach said.

As Chris and Zach find out that it takes five hours to cook rice and beans on an open fire, so do students. As Chris and Zach suffer from fleabites, E-coli, parasites, bruises from sleeping on the floor and losing 20 lbs due to malnutrition, students can feel their pain. They use their own experience to bridge the gap between our two very different worlds and bring to light all the things we so lightly take for granted.

"I get to walk away with a perspective I never thought attainable and a strength and inspiration that will forever continue to push me," Chris said.


3. Inspiring storytelling that propels action

In the age of storytelling, controversy arises when there isn't sufficient action-based initiative driving the media content. Stories are left on the screen and the sympathy fades after a few hours from viewers. However, the journey of Living on One creates a lasting bond between their neighbors in Peña Blanca and their peers in the US. They connect us to the stories of unbelievable strength and compassion.

"The desire to progress and to provide happiness for your loved ones is human nature and exists no less amongst the poorer families than it does amongst the better off, both in Guatemala and in the U.S.," Chris said.

We fall in love with the beautiful smile of 12-year-old Chino. We are there when eager Chino consistently shows up at Chris and Zach's adobe hut requesting to learn Spanish even in darkness. We are upset upon learning that Chino's parents can't afford to send him to school. We see young Chino hold the responsibility of an adult as he wakes up day in and day out to head to the fields.

It's the story of Chino that evokes a sense of empathy within students. Having an emotional connection fosters understanding, and through this understanding, students feel empowered to do something, to think critically. Chris and Zach hope to engage students and teachers in discussions about poverty alleviation and ways students can utilize their own skills and interests to promote change, both internationally and in their own communities. They provide tools and resources for microfinance options.

4. A firsthand look at sustainable poverty alleviation mechanisms

Lastly, Living on One provides an inside look at how the poor go about budgeting and how microfinance can benefit communities. In the rural areas of Guatemala, malnutrition affects 80 percent of the population. Without access to large lump sums, the poor are left to live day to day without being able to invest in life-changing amenities, such as fertilizer and ovens. Charity is often just a "band-aid" solution that temporarily satisfies a need, but fails to provide a sustainable structure for lasting development.

Coined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, microfinance is a sustainable poverty alleviation mechanism. By providing access to reliable financial services and collateral free loans, microfinance empowers the poor to bring themselves out of poverty. We see the direct benefits of this bottom up approach in Peña Blanca.

The boys set up financial interviews with borrowers from Grameen Guatemala (where 3200 women receive low interest micro credit). Women meet every 15 days to pay interest on their loans make small savings deposits that allow them to save a large lump sum over a period of five years.

Chris and Zach introduce us to borrower Yonada, who has become financially independent from her abusive husband and has saved enough money to send her three youngest to school, something she wasn't able to do for her two oldest. We are also introduced to their closest friends Anthony and Rosa, both in their early twenties who already maintain a household of eight people. Rosa was able to double her family's savings, turn their dirt floor into a cement floor, and buy a Plancha stove, cutting down on costs from firewood and health risks.

The two boys even took out their own $125 loan to rent a plot of land and radish seeds, allowing them to see first hand the benefits of challenges of microfinance. The contagious elation from their first crop yielding was priceless.

Living on One inspires a generation of young creative activists to fight global poverty in a sustainable way. Cross the bridge and see for yourself. As Chris says, "I can either ignorantly pretend poverty doesn't exit, pessimistically hate the world for its inequality, or accept it and try out some ideas to try and make it a bit better."

To learn more, donate, and get involved in the microfinance movement, Head to: LivingonOne.org

 
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