Review: Living on One Dollar

Could you live on 1 dollar a day? Probably not. In most countries, more than that is frittered away on a daily basis. Even the citizens in what people call third-world countries, struggle to live on the equivalent of 1 dollar. It just doesn't go very far.


Imagine having to feed yourself, put a roof over your head, pay for the means to cook the food and warm yourself during cold days, pay for transportation on those rare occasions when you must travel to a larger village, pay for medical care, and pay for any of the other situations that arise in life.

That was the task undertaken by Ryan Christoffersen, Zach Ingrasci, Sean Leonard, and Chris Temple, 4 friends majoring in International Development.

These guys didn't hang out in Pena Blanca, the mountain village in rural Guatemala, for a few days or a couple of weeks. They committed to living there for 2 months. Their summer experiment resulted in the award-winning documentary Living on One Dollar, released in 2013.

No Skills, But Lots of Heart

In watching this, I think how ill-equipped these guys were to tackle something like this. I suspect they had no clue it would be as hard as it was. They didn't know how to build a fire or grow vegetables. Still, they were game to try it all.

They lived the way the people in the village lived and created a monetary situation representing the uncertain economics of being a day laborer. Though ill-prepared for living in primitive conditions for two months, the four friends stuck it out, fighting daily hunger, inadequate sanitation, fleas, and all the other situations that plague the citizens there.

Scenario Repeated Worldwide

These same situations affect over a billion people all across the globe. The guys weren't looking for answers because they already knew there are no easy answers. I think they were trying to understand how people manage to survive and even find happiness despite their struggle.

The generosity of people who had so little but were willing to share what they had with neighbors who had even less even to making sacrifices so that a friend could get medical help was overwhelming.

Brought Back Memories

The film is poignant and uplifting and reminded me of years ago when I lived in Okinawa. We had bought a stereo that came in a large cardboard box. We flattened the box and put it out for the trash, but it disappeared a short while later. The next day I saw the box up on the hillside behind our apartment. It had been incorporated into a wall on one of the shanties there. That was just one of many memories about being confronted firsthand with extreme poverty.

By U.S. standards, my family was low income. I've always had deep respect for those who try so hard to make a living. But my experience living in southeast Asia makes me believe that the poorest person in this country is rich, compared to the poor in other countries.

Be An Informed Giver

If you have money to spare in your budget, make a real difference. Pick a charity that funds desperately needed improvements in other countries--treating malaria, treating worms, providing clean water, buying chickens or livestock for families, providing micro financing so people can start a small business, and so many other worthwhile projects.

Check GiveWell for reputable charities and also Charity Watch to make sure your donation goes to the people, not to overhead and expensive lunches and bonuses for the heads of the charities.

I saw the film on Netflix. If you don't have Netflix, you can buy the film Living On One Dollar for $9.99, and it's worth the price. You can also donate through the Living On One Dollar website--there's a clickable button at the bottom so scroll down.

Takeaway Truth

This is a small planet. If the people in one country are starving, that affects the whole world. Do your part to help.

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