We often hear the best way to empathize with others is to walk a mile in their shoes, but this week one charity is getting backlash for doing trying to do just that.

The concept seemed simple enough: the Global Poverty Project (GPP) would challenge people to live off $1.50 worth of food a day for one week. Their goal was to raise awareness for people living in what the World Bank defines as “extreme poverty” and encourage others to get involved with their organization.

Declaring May 16th to the 20th, ‘Live Below The Line Week,’ GPP kicked off a week of sacrifice to bring attention to the 1.4 billion people around the world who survive off only $1.50 a day. Each person who chose to take up GPP on their ‘Live Below The Line Week’ challenge was also encouraged to raise $50 by soliciting donations that would go towards the organization and its partners in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty.

Besides the fundraising component, one has to wonder how beneficial the GPP’s $1.50 a day challenge actually was? Does pretending to be poor for a week, actually help people who really live under those conditions?

In a recent piece on GPP’s ‘Live Below The Line Week’ effort, Cord Jefferson, Senior Editor of GOOD Magazine questioned the effectiveness of the organization’s campaign, writing:

Not spending a lot of money on food isn’t ‘living’ below the line, because regardless of how you eat, chances are your home is still stocked with Ikea stuff, a comfortable bed, hot water, air conditioning, digital cable, etc. People forced to spend no more than $1.50 a day on food are also forced to live with violence, exposure to the elements, disease, and war. Saying you’re living like them because you’ve decided to give up fancy sandwiches for five days is like someone saying they can empathize with Nelson Mandela because they spent a night in the drunk tank.

Charity initiatives that encourage playing poor have always been subject to scrutiny and criticism within the international development community. Many professionals say donors who experiment with living like someone less fortunate may gain some perspective but often don’t actually help real change.

Inspired to start Invisible.tv based on his real life experience of being homeless, Mark Horvath told The Huffington Post he is skeptical of charities encouraging people to play poor:

“I’ll meet people and they’ll say, ‘I’m going to live for a week and experience homelessness.’ I’ll say, ‘Save your time and go volunteer at a homeless shelter and get people out of homelessness.’ The downside of poverty and why there’s so much hopelessness and pain is because you lose choice. If you’re choosing to sleep outside, and then you go back to your cushy life, what’s really changed?”

What are your thoughts on ‘Live Below The Line Week?’ Can charity challenges like this one inspire real change or are they just condescending? Tell us what you think Clutchettes- share your thoughts!

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  • Jennifer

    I don’t find it rage inducing, but anyone who puts a week into experience poverty is going to get it wrong. They know at the end of the week they’re going to have everything they had before and that there’s an end to the hunger. They don’t have to deal with the constant fear of not being able to buy food or pay bills. Poverty isn’t about the one time mistake that leaves you homeless and hungry. It’s about months or years or even decades of trying desperately to make your life work the way it should just to have it fall apart for one reason or another time and time again. Falling to the bottom is a long trip and eating on a 1.50 a day/week doesn’t really simulate it. I agree with others, people are better off working at a soup kitchen if they want to understand the heartbreak of hunger.