I'll be living below the line this year for the Somaly Mam Foundation - an organization that rescues girls from commercial sex work and provides a safe haven for victims of abuse or those at high-risk for trafficking. The foundation's namesake Somaly Mam survived a past of sex slavery and now dedicates her life to activism in her native Cambodia and the world.
I am particularly drawn to the work of this organization after my sister and I had the chance to visit Cambodia last December. We rented bicycles and spent three, hot, sweaty, glorious days exploring the vast rocky temples of Angkor Wat. According to UNICEF, over a quarter of all Cambodians live under the extreme poverty line and because of that, hordes flock to Angkor to hawk souvenirs - ranging from postcards to toenail clippers to wide-brimmed hats - fresh fruit and cold drinks. Tourists arriving at any temple could be guaranteed to be greeted by about 50 vendors, mostly children, who wouldn't take no for an answer. The theme song for the temples could easily be "Everyday I'm Hustling."
By day three, my sister and I were exhausted and we had become somewhat apathetic to such situations. So we asked a waitress how we could convince the peddlers to leave us be. She taught us the local phrase (phonetically) "Auk Men Loi" - basically "I have no money."
Auk Men Loi became our shield. Whenever we went, we needed only to utter it and vendors would part like oil on water, occasionally wide-eyed or giggling at our apparen
fluency. We were gods.
Then we biked to a somewhat secluded temple and a handful of very young children dashed forward with offers of cocoanuts and key chains. "Auk Men Loi," I said, casting it out like a force-field. One girl - no more than seven years old - placed tiny fists on her hips. She cocked her head. "You have money and you don't spend on me. It's okay."
Her words broke through my Auk Men Loi barrier. With her clumsy constructed English sentences, she had managed to sum up our existences perfectly. I had money. I had things. I had a bicycle and a backpack full of snacks and a key for a hotel room with A/C and a shower. She had some key chains to sell and tattered clothes.
However, that was okay. She recognized that although unfair, this was how things were. It's okay that we have the privileges and luxuries that we have. Living with my own entitlement has been a struggle I've dealt with for years, and here this small girl who had so little was trying to absolve me of my guilt. We in America are so lucky to have the things we have, and yet it's okay that we enjoy them.
But, it's also okay if - for just a little while - we put such things aside and try in a small way to understand the lives of others. It's okay that search out alternatives to the unjust systems that keep such poverty in our world. It's okay that we share this message with whoever will hear it, so someday all Cambodians will see Angkor as a place to celebrate their history and not a marketplace from which to eke out an existence.
Because 1.4 billion people live on under a 1.50 a day. Because 22,000 children die from hunger or other preventable diseases every day. Because 1 out of 3 women will be abused, beat or coerced into sex in her lifetime.
And that is not okay.
That little girl from Angkor may never be a victim of trafficking or sexual abuse, but I am grateful that organizations like Somaly Mam will be there to protect her and others throughout Cambodia. I'll be living below the line for Somaly Mam because it's not okay for girls to be denied those basic safeties of childhood.
I hope you'll be joining me. Chose a charity that captures your heart, share this journey with those you live and work with, and tell the world you have no appetite for apathy.
The UK’s biggest charities today join together to launch the 2013 Live Below the Line campaign – the biggest yet.
On 29th April to 3rd May, thousands of people across the UK will join together again to help tackle extreme poverty by living on just £1 a day for their food and drink, raising awareness and funds in the process.
Live Below the Line is helping to build a movement, a movement of global citizens willing and able to make a meaningful difference to those who need it most - and it’s gathering pace.
In 2012 the Live Below the Line campaign was hugely successful and I want to tell you exactly what we achieved.
Together, we raised over 500K for anti-poverty causes - huge progress towards eradicating extreme poverty. We spoke to thousands of people about the issues, debated solutions with friends, our tweets were seen by millions and our personal stories made the front pages of national and local news.
If you participated or donated last year – thank you. But in 2013, we need you again. We’re not done yet. The 2013 campaign launches today, and it promises to be bigger and better than ever before.
Just imagine what we could do if 10,000 people took the challenge.
We’ve joined forces with some of the country's most talented chefs, TV personalities, politicians, the UK's biggest charities, schools, churches, mosques and synagogues, campaigners and fundraisers – young and old alike to have an even greater impact in 2013.
Join us by taking the Live Below the Line challenge this April. Sign up here.
It's more than a dream or an idea for us at the Global Poverty Project - it's a commitment.
It's a commitment that we've been talking about for years - and for which this blog post, originally posted in 2010, has sparked huge conversation.
The end of extreme poverty in a generation is an idea whose day has come.
We're thrilled to see the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, join us today in saying that this world is possible:
"Thirty years ago more than half the planet lived on the equivalent of $1.25 a day or less. Today it is around a fifth.
This amazing story of human progress shows what’s possible.
We can be the generation that eradicates absolute poverty in our world."
It's not going to be quick, nor is going to be easy. It's going to require us to keep giving aid, but to go much further.
As the Prime Minsiter said in his speech at the World Economic Forum this morning, "we’ll only achieve that if we break the vicious cycle and treat the causes of poverty, not just its symptoms."
Ending extreme poverty requires us to support the efforts of the world's poor to change systems in their own countries, whilst also changing how our ecnomies work. It's why we campaign on aid, on trade, on transparency and governance, and it's why we're a committed member of the IF campaign in the UK.
That's why we're committed to playing our part at the Global Poverty Project - by running campaigns that give you, global citizens, the opportunity and challenge to play your small role in ending extreme poverty.
Britain has a lot to be proud of. As the only nation to commit to giving 0.7% of GNI to international aid, we have led the world on tackling global poverty. And when the world's spotlight shines on the UK during the Olympics and Paralympics, it's essential that we take this opportunity to show further leadership on extreme poverty and the structures and systems that are obstacles to its eradication. Just yesterday, The Global Poverty Project joined with some of the countries leading agencies to urge David Cameron to make tackling the global food crisis top of the agenda for next years G8 Summit. You can find the statement we signed below.
NGO's CALL FOR END TO GLOBAL HUNGER AS GREATEST OLYMPIC LEGACY
Britain's leading aid and development charities have welcomed the progress made at Prime Minister David Cameron's Olympics Hunger Event, and urged world leaders to keep the global food crisis at the top of their agenda in the run-up to next year's G8 summit in the UK.
A joint statement signed by ten leading NGOs praised the Prime Minister's leadership but urged him to take further steps on this issue over the coming year.
The charities said:
"At a time when the World's spotlight is on Britain, we have shown as a nation not only that we can stage the greatest Olympics in history, but that we believe in a legacy for the games which is about more than medals and arenas.
"That global spotlight has today shone on one of the biggest crises we share as a world: the fact that - despite there being enough food in the world to feed everyone - one in seven people go to bed hungry every night, over two million children die from malnutrition each year, and around 180 million children are suffering from stunting due to lack of nutrition.
"There is real hope now that with the momentum from this meeting building towards next year's G8 summit we can mount the biggest-ever effort to end global hunger and fix the broken food system. The meeting acknowledged that this is a crisis with complex structural causes, but with the political will seen today, we know the solutions are at hand.
"At a time when Britain is being praised around the world for delivering a great Olympic Games and producing so many world-beating athletes, when the British people are rightly proud of what we have achieved, we have the opportunity as a country to show that same leadership and take that same pride in tackling one of the world's great shared problems. That global leadership and the millions of lives it will save would be the greatest legacy the UK Olympics could ever leave."
The charities that signed the joint statement alongside Global Poverty Project are ActionAid, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Oxfam GB, Progressio, Save The Children UK, Tearfund and UNICEF UK.