With just $2 to spend each day, NU students gained perspective on global poverty

    On Friday, Suzie Sheetz had two eggs and a cup of tea for breakfast. After a lunch of toast and more tea, she was getting angry, then annoyed. Eventually, she resigned herself to her hunger — after all, living on $2 a day is no picnic (in more way than one).

    Sheetz, a Weinberg senior, was participating in the $2 A Day Challenge, sponsored by Americans for an Informed Democracy to raise awareness of the 2.1 billion people worldwide whose daily spending amounts to less than 200 pennies. Sheetz, who is AID’s Midwest Regional Coordinator and the co-vice president of the Northwestern University chapter, said that 12 Northwestern students signed up on AID’s Web site to participate in the challenge, which lasted from Thursday to Saturday.

    On Thursday, participants were asked to spend as they would on a typical day and keep track of everyday costs such as food and gas or public transportation, as well as utilities. On Friday, participants reduced their total daily consumption of these to $2. While asked to exclude the cost of electricity and water, students were told not to use items such as iPods and cell phones.

    Afterward, participants were asked to find the difference between their normal spending and the $2, and donate that money to an organization of their choice listed on www.GlobalGiving.com/2dollar.

    Despite her reduced food intake, Sheetz said her thinking became clearer and more alert, and she developed a deeper understanding for people who go hungry all over the world.

    “The purpose was to raise awareness in a sense that students can identify with poverty, and it’s really hard to donate money to something, to really fight for something, that you don’t identify with,” she said.

    The average American lives on about $84 a day, factoring in for expenses such as transportation, electricity, water and food, according to a video featured on the AID’s Web site.

    SESP junior Prachi Murarka, treasurer for AID at Northwestern, said she spends about $130 a day between her family’s share of tuition, food, rent and electricity. However, she usually tries to limit her shopping, and when she does, she tries to do so at second-hand stores to reduce waste of consumer products.

    On the day of the challenge, Murarka said she was taken aback by the food in her refrigerator. Finding an organic orange juice smoothie and realizing that many people around the world wouldn’t be able to afford it, she decided to drink a glass of apple juice instead.

    She also expressed concern over the availability of healthy food to those with lower incomes, both in the United States and abroad.

    Murarka spent the weekend at her home in Indiana, and she estimated that she spent around $12 in gas to get there, as well as $3.50 in toll fees. While she felt she didn’t carry out the Challenge as outlined by AID, Murarka said it made her more conscious of her spending habits.

    “I’m privileged to go to Northwestern and to live in the United States,” she said. “I don’t have to give that up, but [I should] be aware of it and give back to humanity.”

    Sheetz spoke to other groups on campus about the project to raise awareness about the issues, including Muslim-cultural Student Alliance at its recent Fast-a-thon event, which donated money and food to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

    “We have to understand these issues aren’t just here, but they’re abroad,” Sheetz said. “People migrate, and we may have family abroad. It’s no longer relevant to think we’re isolated.”

    As a result, several members of McSA signed up for the Challenge, Sheetz said.

    She also met with the president of College Feminists and NU’s Global Health Department, who expressed interest in having a similar event in the spring, Sheetz said.

    “Women and children are most affected by poverty, having less options and being marginalized,” she said.

    Working within the Northwestern community is the first step to raising awareness for international poverty, Sheetz said.

    “It’s the thinking global, but acting local, so doing this on a local scale and spreading it to our peers and family, but then really having an international impact,” Sheetz said.


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