By Rebekah Marin
Liberal Arts Major
While I can’t seem to last a week without complaining about money, making an impulse purchase, or eating an overpriced breakfast sandwich, there are people living on almost nothing, unsure of how they are going to generate enough income to feed their families.
Four brave college students, Chris Temple, Zach Ingrasci, Sean Leonard, and Ryan Christoffersen, travel to Pena Blanca, Guatemala to live amongst families who are experiencing extreme poverty in the documentary, Living on One Dollar. The students stay for 56 days living off of anywhere from zero to nine dollars a day in order to simulate the fluctuation of income that workers are subject to when conventional jobs are unavailable. Every day the boys picked a number from zero to nine out of a hat to dictate how much money they had “made” that day, and split it between them.
The college students live in a dirt floor home, cooking meals over a fire, and trying to grow radishes to sell for money. They learn how the people of Pena Blanca attempt to plan and save for unexpected expenses. Many of the adults in Pena Blanca take out loans from a bank called “Grameen” that doesn’t require all of the paperwork that these poor families don’t have. The bank requires each person to open a savings account so that they have a safe way to put money away. The people also pool money together by saving and redistributing the funds to each other. Eventually everyone putting money into the “pool” will reap the benefits of the accumulation by being able to use the larger sum of money for something they wouldn’t be able to afford on their own. Regardless of their financial situation the families welcomed the students into their homes and showed them warmth and kindness, which spoke volumes to me as a viewer. These people have next to nothing but it hasn’t harmed their spirits.
The students are invited to visit the school in Pena Blanca, where many boys end up dropping out to work in the fields because their parents can no longer afford the education. The documentary focuses on one child in particular whose name is Chino. The students are astonished when they ask Chino what he wants to be when he grows up, and he tells them he wants to be a farmer, “But at twelve years old Chino had accepted the fate that he was going to be a farmer.” In the United States kids are programmed to aspire to be things like doctors, lawyers and firefighters, but in places like Pena Blanca even the children recognize the reality of their situation, and they accept it.
After watching this documentary I was once again reminded of how fortunate I am to have grown up in the United States, despite how much I groan about money, or how often I splurge on material things I don’t need. It’s a privilege on its own to even be able to do those things. The children in Pena Blanca are just like kids in the United States, but their situations hold them back from achieving their full potential. By going to livingonone.org you can learn more about the documentary and what you can do to make a difference in the lives of students like Chino living in poverty in Pena Blanca.
By Rebekah Marin