It is a sorry state of affairs that even though there is enough food to feed everyone in the world, 1 in 8 continue to go to sleep hungry every night. It is equally heartbreaking that 3 million children are denied a future for this reason and die every year from hunger and malnutrition. Growth stunting is rife in infants; some 165 million infants in the developing world will grow up to lead lives which are permanently impeded by this ghoulish food deficit.
This is why on Saturday me and 45,000 of my fellow compatriots assembled in Hyde Park at the Big IF, to rally the G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland at the end of the week to think long and hard about issues such as these, and to come up with solutions to the problems posed by hunger.
The Big IF itself is made up of over 200 organisations, many of whom were exhibiting on the day, which lent the event a real festival-like atmosphere. As I walked around before the main event I was impressed by the range of organisations on show, from your typical development stalwarts such as Concern Worldwide, UNICEF and our own GPP, down to Fairtrade clothing brands and even the Vegan Society. What's more, everyone seemed empowered with the kind of vigour that manifests itself only at these sorts of events. You could smell passion in the air.
Once the main event started we were treated to a number of talks from Danny Boyle, Bill Gates, Natasha Kaplinsky, ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and many others. Danny Boyle commended us all in carrying on a proud national tradition of “people in parks” fighting for change, all the while confident that this is “a fight that will be won”.
Bill Gates was also full of praise, commenting that “The UK is keeping its promise to the world's poor, largely because all of you remind your leaders regularly, and loudly, that this stuff matters.”
Bill Gates was on the money. After a touching segment led by Daniel Roche and Charlie McDonnell (of Outnumbered and YouTube fame respectively) and two young Tanzanians who had encountered growing up the very hunger we are all vying to end, we were then led by musician Angélique Kidjo in a mass singalong featuring a message of love and compassion she hoped would reach the spires of the Houses of Parliament.
It seems like our calls were heard. During the day's events, it broke through that at the Hunger Summit that morning, David Cameron had pledged an additional £375 million of funding towards fighting hunger. Applause erupted from the crowd. This was the icing on the cake, which certainly left me feeling vindicated that we had each accomplished something bigger than ourselves. A fantastic result.
The hard work is not over, however. There's another Big IF in Belfast this coming weekend, ahead of the G8 summit, and if anything today's event has driven into the public consciousness that we should open up the discourse around hunger. Hunger is awful, even unnecessary, and there are real solutions out there. It's just up to us to come together and speak up, to send a message to the G8 that it is not only possible to defeat hunger, but we cannot and will not abide it.
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.