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Poverty Challenge Goes Mainstream

Poverty Challenge Goes Mainstream

The Live Below the Line challenge has become part of mainstream New Zealand culture as celebrities, MPs and thousands of everyday kiwis have signed up in preparation for the 5 day event next week. Household names like Jonah Lomu, Kayla Sharland and Anna Hutchinson have helped raise the profile of the event which dares people to live for 5 days on just $2.25 a day for all food and drink in an act of empathy with people living in extreme poverty.

Will Watterson, the NZ Country Director for the Global Poverty Project that coordinates the challenge, says he’s thrilled by the enthusiasm and the impact it will have.

“It's so exciting to see well over a thousand Kiwis standing in solidarity with the world's poor,” he said. “That's tens of thousands of conversations that will be happening around the country about extreme poverty, its causes, and its myriad solutions.”

Participants get to choose which of eight leading anti-poverty organizations they would like to support. Through social networking, blogging and old-fashioned fundraising, the challenge is on track to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support projects in the field working to eradicate extreme poverty.

For Watterson, the fundraising is only part of the overall mission. He says its equally important to raise awareness and build a movement that involves new ideas and new methodologies.

“The money we raise is great, but conversations are really what this challenge is all about,” said Watterson. “We don't just want to raise awareness about extreme poverty; we want to inspire debate and raise the pressure to do something about it.”

Despite the perception that extreme poverty is an ‘unsolvable problem’, Watterson points out that great strides are being made. He says that since 1981, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from half of the world’s population to just under a quarter today. He sees the Live Below the Line challenge as a symbolic focal point to channel people’s desire for change.

“History shows that all protest movements rely on symbols -- boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, flags, songs,” he said. “Symbolic action on whatever scale -- from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to wearing a simple wristband -- is designed to disrupt our everyday complacency and force people to think.”

The Live Below the Line challenge has already sparked thousands of conversations about extreme poverty through a wave of media stories, an ever-growing number of participants and a series of events in Auckland and around the country. Mr Watterson says events like the Pop-Up Cinema on Aotea Square, where Live Below the Line is screening a collection of documentaries and films about positive solutions, give people a chance to reflect and discuss the complexities of extreme poverty.

Watterson says awareness is not the only goal of the Live Below the Line campaign. He says the real objective is inspire a new generation to take action in their communities, their country and in the world.

“We don't just want people to know about the problems, we want them to act in realistic, informed and highly focused ways to develop solutions.”

While dozens of prominent MPs like Grant Robertson, David Bennet, and Metiria Turei have shown the broad cross-party support for the campaign, Watterson insists that extreme poverty is a moral issue, not a political one. He sees the effort to end extreme poverty as the great challenge of our generation.

“This is the generation that could see an end to extreme poverty,” he said. “It's time to make our mark on history"

The Live Below the Line challenge begins on Monday the 24th and runs until the 28th of September. While the week is the focal point of the campaign, Watterson says it’s never too late to sign up. The website will be accepting sign ups and donations until November so people could take the challenge for 5 days when it suited their schedule in October.

To sign up or for more information, please go to livebelowtheline.com/nz


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