Day 2: Live Below The Line

Our Lives Revolve Around Food.  Fact!

It may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but it’s really become apparent to me, for various reasons, how much our lives revolve around food.  This is true of babies and adults alike, and very true of me this week.

Last weekend, I was baby-sitting for my best friend’s little boy, and our schedule revolved around his meal times!  Conversely, a couple of years ago, I went on a detox, where I basically paid to starve myself for the week, which was difficult, but more than that, it was monotonous, as we didn’t have meals, so there wasn’t really anything to look forward to, or any markers to denote different times of the day, and if you didn’t want to socialise, it was very easy not to.  Food was very obviously missing.  And today, on my 2nd day of my LiveBelowTheLine challenge, I’ve noticed how much my life and many people’s lives revolve around food.  It’s not just a basic human need.  It’s also a very social need.  We are social animals after all.

Today was tough!  Much tougher than I remember last year’s Day 2 being.  I was probably too preoccupied with my broken foot last year to care too much about the fact that I was living on £1 a day, and I was pretty much housebound, so I didn’t have too many temptations.  Roll forward a year, and temptation is everywhere.  I now own a coffee machine, and it seemed to be winking at me this morning, enticing me towards it like a magnet.  But instead, I boiled the kettle, and made my 47p Morrisons own brand (M Savers) instant coffee.  It smells like soy sauce, and tastes like a really bad cup of Bovril!  It is truly egregious (love to get that word in).  I wish I had spent my money on another lemon instead.  I cooked my porridge in water and added half a banana, and simultaneously made my banana sandwich (no butter) for lunch.  Lovely!

My journey to work was ok.  I had enough water to keep my thirst at bay.  When I got out at Oxford Circus station, I felt like I was in a Monopoly game, when you a chance or community chest card, and it reads ‘go directly to jail, do no pass go’, when I had to go past my usual coffee shop stop on the way in to the office.  I’d never really noticed how many food and coffee shops there are surrounding my office.  They’re everywhere.  Literally.  And people going in and out of them like a swarm of ants.

My work colleagues spent most of the day encouraging me with gentle jibes about coffee and food.  Remember I am a coffee addict and snob (coffee snob I mean), so this coffee thing is a big deal for me.  I’ve usually downed 3 double espressos before 10.00am.  And as my colleagues went out to lunch together, I daydreamed about a soya latte as I munched on my dry banana sandwich, and filled up my water bottle from the tap.  I was tempted to make another coffee, but I just couldn’t face it.

One colleague asked if I was going to “hitch-hike home” this evening.  I politely reminded him that my £5 is just for food and drink.  But for many people living below the poverty line, it’s all they have to spend on everything.  So whilst my colleague’s comments were said in jest, it did make me feel less sorry for myself, and was a reminder about why I am doing this.

Now for the moaning.  I am really suffering with hunger this year.  I think it’s because I usually follow a paleolithic diet that consists of lots of protein, and not much starchy carbs, but my diet has completely been reversed, and although I’m eating what I consider to be a fair amount, I am starving, and constantly thinking about food.  My life is revolving around it.  I am planning what time I arrive and leave work around my meal times.  My food is in control of me for the first time ever!

I have stomach cramps, feel bloated, tired and headachey.  But I can sleep tonight, knowing that I only have 3 more days of this.  Luckily I’m not really playing the game; I’m “just visiting”.  Until tomorrow!

If you like reading this blog, but haven’t sponsored me yet, you can do so here:  https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/ybiggins

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Day 1 of Living Below The Line

This time last year, when I took on the challenge to live below the line (living on £1 a day for 5 days), I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.  I decided to start my challenge the day after the official launch, as I couldn’t start it on a bank holiday.  I’d be missing out on too much!  I bought my shopping on the Tuesday morning, having just been to the Doctor’s surgery after injuring my foot in a freak dancing accident on the Sunday evening, whilst participating in the annual Fitzgerald ‘4th be with you’ birthday celebrations.

There was such a long queue at the Doctor’s that I thought I’d sneak out to Sainsbury’s and pick up my shopping, whilst waiting for my appointment.  I was in quite a bit of pain, but I didn’t think it was that serious.  Just a snapped tendon or something.  I got a few bargains in Sainsbury’s, but it wasn’t as cheap as my experience this year at Morrisons!  I managed to buy 47p instant coffee!  More about how that tasted later, as I’m digressing.

Last year my £5 got me porridge, bananas, rice, frozen veg, baked beans, spaghetti in hoops, bread, stock cubes, a lemon and a lime.  But no coffee.  I would just have to make do with sliced lemon in water.  I was quite pleased with myself.  That was until I returned to the Doctor, who promptly sent me to hospital, who x-rayed me and informed me that I had broken a bone in my foot: fifth, right, distal, metatarsal, to be precise.  So there began my challenge to live on £1 a day with my leg in a plaster cast.

This year, as I ventured out on Sunday night for those annual ‘4th be with you’ birthday celebrations again, at the back of my mind, I told myself to take it easy.  I did not want to start my challenge with any broken bones this year, or with a hangover.  Well, I’m pleased to say, that my bones were all intact when I woke up this morning, but I did have a bit of a sore head.  When I went downstairs to have my breakfast, my Dad had been cooking his usual fry-up.  It smelt lovely, and I was offered some of it numerous times.  “Why don’t you start tomorrow?”  “Can’t you accept food if someone cooks it for you?”  My answer was a resound “No”.  When I take on a challenge, I like to do it properly, so although no-one would have known, I went ahead and made my porridge with water and half a banana, and it was fine.

It kept me full until midday, when I ate the rest of the banana.  I hadn’t intended staying in Reading past 12pm, so I didn’t take any more food with me.  Just the porridge and bananas.  Oh, and the 47p instant coffee.  I couldn’t tell if it was the coffee or the hangover that made me feel a little queasy this morning!  I have thought on a couple of occasions today, what else I could have bought with that 47p.  Oh well, you live and learn I guess.

I didn’t end up leaving Reading until after 6pm, so my from midday to 7pm, my stomach was cramping and rumbling, and I had a headache and just couldn’t stop thinking about eating.  It made me think about the people who I am raising money for.  At least I knew that when I got home, I could have some spaghetti in tomato sauce and toast, but for many people, living below the poverty line (living on less than £1 a day), the hunger that I felt is something they have become totally accustomed to on a daily basis.

Hunger pains aren’t particularly nice, but it made me even more determined to complete my challenge this week.  Doing this challenge is not like running a marathon, or climbing a mountain (although I admire people who do this and raise money in doing so), it’s different because it puts you in similar situations as the people you’re raising money for, which is really quite powerful.

So that’s it for now.  I’m looking forward to my porridge and coffee in the morning, my banana sandwich for lunch, and my rice and veg for dinner.  Until tomorrow.

You can sponsor me here:  https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/ybiggins

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What does £5 mean to you?

Picture a £5 note,  even 5 £1 coins.

Now ask yourself the question, how far would this get you on an average day?

£5 really is such a small amount of money, and if you live and work in London, it’s difficult not to spend £5 on breakfast alone.  It may get you lunch too, if you have a taste-card (discount card), but not both.  I highly doubt it would cover dinner, unless you like eating Mcdonalds, my thoughts on which, I’ll save for another blog post.

If you’re a smoker, say 10 cigarettes a day, then you’ve pretty much spent your £5.  It’s £5 to even buy an Oyster card, never mind topping it up.  In most coffee shops in London, it’s almost a fiver for 2 lattes.  We throw away fivers every day, without even thinking about it.  £5 on this.  £5 on that. With inflation increasing all the time, how long will it be until we start to think about £5, like we do about £1?  Perhaps the topic of yet another blog post!

“Alright Yvonne”. I hear you cry.  “Where is this going?”

Well, make sure you’re sitting comfortably, and I shall begin…….

In Swaziland, £5 really means something:

Education

  • £5 can send an orphan to school for a month.  Think about that when you’re sipping your frappe, iced, mocha, soya, vanilla, latte!
  • That means £50 could send an orphan to school for a year!!!  Something to ponder as you tuck into your sandwich from EAT or Pret.

Therefore £5 becomes a lifeline, as Education is vitally important in helping the children of Swaziland to create lasting change.  Check out one of my previous posts on Education if you want to know how passionate I am about its part in making the world a better place.

Enterprise

  •  £5 can contribute to the start-up costs of the entrepreneurial women in Swaziland, who lead income generation projects, like these vegetable growing and peanut butter making businesses.

Having spent the last 5 months working in a start-up environment myself, I can totally empathise with these women in having funding issues, but my worries are still nothing compared to theirs, and my opportunities are so much wider.  Have you ever thought about investing in a business?  Have you ever bought shares?  The risk here is £5, so really minimal, but the return could be huge, in relative terms, and in making a difference to wider society.

Community Outreach

  • £5 can help contribute to training child-headed households about what they need to do, to look after their families and themselves.

If you were keeping up with my Facebook posts, when I visited Swaziland back in November 2011, you would know what a effect the story of one boy who headed a household, had on me.  For those of you who weren’t following, here’s a picture of him, and here’s my FB post dated 3rd November 2011:

“If I thought yesterday was difficult, today was worse in terms of pathos. We met a 19 year old boy who heads up a household, looking after 5 children younger than himself. He was orphaned himself 3 years ago. I thought back to myself at 19 years of age, when I lost my mother to cancer. That was tough, but nothing quite like this boy’s story. And he was so gracious. He wants to be a teacher. Positive Women will help him achieve that goal.”

And Positive Women is helping him to achieve his goal, but we can’t continue to help others like him, unless we raise more money, from people like you, who are reading my blog post now, and who care about what I have to say, and who realise that £5 is equivalent to 2 lattes, or a lunch at Pret, or many other throw away things.

So that is why, I am asking you to please sponsor me £5 to LiveBelowTheLine (living on £1 a day for 5 days) from 7th-11th May 2012 for Positive Women, and the wonderful people of Swaziland.  They and I would really appreciate it.

I usually add a quote to my blog posts, so here’s one for today’s post:

“A fellow who does things that count, doesn’t usually stop to count them.’  ~Variation of a saying by Albert Einstein

Here’s a link to my fundraising page if you didn’t click on the hyperlink above:  http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/ybiggins

Many thanks:-)

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Vois sur ton chemin

2011. A year of change. The start of a transformation.

Although the aesthetic of Facebook’s new timeline feature is really rather hideous and overwhelming, to the extent that I feel claustrophobic when viewing my own profile, it’s a neat way of looking back over one’s life, and has helped me to refresh some memories of this year. I started 2011 looking forwards, and I can genuinely say that until now (for reasons of reflection) I haven’t looked back.

I was discussing highlights and lowlights of the year 2011 with my sister over dinner recently, and I actually found it difficult to pinpoint lowlights. Even when I broke a bone in my foot earlier in the year, which slowed me down and generally left me feeling frustrated, I learnt from the experience, and realised how lucky I am to be able bodied and independent. For a short period, I was able to empathise with those who are not as lucky or ‘able’ as me, and felt the struggles that they go through daily! For me it was a setback, for others, it’s a constant.

I started 2011 with some goals. The path that I followed was not as I had planned it, which made the journey and the getting there, all the more interesting. I think there’s a few well known quotes I could insert here, but I’ll abstain and you can infer. If I were to break the year down into three parts, perhaps Acts, I’d present the following:

Act I – The Plan
Act II – The Plan (Reenergised and Revamped)
Act III – Enactment of the Plan and A Final Twist in the Tale (More inference required for those who do not know me well)

In January 2011, I would not have thought I’d be where I am today or would have accomplished and experienced half of what I have. There have been many highlights, but I’ll indulge myself in remembering two of them:

1. Be The Change, Tuscany, Italy – hosted by the Global Volunteer Network (GVN):

Not since my MBA course, have I felt so inspired by the people I met, the stories I heard, the knowledge I gained, and how my mind and heart expanded. Thank you to everyone who took part in that very special week. This is where I was inspired to start writing my blog, and where I crafted/stole the title of this post and my eponymous blog title. (albeit translated from French)

2. Swaziland trip with Positive Women and raising £1500 by living on £1 a day for Positive Women.

I have a value around truth. It annoys me when people (including myself), preach rhetoric, but don’t act. I changed that this year, and became my word. The people of Swaziland have left an deep imprint on my heart, and I will continue to fight to seek justice in that country through the brilliant charity (that I am an advocate for) “Positive Women”. And we won’t stop at Swaziland. I’m proud to be able to do something (however small) about causes that I feel passionate about, and if I can encourage others into action all the better. “Everything that lives, lives not alone, not for itself.” William Blake

It’s great to reflect, and to show gratitude for what’s gone, but it’s even better to look forward to what’s to come, to look to your path, and to be filled with excitement at the prospect of the journey unravelling.

I’ll end with a quote from a formidable man, that inspired me more this year than ever before, having delved into his life a little deeper. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela

Wishing you all a joyous new year. Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit.

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Positive Women and Swaziland

Almost two years ago, on a very cold New Year’s Day, I took the train to Devon to attend a (luxury) boot camp, called “NU Beginnings”. I thought this would be great way to start the new year, to get into shape, and come back to work after the Xmas period feeling refreshed and renewed. Little did I know that I would meet a woman at boot camp, who would have such a massive impact on my life, and that the “nu” beginning would be more than just physical.

That woman, is Kathryn Llewellyn, who is now the founder and CEO of the charity, Positive Women http://www.positivewomen.org. Positive Women (PW) is a charity set up to empower women and children in Swaziland. Their work focuses on supporting local organisations and communities by helping them to change their own lives and circumstances by alleviating poverty to make significant social progress.

Social progress for me is must have, not a nice to have, and I believe that it can be achieved in many ways, if people put their passions and talents together. Three of my major passions in life are young people, women, and international development, so when Kathryn got in touch to say that PW were looking for advocates for the charity, I absolutely jumped at the chance to be involved. For me, empowerment of young people and women through education and training is crucial for sustainable development, and I will do anything I can to support organisations that share my passions, and have the tools and programmes in place to ensure positive change and development happens.

Tomorrow, I will be travelling to Swaziland with Positive Women. I am so excited about meeting some of the women and children that we are striving to help. I want to know more about their lives, and what I and others can do to help them. I will be meeting with women who run their own businesses, children who have been orphaned and head up households, and other key individuals involved in ensuring Swaziland progresses at the grass roots level. I’m really looking forward to listening to their stories, and to offering up any help that I can. I will be video blogging through the Positive Women YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/positivewomen1?feature=mhee, and I’ll also be updating my blog here, so stay tuned and please do respond and let me know your thoughts and how you might like to help or get involved.

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A picture is worth a 1,000 words; musings on Education and Development

I think that Education is at the heart of development and it’s something that I’m really passionate about. In my view, Education is something that should be available to all human beings on this earth. The right to Education is something I believe everyone should benefit from, and it is an integral part of development; personal, social and economical. We all have so much potential and Education allows that potential to develop. Education can also have a ripple effect on communities if used in the right way. Once one person has access to an Education, it opens so many doors for that one individual, but also for the immediate community in which that individual lives.

Education opens minds, allows people to question, to fight for their rights, and to move ahead and move their communities on. It gives people skills and helps economies and eventually countries to thrive. Education is the way forwards. It’s progressive. It’s development in the purest sense of the word.

I love this picture, because it shows that the future of our world lies in the hands of the next generation, but that they need guidance and Education to fight against injustice, which I think will be a problem that always exists, but one that we can all all alleviate, through working together.

We need good teachers to make this happen: those that encourage, those that instil passion, those that recognise talent, those that see potential, those that see the future in the present generation, and how important it is to empower this generation and fill them with confidence to achieve beyond their wildest dreams. Those that show that possibilities are limitless and that everyone has the potential to be a change maker; on the smallest or grandest level. Education for me, is development, is progress, is empowerment, is all.

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Thoughts about disparity

Disparity is something that has always bothered me. I sometimes question myself on the subject. Why is it ok that I have, and others have not?

I want to talk about two countries, that may seem quite different from the outside, but where I noticed some striking similarities.

I visited India about 4 years ago as part of my MBA international business experience, and I visited South Africa shortly afterwards to visit a friend that I met on my MBA.

Both were intriguing countries for me. What struck me about both countries was the extreme disparities between the rich and the poor, or the haves and have-nots, and the class system.

In India, I stayed within the Business school grounds in Bangalore for the first few days. We visited many high-tech companies, and I was struck by the professionalism of the people we met, but almost a bit embarrassed by the respect they had for our group, because we were ‘Western’. We visited a temple in Mysore one day, and it was here that I got to see how ‘ordinary’ people lived. I was deemed to be a tourist attraction, because I was pale skinned, and many Indian boys were queueing up to have their photo taken with me ( a feat that has not unfortunately travelled across the ocean to London:-)). I felt uncomfortable having to ignore the people who were approaching me to buy flowers etc, and it seemed a far cry from the people I had met working for Infosys, only a couple of hours earlier. I think I experienced disparity and almost oxymoronic interactions every day in India. The most challenging for me was when we moved to Mumbai and were staying in a “Western” hotel. In the morning we visited a charity that worked with street children in the slums, and got to see all the good work that the charity was doing, and then in the afternoon, when we were sightseeing in Mumbai, we saw the same children begging, and I found it really difficult to comprehend that the children we had just been working with and helping, we then were supposed to ignore in a different context. That memory always stays with me. Why is context so challenging?

And South Africa was no different. I was lucky enough to stay with a friend in a very affluent part of Johannesburg, but when we went to the family’s farm, North of Johannesburg, we were greeted by maids, who took care of the household, and it just didn’t sit right with me, that just because a person was a born a certain colour, it meant that their opportunities were limited, and they were viewed as a lower class. And I felt the same when I went to Cape Town. Such a beautiful city. In fact, Cape town is one of my favourite places in the world, but as soon as I left the airport, I drove past one of the biggest slums that I have ever seen. But the disparity in South Africa, seemed so much more hidden; secretive almost, not like in India, where everything is so evident. It was almost as if the poverty in South Africa had been pushed underground. In India, it was very obvious, but the Indian middle class psyche seemed to have dismissed it. However, the tension in both countries was obvious. It was more ominous and somehow felt more suppressed in South Africa, but I felt like at any moment it could erupt. And I didn’t feel particularly safe.

But disparity exists everywhere I suppose. Go to Kings Cross station in London, and you are surrounded by beggars and people living on the streets, crying out for help. Most of us are desensitised to it and ignore it, maybe because we think it’s such a big problem, so how can we possibly help?

Responding to these problems in a positive way is the key for me. In an ideal world, I’d like to see all human beings living as equals, but we all need to unite in that belief and develop programmes and purpose driven businesses to really make it happen. Maybe I’m naive. I am aware of corruption that exists in developing countries, and even in developed ones, although we may give it a different name, but surely it is our duty as human beings to do something about it. Disparity does not sit well with me. Please help me, and others like me, to aspire towards parity for all human beings on this earth.

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