Moderate Moment | Moderate Moms

Students Learn to Live on $1 a Day

 By Jesse Bogan jbogan@post-dispatch.com 

Several clubs at Parkway South High School pooled $1,200 to bring Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, co-founders of the nonprofit group Living On One, to the school last week. An auditorium full of students was captivated by a documentary and lengthy discussion about the 56-day saga in Peña Blanca, a tiny village in the highlands above Lake Atitlán.

Temple and Ingrasci, both 23, along with two young filmmakers, went to the village in 2010 during a summer break from Claremont

McKenna College in California. They thought they were missing something from their economics courses.

“We needed a deeper level of understanding that we weren’t getting in the classroom,” said Ingrasci, originally from Bainbridge Island, Wash.

The result was an insider’s view of the limitations of poverty and a deep appreciation for small loans — not to mention emergency medical supplies.

The group rented a tin shack with a dirt floor that turned out to be infested with bugs. They gathered and bought wood to cook beans and rice over an open fire. They hauled dirty water from a local source. They farmed a crop of radishes.

By their calculations, they were eating just 3,600 calories a day between the four of them. Bananas became a luxury item. Though the crop of radishes didn’t come until the end, they were hard to swallow.

Rábanos, man, are not the food you want to eat all the time,” Ingrasci, using the Spanish word for radishes, told a student after the discussion.

Though locals were initially suspicious of the experiment, they eventually helped. Only eating meat about twice a month, they encouraged them to mix lard into their beans and rice to increase caloric intake.

But ultimately the “simulation” failed.

Temple got sick with intestinal parasites and a bacterial infection. The group tried for several days to save for a $25 prescription, but couldn’t — not even without other children to support.

Temple dipped into an emergency supply of medicine they’d brought.

But their experience was the motivation behind forming Living On One, a nonprofit that encourages the millennial generation to step up wherever it can to fight poverty.

“We are at a unique position now with technology and new strategies that we can make a difference,” said Temple, originally from Connecticut.

Through cellphones and social media, remote villages can more easily be reached, he said. He saw firsthand the effectiveness of organizations that take a bottom-up approach to development by empowering local residents with employment and small loans for startup businesses.

When they started the project in 2010, they didn’t foresee a national tour and a 1-hour film that got a nod from Muhammad Yunus, Nobel laureate authority on microfinance.

The film, which juggles entertainment and traditional documentary style, includes footage of several women, including one mother of many children who was empowered by a $200 loan. She used it to start a weaving business. Another started a small firewood business.

Parkway South Spanish teacher Jeanette Sipp-White and her students started following Ingrasci and Temple a few years ago, when the summer project was just in blog form.

“This was something I just never learned about in class and I wanted them to learn,” Sipp-White said. “Guatemala City is closer than San Diego and yet the lifestyle is so different.”


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