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Alex's month long challenge

For the past month, I have challenged myself to live below £1.45 ($1.90) a day - the World Bank's arbitrary 'poverty line'. In a similar way to other physical/mental challenges undertaken by ICS volunteers, I have asked family and friends to sponsor me in this attempt.

This challenge is in no way meant to reflect the situation faced by many people in the communities ICS works with, as I am obviously very fortunate to live with access to free clean water, free healthcare, and a warm place to rest my head at night.

Alex sitting ready to eat a plate of baked beans on toast.
© AlexanderHarris

The Diet

To maximise my limited financial capital, I decided to buy my shopping in bulk from a budget supermarket (In my case Aldi, but alternative budget supermarkets are available!). I also concentrated on low cost, high energy foods - pasta, rice and freezable sliced bread. These carbohydrates formed the basis of my diet and were supplemented by a steady carousel of baked beans, spaghetti hoops, vegetable burgers and chicken kievs. For snacks, I bought apples and large boxes of cereal. Finally - I am a big fan of a 'treat' to end the day, and so bought a large bar of chocolate to split evenly between the seven days.

Alex working pulling a pint behind the bar at one of his jobs.
© AlexanderHarris

The Distraction

To concentrate my mind away from the fact that my body was slowly eating away at itself, I turned all my attentions to hard work and lots of it. I simultaneously worked two jobs, and focused my energies on doing the best I could in the roles I worked in.

The Drawbacks

The biggest issue I faced was interestingly not the diet (which was hard at first but you soon get used to it), but the limitations on my ability to travel to see friends. For example a good university friend of mine visited London from the USA during the month of this challenge, and the interaction between us was limited to a FaceTime call.

The Downtime

I made sure I socialised with friends as much as possible, and regularly became 'that guy' who orders a tap water and nothing else at the pub. In order to fill gaps in my day I joined the library and loaned out several books (concentrating on pieces of work which focused on Nigeria) and regularly rode my bike along the river network (endorphins are underrated).

Photo of Alex's bike next to the river at sunset.
© AlexanderHarris

The Dissemination (stretching the alliteration a bit here...)

To fill up time and to continue to raise awareness of my challenge, I consistently updated my friends and family on social media with (attempted) humorous videos, photos and poetry. This must have worked, as I reached my fundraising target as I came towards the end of my month below the poverty line.


Overall, I really enjoyed completing this challenge. It provided a much needed reminder of how much we take for granted, but also built up my personal mental and physical resilience. 

To conclude, I will plagiarise a quote I noticed during my pre placement training. ‘A simple life freely chosen, is a source of strength (although I must admit I am looking forward to a nice cold beer)’.

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ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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