Students Live on $2 a Day to Raise Money and Awareness for Poverty Issues

For a week at the beginning of April, senior Andrew Walz and more than 35 fellow students moved out of their residence halls at the University of Mary Washington and tried to ignore the smell of food from campus dining halls.

Andrew Walz (right) talks with other students about the Two Dollar Challenge. Photo by Leigh Williams '14

Andrew Walz (right) talks with other students about the Two Dollar Challenge. Photo by Leigh Williams ’14

The students, along with Associate Professor of Economics Shawn Humphrey were participants in the annual Two Dollar Challenge, an experiential learning exercise aimed at raising awareness and funds for poverty-related causes.

We followed Walz, who plans to join the Peace Corps after graduation, throughout the week:

“It’s always interesting to see the campus community’s reaction to our camp when it goes up on the first day.  I remember walking by the camp my freshman year with my head   down, hoping to avoid being dragged into conversation with people outside of the tent. While there are certainly some people who treat us the same way I did, there does seem to be genuine interest among some students.”

“It is always nice when people come by, look at the tent wide eyed, and ask why we would ever want to do something like sleep outside or live meagerly when we could so easily do so otherwise.  Their questions are often genuine and the start of a good conversation where we can talk about poverty.  These interactions always confirm my belief in TDC as a change making activity at UMW.”

The students spent the week in a homemade shelter on Ball Circle. Photo by Leigh Williams '14

The students spent the week in a homemade shelter on Ball Circle. Photo by Leigh Williams ’14

The students lived in a self-made structure on Ball Circle and spent only $2 each day on food and other expenses. In the process, they hoped to raise more than $5,000 for La Ceiba, a microfinance institution, while shedding light on poverty issues.

“For me, the mental fatigue that comes with living on such a small level of nourishment is much worse than the physical issues. Even trying to go to class and focus or doing homework outside is 10 times more difficult this week than it is on any other week. The lack of food makes focusing that much harder, and that combined with being outside as much as possible makes getting things done nearly impossible but I have to keep trying.  It just puts the situation of the poor into perspective because my troubles with class cannot even compare to trying to hold down a job, search for a job, or taking care of a family.”

The Two Dollar Challenge, founded by Humphrey, is in its eighth year at UMW. The challenge has spread across the country, and this year has taken up roots internationally. Junior Jeff Paddock is participating in the challenge for one month while studying abroad in Peru. He is sharing his experience in a blog.

Students placed signs on Campus Walk during the Two Dollar Challenge to encourage people to think about poverty issues. Photo by Leigh Williams '14

Students placed signs on Campus Walk during the Two Dollar Challenge to encourage people to think about poverty issues. Photo by Leigh Williams ’14

The challenge is part of the larger TDC organization, which also includes the Month of Microfinance movement and the Poverty Action Conference.

“I would like to think that even the memory of our tent camp will be enough to spark conversation for a few days after we have packed up and moved back into the normal college life.  That’s the objective of TDC, to provoke conversation and to give all members of the UMW community a chance to open up and think about their relationship with their fellow community members, whether they be rich or poor.  And who knows, maybe we inspired someone to participate next year who had been on the fence this year!”

For more information about the Two Dollar Challenge or to participate in next year’s challenge, contact Humphrey at shumphre@umw.edu.

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.