I’ve just signed up to Live Below The Line, writes Esther Trewinnard, Progressio's communications officer. That means I’ll be sticking to a budget of just £5 for all my food and drink for 5 days (28 April – 2 May).
In reality, those of us taking part in the challenge will not come even close to an actual experience of persistent poverty. What’s five days compared to someone who lives their whole life below the poverty line week after week, month after month, year after year after year?
Living on £12 a month
Take Sayeeda in Yemen, for example: a budget of £5 for 5 days would be almost triple the amount that she and her four children are currently surviving on.
“The mountain is my source of income. Every day I work from 7-11am cutting stones. Then from 1pm until the sun sets I return to cut more stones. My monthly income is approximately 4500YR,” explains Sayeeda.
4500YR amounts to little more than £12 for a whole month. I find it difficult to imagine how Sayeeda and her four children get by.
"The cruelty of life"
Sayeeda, now in her thirties, was widowed five years ago. Her husband, her brother-in-law and their friends were killed in an accident that happened when they were loading up a truck full of stones to take to sell. The load wasn’t properly secured and the big stones fell down and crushed them.
For the past two years she has had to carry on the work her husband had done in order to fend for her children.
“The cruelty of life makes me do this awful work because I can’t handle seeing my children going to sleep hungry. We only eat rice at lunchtime, we don’t eat other meals.”
Sayeeda’s resolve to care and provide for her children is unbreakable, but despite her incredible strength and determination, she and her family are vulnerable. She dreams of owning a house or having some social support, but Yemen is considered a ‘fragile state’ and barely has the means to provide social support to its citizens. If Sayeeda were to suffer an injury or an accident, how would she be able to support herself and her four children?
Poverty is not only about people not having enough money to buy food to eat. Poverty becomes misery because of the way society is constructed and this can and must change.
Women fighting back
Yemen ranks 136 out of 136 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index (which measures the gaps between men and women on economic, political, educational and health access and rights). But with Progressio’s help, women in Yemen are fighting back.
Latifah Mqbole, a neighbour of Sayeeda’s has been trained by Progressio as a ‘women’s champion’ to go out into the communities in the Al-Marawa district and help the poorest and most marginalised women to stand up for their rights.
“I’ve been following these steps,” explains Latifah. “First, educate women and men about women’s rights. Second, research the issues where women suffer from discrimination. Third, raise the issues. Discuss them with women and men, imams, the sheikh of the neighbourhood, local administration in the district, in workshops and in open talk.
“In this way we’re finding solutions for issues like early marriage, education, and health. I’ve been able to get the voice of rural women to decision-makers and let many people know about the issues that women are struggling with.”
Raising money for 'women champions'
Knowing that Latifah is fighting hard to represent the women in her community gives me hope. That’s why I’m living below the line to raise money for Progressio to train more ‘women champions’ like Latifah.
Just as Sayeeda continues to work away at the mountain, stone by stone, so too we have to keep chipping away at the seemingly insurmountable structures that keep people poor.
All photos © Amira Al-Sharif/Progressio. Interviews with Saeeda and Latifah by Hayat Al-Sharif.