Can you live on £1.30 a week?

It’s Christian Aid Week (May 15th – 21st) and while there are Quakers who would shy away from being considered ‘Christian’, Christian Aid’s declared aims – put human life first, struggle for justice, speak out courageously, treat everything against experience, could come straight out of the handbook Quaker Faith and Practice.

At 8am communion (I’m an Anglican Quaker and do both) the vicar tells us that Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the world and an average Nicaraguan earns £1.30 per week.

I take this to the silent Meeting for Worship and reflect on how little I know about Nicaragua, even where it is; how little I know about so many countries of the world, how absorbed I am in myself and the ‘bigness‘ of my own ’problems’ and how small, really, I am and my ‘problems’ are comparatively. I wonder if I have anything in common whatsoever with a woman in Nicaragua managing her household on £1.30 a week. I wonder if the answer ‘humanity’ is enough.

Walking home, I consider what contribution I can make. What will I donate to Christian Aid? I think about a week’s earnings minus £1.30, the difference between her earnings and mine. I notice I feel distinctly uncomfortable. I reassure myself that it’s only one week’s earnings. One week out of 52. My husband is working. There are only two of us in a home almost paid for. We are not going to starve or go without, really. I am ashamed about feeling uneasy.

I consider the Quaker commitment to simplicity. May 2-6, Christian Aid’s target was that 5000 people would take the challenge ’Live Below the Line’ to live on £1 a day, raising £500,000 through sponsorship.

Too late for sponsorship. But I could live ‘simply’ this week and donate the savings. How to do ‘simply’? We already walk and cycle; compared with lots of other people in the supermarket queue, my trolley contents are meagre. How about a week spent living out of the cupboard and freezer? Eat up the ‘gold reserves’ I suspect every cook has, and then donate what I would have spent this week. I can do that.

So, I volunteer to collect for Christian Aid. And notice I am relieved that there are unopened packets of rice, spaghetti, porridge, cheese, beans, olives and tuna in the cupboard and a load of fresh fruit. Simple, maybe. Hardship, I don’t think so.

Ruth Shadwell is a member of Watford Quakers and Christ Church Watford. Reprinted from the Watford Observer 19th May 2011.

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