Two Guys, One Dollar, Infinite Hope

How many people in the world do you think live on less than $2.50 a day? The answer: Almost half of the world. This figure seems even more staggering when compared with the typical CMCer's daily tab. We spend about $15.21 every time we swipe our card at Collins.

Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple '12 noticed something a bit funny about this difference. These zealous CMC students lunged at this issue with all the economic knowledge they could muster. Their solution? Microfinance, the provision of financial services to people facing poverty, especially in third world countries. Okay, Zach and Chris didn’t invent microfinance themselves, but they did put this revolutionary idea into practice in a unique, inspiring way.

Along with two other college students, Chris and Zach spent eight weeks this summer living on less than a dollar a day in a rural Guatemalan village with the objective of understanding what it means to subsist on such a meager sum. With camera in hand, the four boys started their project, Living On One Dollar-A-Day. CMCers may have noticed Zach and Chris when they appeared in our Facebook inboxes during the summer to update us about their experiences via video blogs.

In a tropical village on the other side of the equator, Zach ("Sr. Campesino") and Chris ("Sr. Microfinanzas") developed relationships with the local people and carefully observed the way they made ends meet on less than a dollar each day. The first realization that struck Zach and Chris was that “living on a dollar a day” does not mean you can expect to get one whole dollar every day. For Guatemalans, there is not a guarantee that each day will present a work opportunity and the pay that comes with the chance to labor. The boys simulated the unpredictability of income by drawing a piece of paper from a hat each morning. Each paper slip noted the amount of money the guys would receive that day.

By living frugally and unpredictably, they learned how crucial (yet difficult) budgeting such a small amount of money is. Everything had to be planned for and the guys kept a ridiculously detailed daily budget. The question at the forefront of their study quickly became clear. After short-term expenses for food, medicine, clothes, and emergencies, how can an individual save enough money for long-term opportunities like schooling or new business pursuits?

Each day brought a new adventure and a new lesson. Zach and Chris learned the importance of planning for the future and relying on one's community. The guys also realized the profound difference between their own lives in the United States and the lives of the Guatemalan village people with whom they interacted. Zach notes in the guys' seventh video that although there are many parallels between the two lifestyles, it's the things we take for granted that are the things these people depend on to survive every day.

Zach was particularly moved by the grave disparity between his experiences and those of two Guatemalan men working in construction. “I work eight hours a day and they work eight hours a day," Zach explained, " But when I go home, I eat a full meal and have a great bed to sleep in. When they go home, they get rice and tortillas. For someone to live on a diet of that, or less, and to be able to work how I work at home, or more – that just made a huge impact on me.”

Zach and Chris remain hopeful for the futures of their friends in Guatemala. A common theme throughout all of their videos is the resilience of character within the community's individuals. Microfinance has empowered the village people to start businesses and send their children to school.  Most importantly, these people have hope for a better future without the hardships of poverty. Zach and Chris witnessed how microfinance transformed the spirit of a community and walked away from the experience with valuable insights.

“We have to first understand the reality of living on one dollar a day before we can hope to find ways to help those who are stuck in its grasp,” the guys realized from the start. After their experiences in Guatemala, the agenda is to spread the word. “The purpose of our documentary was to generate awareness about the bottom billion people living on one dollar a day and show our peers tangible ways to combat extreme poverty. We hope that by showing and explaining this level of poverty in our own words and experiences, more people from the western world will be able to connect to and understand the problem.”

Both guys have continued their adventures abroad this semester. Zach has spent his fall semester in Ecuador studying and working for Freedom from Hunger, a microfinance organization that provides health education. Chris is exploring Spain and has “gained back the 20 pounds" that he lost in Guatemala, and "fought off any lingering e-coli, giardia, and flea infestations.” Between adventures, both guys are helping the filmmakers transcribe interviews for the final documentary and working on creating more awareness for their video blog.

On November 12th, the first post of their video blog series was featured on YouTube's global homepage. Within four days, the video received 417, 625 hits. They will soon be featured in an online article by YES Magazine and a Connecticut-based television station will broadcast their video blogs. These two CMCers have come a long way since the fateful Monday evening last spring when they stood before our Student Senate to request funding for the only expense of their trip – the camera needed to shoot the documentary.

If you have a few spare minutes, dedicate it to watching Chris and Zach’s videos. Fortunately their video blog is just a sample of their documentary, which will premier at the Athenaeum this spring in partnership with the Claremont International Relations Society.

All photo credit goes to Sean Leonard and Ryan Christoffersen.