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The Blue & Gray Press | December 17, 2017

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Living on Two Dollars a Day

Marie Sicola/Bullet

The makeshift shelter looks like a pile of trash, cardboard boxes for a floor, an orange trash bag and a blue tarp fluttering in the breeze. The tarp is tied to the Ball Circle chain-link fence, T-shirts hanging on it.

In front of the shelter, there is a sign made out of a collapsed cardboard box, with writing in black marker– “Two Dollar Challenge: Help Raise Loan Money for Priscilla and Mary.”

About 20 Mary Washington students are foregoing dorm room living for a week and living in the shelter as part of the Two Dollar Challenge, “an educational movement that engages students in the fight against global poverty,” according to the Web site.

As the name suggests, the students, along with Assistant Professor of economics Shawn Humphrey, are living on $2 every day this week.

On Tuesday night, the students gathered around the shelter for a round-table discussion.

“A very wise old man once told me that it’s important to cultivate a relationship with poverty,” junior Brian Downing said. “[The challenge] is an opportunity to ground myself philosophically.”

Downing, who participated in the challenge last year, said he decided to come back this year to raise awareness about global poverty and help raise money.

This year, the Two Dollar Challenge is partnering with Opportunity International, a microfinance organization that provides loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

The Mary Washington group is trying to raise approximately $1,800 for $900 loans for two Kenyan women, Priscilla and Mary.

“We’re trying to be ambassadors for those in poverty,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey started the challenge in 2007 as a project for his economic development class. That year, students raised $1,600 for a microfinance organization.

In 2008, the Two Dollar Challenge partnered with Students Helping Honduras and raised more than $6,000 for loans for communities in Honduras.

“I started with one set of students and now I have a new cohort,” Humphrey said. “Every year there is a new dynamic.”

Now in its fourth year, the challenge has grown beyond UMW.

Four other campuses will participate in the Two Dollar Challenge this year, each of which is raising money for entrepreneurs through Opportunity International.

“It’s eye opening,” junior Ehren Guzman said, who is participating in the challenge for the first time.

“I have a hard time caring for what goes on in third world countries,” senior Stephanie Jones said. “This is a way for me to change that.”

According to the Web site, the goal of the Two Dollar Challenge is three-fold, “to show students a glimpse of what it means for half the world to live on $2 a day, to inspire students to take action and help alleviate poverty and to empower students with the skills and resources they need to become the next generation of leaders in the field of development.”

Humphrey said although most of the reaction to the challenge has been positive, some have criticized the exercise for focusing on global poverty rather than addressing poverty in the United States.

“If we have $1, that $1 will have a larger impact in Honduras than in the U.S.,” Humphrey said.

Also, some have expressed their skepticism of the project, suggesting it allows students to “play” poverty.

“I’m an educator and I am supposed to give students insight to get the lesson across,” Humphrey said. “[The challenge] is the best tool I have right now.”

Guzman said the experience has made him think about how people live with limited resources and very little income.

“It’s not for us,” he said. “It’s more for the community.”

Humphrey said the challenge has given him “the itch to do more.”

“It’s an annual way to remind myself why I continue to do the work that I do,” Humphrey said. “It’s a reminder that the battle is never over with.”