It was Friday morning, April 8. I woke up in the walkway outside Melchers alongside a few friends after having not showered, eaten a meal without rice or drank water without boiling it first since Sunday.
And still, I was not ready for my second year of the Two Dollar Challenge to end that afternoon.
The Two Dollar Challenge is an organization and movement created by University of Mary Washington economic professor Shawn Humphrey in 2007 on the premise that over half the world lives on two dollars a day or less.
While the organization works year round, during the five-day challenge week students follow various rules to try and get a taste of poverty. Rules for the week stipulate that each participant is only allowed two outfits, must boil all water before drinking it, and, as the name suggests, can only spend the equivalent of two dollars a day on all necessities, including food and toiletries.
We also spend the week raising money for the UMW student-run microfinance group La Ceiba, which provides microloans to women in Honduras. Microloans have proven to be one of the most effective tools of breaking the cycle of poverty.
The number of students involved has grown each year but this year had the biggest increase in participation, from about 20 students partaking in it last year to over 50 this year.
While leaders were worried about the influx of participants and how that would affect the close knit spirit that flourished in the past, the community this year was just as strong.
Free time during the challenge was spent hanging out by the shelter we constructed out of cardboard, tarps and whatever else we could find. We cooked our rice or Ramen and waited for boiled water to cool down. On the warmer nights, when not trying to complete homework in Trinkle, we spent time throwing a Frisbee, singing songs and otherwise getting to know each other.
Students can choose to sleep outside or in their dorms. Many, myself included, opted to stay outside for the week. The first and the final nights several of us chose to sleep in the walkway outside Melchers instead of in the shelter because of the predicted bad weather.
When a tornado warning sounded around 4 a.m. early Tuesday, we realized how lucky we were to be able to stay in Melchers, a luxury that people actually in poverty do not have. Students in the shelter who were told by the police to move to Trinkle because of the tornado warning realized the same thing.
Each day we were reminded numerous times how many things we take for granted.
Sophomore Derek Whitaker said that while he knows he did not get a total image of what poverty is like, he did gain some insight into some of the conditions people around the world live in.
Senior Sarah Staunton expressed the same sentiment that on a college campus, we did not have to worry about dangers such as theft, starvation or disease which people truly in these conditions must deal with everyday.
“As I go through the week I begin to think about why other people are doing this too,” Staunton said. “People didn’t get to go into Trinkle when there were floods and storms in other countries.”
The organization has garnered plenty of criticism over the years for numerous reasons, such as not being a true representation of poverty and for ignoring American homelessness in place of that abroad.
However, I believe that what people do not realize is that we are the biggest critics of ourselves. Every year we meet as a group on the Tuesday night to discuss the article “To Hell With Good Intentions,” by Ivan Illich, which is about the problems of foreign aid to other countries.
The conversation usually involves a lot of reconsideration of ideas about helping the poor. We then meet again on Thursday to reflect on the week together. This year Richard Finkelstein, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, joined for the discussion.
Kirsten Morgan contributed to this report.