May 09, 2012

To Focus Attention on Poverty, Nonprofit Workers Live on $1.50 a Day

Rice, beans, and pasta. That's what Suzanne Pelletier's family ate Monday, Tuesday, and today—and what they'll eat tomorrow.

Ms. Pelletier, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation, is participating in "Live Below the Line," a five-day campaign to call attention to global poverty and raise money for groups fighting it. Participants, including employees of more than a dozen nonprofits, pledge to spend just $1.50 a day, the amount that the world's poorest people—about 1.4 billion—survive on.

The campaign is organized by the nonprofit Global Poverty Project. Its online fundraising tools enable donors to support charity workers and others who are living on a tiny food budget.

So far, the Rainforest Foundation has received roughly $5,000 through Global Poverty Project's campaign Web site and by appealing to supporters through e-mails and social media.

While she's now an enthusiastic participant, Ms. Pelletier says she didn't immediately think the campaign was a good fit for her group. There's no obvious connection between conservation and poverty, and she wondered if supporters would be confused.

But then she did a little research and realized what a good educational opportunity it would be to show people how logging and other forces can rob people of vital resources.

The rate of extreme poverty among indigenous people is far higher than in the general population, she says. "One of the main causes occurs when indigenous people lose control of their livelihood—land."

Ms. Pelletier says she thinks the campaign is helping introduce her group to more people. In the last few days, the Rainforest Foundation has received about 1,200 new "likes" on Facebook, reaching more than 5,600.

As for Ms. Pelletier's belly? It's making do, she says. And by subsisting on rice and beans, her kids, 5 and 7, are gaining a deeper understanding of poverty than they can glean from conversations about their parents' work abroad in Africa and Latin America.

"They're proud of what they're doing and telling their classmates," she says. They're also asking if they can add leftover Easter candy to their beans-and-rice diet: Is that technically free?

Send an e-mail to Caroline Preston.