Chosen as the #1 Socially Conscious Must See Film by Conscious Magazine, Living on One Dollar (2013) follows four friends as they travel to rural Pena Blanca, Guatemala to see if they can live on one dollar a day.
I watched this documentary in 2015, and watching it again now still leaves me with the same feelings of sadness, hope and frustration. It is definitely a documentary that everyone should watch, and if it pulls at your heart strings like it did mine, share it with your friends, talk about it and see what you can do to help. Don’t have time to watch it right away? Here is an overview for you.
The documentary begins by introducing us to Ryan Christoffersen, Zach Ingrasci, Chris Temple and Sean Leonard. We are shown what they are used to seeing every day- the hustle and bustle of fast-paced city life, money being spent every which way and handfuls of money leaving our pockets, several bills at a time.
We then meet Chino. He is a twelve year old boy, who lives in extreme poverty in Guatemala. “How can we begin to understand what his life is like?”
Chino is one of 1.1 Billion people around the world who survive on under one dollar a day. In his village of Pena Blanca, where around 300 people live (most of whom are Mayan), 7/10 of them live under the poverty line.
For this experience the four men will have a budget of $1 each per day, for 56 days, which is a total of $224 for 8 weeks. However, instead of knowing that they will definitely get one dollar each day, their income will be unpredictable and will be drawn out of a hat- literally. This means that one day, they may get $0, while the next, they get $9. This is to replicate the situation for most of their neighbors. Since most of them are employed informally, they never know when they will get paid or how much they will make and then, can not plan their lives around their income.
They also want to know what it takes to start their own business, so they take out a loan for $125 which will cover their living area and a plot of land to grow radishes on. The installment plan to pay back the loan is $6.25 every 15 days and if this can’t be met, they will have to default on the loan. This loan is part of a service for the poor which is called Micro Finance. After hearing both good and bad about the banks, they wanted to see for themselves if they were actually beneficial to the community.
You can see how the budget affects them right away. When they are discussing how to spend the amount that they have left, they disagree on the best option. “We could buy a chicken, but we don’t have money for the feed, they don’t lay eggs right away”… you get the idea. When discussing farming, they realize they don’t fully know how to grow radishes, how much fertilizer they would need, what soil they have to work with… there is a lot for them to figure out. You also witness them finding a water source, filling their bottles, and seeing how much dirt, bugs and other contaminants are in the water.
Don Carlos, another resident, gives them tips on farming, and tells them that in 6 weeks, their radishes will be ready to eat. On Day 5, they go into the village shops (having to pay for the drive there and back) and with the $15 they have, purchase 6 lbs of Black Beans, 6 lbs White Rice, Soap, Bananas, Matches, Toilet Paper, and the most expensive, Firewood. On Day 7, you see them eating their Rice and Bean meal, and they say “It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten”. However, the meal offers approximately 3,600 calories, divided by four male adults- it’s not even close to the suggested daily value. It begins to affect their health in noticeable ways quite quickly, as we see when we are told that they are lightheaded and have even experienced fainting.
Victor Coj, a local, states: “When there is no food, the kids don’t grow. They don’t even have the energy to play. They’re just laying there because they only eat salt and tortillas, there is no nutrition.” We then see how fleas are affecting other parts of their health- they all have bites everywhere from laying on the dirt floors. By the time they are entering their second week, thoughts of wanting to go home start trickling into their minds. “Why am I doing this? I need to go home.” They were feeling this way, and yet they were eating better than the majority of people in the community.
We then get a glimpse into the education system. The principal of the local school, explains that 40% of children don’t finish their education because they don’t have enough money to continue going and instead, they must start working. Chino, the boy we were introduced to at the beginning of the film, is one of them. We learn that his family could not afford the $25 dollar cost of books and supplies for school. He is part of a family of 8, who are living in a single room, with no electricity, and his father never knew when he’d work, so Chino had to work in the fields. They ask Chino, if you could be anything, what would you be? Chino replies, I’m going to be a farmer. They say but if you be anything you wanted- what would you love to be? Chino says that he would be a pro soccer player. Because of his situation, he “accepted his fate”of being a farmer in order to survive.
“It’s the situation that they are in that is holding them back, not who they are.”
Anthony, one of the first adults to introduce himself, welcomes them into his home where they meet his family. He is 24 years old, his wife Rosa is 20, they have three children and live on $1.25 per person each day. Thanks to this family, the Sean, Chris, Zach and Ryan learn how to make more food with less resources, make better fires, and how to bargain at the shops; all of these tips help the four friends better manage themselves during a time when they are living so close to the edge of poverty. One of the most important things they learned, was the importance of lard. They purchased lard at the market, and it adds so much fat content, that it was better than any of the rice and bean meals they had been continuously eating. Anthony invited the men back to his house for a “snack” but when they arrived, they see that they were preparing a traditional meal, called pulick, which is saved for special occasions, and is served only twice a year. Anthony tells them, that they are like brothers and his home is open to them at any time if they need shelter or food. He and his family barely have anything themselves, and yet he is opening his home and the food he and his children survive on, to people he barely knows… it is a very emotional moment for me to watch and I can’t help but tear up and wish more people in the world were like this.
Between days 20 and 24, the luck they had been having while pulling out their income from the hat, ran out. Two out of four days, they got $0. The other two days, they got $1. Therefore, 4 people, with $2 for 4 days… they each had $0.12 to their names. It was bad timing, because it was market day and they had no money for food so the next number they pulled out, was a make it or break it and thankfully, they pulled a 9 out of the hat. What if they hadn’t been so lucky? People in the village are faced with this every day. “How do you decide between feeding your family or keeping your child in school?”
Medical issues arise, when Chris suffers from Giardia and E. coli at the same time. The medicine costs about $25 so even if people are lucky enough to be able to afford getting tested, the cost of the medicine is too expensive for many people to get treated. There was no way that Chris could afford the medicine so they had to use medicine they had brought with them in case of emergencies. Families who live in this area don’t have that option. If they are unable to acquire a loan, or get help from a neighbor, there is the high possibility that they can lose a family member. Chino’s mother got really sick and they didn’t have the funds, so Anthony paid for the medical bills, medicine- all of it. Anthony was able to help because he is the only one in the village who has a steady paycheck due to his job. However, although he could help others, it still puts a strain on his own family. Generosity. It is a word that constantly comes to mind while watching this film.
Remember when they spoke about wanting to attempt getting a loan? At one bank, it was absolutely impossible. They would have made them jump through several hoops, and spend money just to get more money. It was not an option. Rosa then told them about Grameen- a loan would be given to you just by you showing a photo ID. It was simple, and by accepting the loan, you were also agreeing to open a long term savings account. It would allow you to grow your money in a safe location. Loans given from Grameen, allowed Rosa to start her own weaving business, and the profits went towards her education. Other women used the loans they received to open stores, sell wood, fix their roofs, invest in their houses, sell onions- all of which helped their livelihood. It’s amazing what access to a $200 credit can do for a family. It is also great to see how empowering it is for the women of the community. They sacrifice so much of their lives in order to make sure their children are provided for, and to see them be able to go back to school and to get an education, that is priceless. For the $125 loan that Chris, Sean, Zach and Ryan got, they were able to grow their radishes which, instead of selling, they gave them as gifts to those they have interviewed throughout their experience in Guatemala. The radishes represent a new source of income for them and while it may not seem like a lot, it would double their livelihood and bring them closer to $2 a day.
“It’s those small incremental changes, that actually have such a profound effect on people that are living at that level. And, I feel like, that would have such an impact on the next generation of that family that it’s really there that we will see progress out of poverty.”
On their last day, they had saved enough money to make the pulick dinner for Anthony and his family as a way of saying thank you for all that they had done. You see them dancing, cooking, enjoying time together and appreciating what friendship and love is really all about.
Day 56: “What can I do to help?”
There is no one answer. That is the hard part. We’ve invested so much money into poverty and a lot of it does not even help. Partial solutions only go so far. If one person can have such a huge impact on someone’s life… think about what can be done if the ripple effect continues. Small changes can make big impacts and you can help by visiting livingononedollar.org
Anthony has one favor of us, “Please do not forget about the people here in Pena Blanca because we are not only fighting to better our lives, we are also fighting just to survive.”
This film is a huge eye opener and will change the way you look at the way you are living. Please, find it on Netflix to watch the full film. It is time to stop turning a blind eye to the important issues. Watch the Official Trailer here.
Have you traveled and spent time in places where the community is living under the poverty line? I would love to hear about your experiences.
Published by Joanna Ahti