1.4 Billion Reasons to Live Below the Line

Photo By: George Wahl

There were 1.4 billion reasons for Jacksonville University students and faculty to redirect their attention from their routine lunch-time plans at the Café or their favorite fast-food vices and head to the Davis College of Business on Tuesday Feb. 19. These reasons had eyes, hands, feet, hopes and emotions the same as their own, but happen to face the turmoil of starvation and illness resulting from living below the world’s poverty line, on less than the equivalent of $1.25 a day.

People settled into the seats of DCOB’s banquet room to attend a multimedia presentation entitled, 1.4 Billion Reasons by the Global Poverty Project, an advocacy organization dedicated to raising awareness about extreme poverty in the world and inspiring individuals to join in the movement for its eradication.

In the front of the room stood Shannon Heath, the connecting fiber that brought the Global Poverty Project to JU’s doorstep.

A 2011 JU alumna, Heath is traveling cross-country as a communications road scholar in the Global Poverty Project’s spring 2013 tour. In true nomadic fashion, Heath along with her highway companions, will arrive at colleges and universities nationwide to spread awareness about extreme poverty and catalyze a passion and action toward a solution.

“This is my alma mater so I’m really proud that all of the skills and talents that I was able to develop here I am now able to use in the real world,” Heath said. “To be back here to show the JU campus is really rewarding,”

Before the start of the presentation, Annmarie Kent-Willette, Ph.D., associate professor of communications, introduced Heath to the crowd, familiarizing the students and faculty with her and with the impression she left upon the university.

“We knew Shannon would go on to do great things when she graduated and we’re very excited to have her back today,” Kent-Willette said.

Kent-Willette first met Heath as a student in her introduction to broadcasting class and worked with her extensively throughout her four years as a Dolphin, through which Heath earned two statewide honors from the Associated Press and served as station manager for the Dolphin Channel News.

“I really like having alumni come present because as a JU student I want to see our alumni doing things out there in the real world, having jobs,” said Ryan Dougherty, sophomore philosophy and humanities double-major.  “It was nice to see one of our alumni involved in something on a grander scale.”

As the film rolled and Heath spoke, the audience fell into an intensive silence. The presentation intertwined statistics, personal documentary-style stories and historical examples to shed light on the problem of extreme poverty and the practical possibilities of overcoming it within the audience’s lifetimes.

Approximately 1.4 billion people in the world face extreme poverty, almost 25 percent of the world’s population, according to GPP. Extreme poverty is less about access to money and more about lacking access to food, water, healthcare, school and work, said Heath. People are at extremes, faced with choices such as feeding their families or taking a sick family member to the hospital.

The presentation centralized around five points, defining extreme poverty, what can be done about it, the barriers faced in ending the issue, why people should care and what individuals can do to help.

One of the major points touched on during the presentation was the education and empowerment of women, which Heath said to be one of the leading igniters of economic growth.

“Women make up about half the population but three-fifths of the people living in extreme poverty are women,” Heath said. “Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and yet we earn about 10 percent of the world’s income and own only 1 percent of the world’s property.”

The presentation also emphasized the potential for eradicating extreme poverty by using the economic successes of Ghana and South Korea.

On a more personal scale, Heath encouraged the audience to participate in the project’s Live Below the Line Campaign, which takes place from April 9 to May 3. This challenges individuals to live for five days below the poverty line, on less than $1.50 a day, in order to raise money for the cause and give individuals a new perspective by having them experience a brief reality of the challenges people in extreme poverty face throughout their entire lives.

“The one thing that I would want the audience to take from the 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation is the idea that we can eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetimes,” Heath said. “There are things that we can do in our everyday lives that can make a difference.”

As the presentation concluded and the conversational hum returned amongst the crowd, the road scholars distributed cards on which attendees circled commitments they were interested in making to the cause.

“It definitely made me realize I want to get involved in this in one way shape or form,” Dougherty said, “So, I signed up to help volunteer at a future time.”

Interested individuals can learn more about the Global Poverty Project and how they can take the first step to getting involved on the organization’s website, globalpovertyproject.com.

“Equipping students in this generation with the tools they need and the information they need is a call to action in and of itself,” Heath said. “We can eradicate extreme poverty within a generation. We can all do it together.”

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