Living on One

During these steamy August days, it seems a film recommendation is appropriate. One of the more thought-provoking pieces on poverty that I’ve encountered recently is the film, Living on One Dollar. It was the brainchild of two Claremont McKenna College economic majors, who took two film students with them to Guatemala their sophomore summer to try to understand better what 1.1.billion people live daily – subsisting on an average of less than a dollar per person per day.

In a remote Guatemalan village, each day they drew a number from a hat ranging from 0 to 9 and this was the number of dollars they allowed themselves, per person, to try to simulate unpredictable income. They took a loan to pay for a place to live as well as to start their own business planting radishes. They made friends who taught them how to build better fires, get bargains in town, and mix rice, beans, and fat for protein and calories.  It was a struggle to save money to throw a good-bye dinner to match the welcome dinner the village had thrown when they first arrived.

The YouTube video they posted when they returned went viral, amassing over 600,000 views. Inspired by the response, the four college friends produced a 56-minute film and took the film on a national tour to 20 major universities, receiving coverage on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose, and accolades from Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and Director of the Hunger Games, Gary Ross. Look at pieces of their journey on YouTube or, better yet, support their ongoing work by ordering the film at:

Although some would argue that two months does not begin to approximate what it means to live in poverty, I was touched and highly recommend this simple, gritty piece.

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