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Law Below the Line

Australian dollar

Like thousands of other people worldwide, I spent the second week of May living on just $2 per day to raise money for people living in extreme poverty. The Live Below the Line challenge encourages people to feed themselves with the funds defined by the World Bank as the line of extreme poverty.

While $2 seems like it may be enough to survive on, particularly in a third world country, the figure is adjusted from local currency into Australian dollars and covers all living expenses, not just food. Living below the line of extreme poverty is like living in Australia with just $2 every day to cover your food, health, housing, transport and education expenses.

Take a minute to digest that. Think of how much money you spend in a week. Think of your rent, petrol costs, the price of your textbooks, or how you paid $7 for a roll at lunch because you forgot to bring your own. Imagine trying to budget so that all of those expenses fit into a budget of $2 per day. That’s $2 in Australian money, paying Australian prices.

While the enormity of this degree of poverty can be overwhelming, it’s encouraging to see initiatives like Live Below the Line receiving so much support and global exposure. Last year it raised over $1.4 million and this year it’s headed towards $2 million.

My own experience of living below the line was challenging but so rewarding, and I’ve realised that the lessons I learnt from participating can be applied to law student life.

Lesson 1: Hunt in Packs

I pooled my weekly budget with four friends instead of going it alone and ended up with so much more food and a much greater variety than I would have had if I tried to buy it all myself. We still stuck to our $2 per day budget but our increased buying power meant we could afford a 4kg bag of potatoes, onions, garlic, a 5kg pumpkin, fruit, spices and even eggs. Together we were much stronger than we were individually.

Law students can learn from this. Colluding on assignments may be against the rules, but where you can it makes more sense to team up. Someone missed the lecture last week? Offer to share your notes. The girl in front of you in the coffee line is out of change? Pay for hers as well. While throwing money around may appear to contradict my new thrifty ethos, I stand firmly behind my proposition that banding together can only make us stronger and chances are, you’ll get back far more than you put in.

Lesson 2: Plan Ahead

One of the things that surprised me most about the week was how organised I had to be. I couldn’t wander aimlessly to the fridge when I was hungry (or bored); I had to put in a solid half an hour of cooking before I had something I could eat. The organisation didn’t stop at having meals at home, either – I had to plan ahead for the days where I’d be out of the house for 12 hours. Never before have I relied so heavily on Tupperware. While I’m guessing it’s not in a budget below the poverty line, I don’t see how I could have survived the week without my packed lunches.

Leading into study week and exams, organisation is key for law students. Whether it’s planning a study timetable with sanity-stabilising breaks, looking up train timetables, organising carpools so no exam is accidentally skipped or cooking and freezing healthy meals the weekend before so Red Bull and Skittles become diet additions rather than staples, planning ahead can really make a difference to your health, sanity and sleeping patterns come exam time.

Lesson 3: Empathy

Something I became accustomed to over the week was a low-level dull feeling of hunger in my stomach. Sure, I ate well and my meals were fairly generous, but the times between meals in which I’d normally snack were never more apparent. I felt hungry, but I had no food to eat, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. That’s when it finally hit me – this is what living in extreme poverty is like. You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re cold, you’re sick but there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to accept it.

I’d never accuse law students of being overly self-centred, but the fact remains most of us appear more concerned with just how hard OUR assignments are and just how bad the traffic was on OUR morning commutes and how tired WE are from six hours in a comfortable, cosy bed. If nothing else, living below the line gave me perspective and made me feel empathy for the people who live on $2 every day.

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