Sunday, April 1, 2012

April 1, 2012 9:00 AM--Living on a Dollar a Day

“X amount of people live on less than a dollar a day”.  This is a statement that I feel is thrown around all too often.  In fact, it is a statement that I get quite sick of hearing.  Yes there are so many people in the world that live on less than a dollar a day, but you can’t take it the same as saying “X amount of people IN THE U.S. live on less than a dollar a day”.  THAT, I think would be an interesting statistic.

When someone gives you that statistic of however many people in the world live on less than a dollar a day, they are trying to play on your sympathy and on your ignorance.  Many Americans (or westerns in general) don’t realize how easy it is to live on less than a dollar a day in some countries.  For example, here in Uganda the currency (the Ugandan Shilling) has a very low value, especially compared to a dollar.  $1 is currently equal to 2500 USH.  Many volunteers, including myself, often refer to it as Monopoly money because of its low value.  So to live on 2500 shillings a day is not that difficult.  I wouldn’t say it is a high standard of living, but it is definitely not as extreme as you think.  I would say that I’ve even had days where I’ve lived on less than a dollar.  Not out of need (like many local people), but just not living extravagantly (as I often do). 

Many Ugandans will ask me how much it would cost for them to live in the U.S. and when I tell them they don’t believe me.  They can’t believe that a person could make so much money that they could live in the U.S.  I think this is part of why many locals think that America is a Utopia, because people make more money than they can fathom.  Little do they realize how much of that money goes to their personal cost of living.  So I guess you could say that the pendulum swings both ways.  Americans don’t understand the cost of living in Uganda and Ugandans don’t understand the cost of living in America.

So the next time someone gives the statistic of how many people in this world live on less than a dollar a day, try to put it in context to get a feel for what they are actually telling you, because odds are they are trying to convince you of something that is rather normal in many parts of the world.  

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