We all know that college students have a lot of expenses, but do you think you could nix all excess and survive on less than a dollar a day?
For four students, driven by the desire to better understand the reality of extreme poverty, this question sparked a journey. The summer after their sophomore year, Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple from Claremont McKenna College, as well as Sean Leonard and Ryan Christofferson of Western Washington University, traveled to rural Guatemala in 2010.
They were moved to action by a statistic they repeatedly heard in their economic development studies — 1.1 billion people nationwide live on less than a dollar a day. The four students decided they, too, would each survive on less than a dollar a day.
The students had recently discovered how passionate they were about raising awareness for global poverty issues, and they viewed this as an opportunity to fully grasp the enormity of the problem while gaining a first-hand perspective of what it meant to survive at that level.
With some careful planning and foresight, they were able to chronicle their journey through film. When they returned from Guatemala, this medium would allow them to share their story, start the non-profit Living on One and go on a nationwide tour to screen their documentary of the same name.
From left to right, Zach Ingrasci, Hannah Gregg, Sean Leonard and Chris Temple make up the Living on One team. They have been showing their documentary across the country since early September in an effort to raise awareness about global poverty.
They had a vision of how they could use media to educate, to share, to inspire and to make a difference, so they started posting clips and video blogs of their journey. Eventually, they decided a documentary would best be able to tell their story, and it was by sharing their story that they’d be able to affect change for the community in Guatemala that they had grown to love.
According to Hannah Gregg, a co-founder of Living on One and the non-profit’s program director, the reaction to the film has been incredible. A large part of that, she said, is because the audience has been able to connect with the Guatemalan people the group met throughout their journey.
As she describes it, they have seen their adult audience relate to Anthony, a 24-year-old trying to maintain his eight-person household. They’ve seen college students empathize with Rosa, an aspiring nurse’s assistant using a microfinance loan to put herself through school. And when the Living on One group has screened its film to a high school audience, they’ve seen the students grasp onto Chino, a soccer-loving 14-year-old who was forced to drop out of school to take a farming job to support his family.
However, it is not just audiences that are captivated by the stories of Anthony, Rosa and Chino.
“Every time we go back and talk to them, that’s what motivates us to keep doing this,” said Ingrasci, the co-founder and executive director of Living on One. “The story is not about us, it’s about them.”
The group will continue its cross-country tour to screen the documentary through December, in large part due to the support from audiences, the film’s producers and the Whole Planet Foundation, the organization that has helped fund their project.
“Seeing young people doing something they believed in inspired a lot of people,” Ingrasci explained.
Although the project was originally rejected for funding by 13 separate organizations, the students persevered, and Ingrasci said he believes this is a key takeaway for college students hoping to start a non-profit or raise awareness for a cause that is dear to them.
“If we had been intimidated by starting small, this never would have happened,” he said.
Ingrasci advised students to find something they’re passionate about and jump in while they’re still in school. Students should do their research first, he stressed, but from there they shouldn’t be afraid to engage others with the topic, gain experience in the field through internships and pursue partnerships in their area of choice.
And just as the Living on One crew did during its 56 days in Guatemala and in the years since, Ingrasci said he encourages students to take risks and create something that is completely their own.
“College is the perfect time to start,” he said.
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