Living Below the Line

By Stephen Edwards
I’ve listened to a lot of presentations in my life. With all these thousands of hours spent listening, it’s easy perhaps to be moved only by the biggest characters and snappiest soundbites. Still, every once in a while, someone comes along whose unadorned experiences speak far louder.
Sudarshan is one such person. A few weeks ago I sat with a handful of colleagues crowded around a library table as this sincere and soft-spoken man told us of his latest adventures in Asia. His story was compelling, and uncomfortable.
During his brief visit, Sudarshan had visited Jamua Tola: a nondescript village north of Calcutta, and seemingly a million miles from the success stories of modern India. Here, Sudarshan met scores of parents whose bleak prospects had led to desperate measures:

“I [was] listening to women who earn 25 rupees (about £0.30) a day. … This meagre income is earned during the agricultural season when work is available, 10 days a month. During the rest of the year, work is available for only 2 days a month…

Parents here, when they reach a point where they simply cannot cope, give in to middle men who take their children away. In their own words, desperate circumstances – desperately hopeless and helpless circumstances – make them  let go of their children. Parents begin to rationalise that a life of slavery elsewhere is better for their children than slow death in Jamua Tola.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the well-worn UN statistic that around 1.2 billion people in the world today are living in ‘extreme poverty’; that is, attempting to survive on less than £1 a day. Perhaps, like me, you find that hard to absorb. Like so many words heard from lecterns over the years, it can slide like water from a duck’s back.
But stories like those from Jamua Tola remind me that our default indifference is not acceptable in the face of such grievous inequality, no matter how far removed. Common though it is, such poverty is not idyllic or harmless, but oppressive. It is robbing families of God-given dignity, security, and a future for their children. It does not exist in a vacuum, and the implications can be truly horrific.
For five days this week I will be ‘living below the line’ – surviving on £1 per day to raise awareness, raise money for Tearfund, and take a closer glimpse for myself at the difficulties billions face every day.
I invite you to show your support by sponsoring me, or, go one better and join me in making a noise!
Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:9)