Experiential Learning: Living on a Dollar a Day

6 Sep

As a student at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California, I am a part of a consortium of five schools of which includes the renowned college for business, economics, and politics: Claremont McKenna College (CMC). As a freshman I joined a student group participating in a simulcast course from UC Berkeley about Microfinance. This course had been organized by two CMC students who had started MFIconnect.org, which is “a resource for student microfinance organizations and clubs to learn, collaborate, and take action to help the poor.” The students were economic majors Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, and they have gone on to conduct another amazing project, titled Living on One Dollar A Day.

Zach and Chris, along with two filmmaker friends, Sean and Ryan, spent the summer of 2010 in Pena Blanca, Guatamala literally living on one dollar a day, and filmed the experience in order to raise awareness of extreme poverty as well as to highlight the solutions such as microfinance. You can watch their intro video blog below, and the rest of the videos here

I interviewed Zach and Chris through email, and have included some of their responses below (more will be included in the Eduventurist book!)

Q: How was it different learning about microfinance and poverty actually living and experiencing it rather than reading about it or listening to a lecture in a classroom?

A: First of all, it put a face to poverty, a person behind the statistics. And secondly, it made poverty real for us. While we were not fully replicating the extreme hardship of poverty, getting a glimpse into how more than a billion people live day after day was shocking. The constant hunger, lethargy, and stress of living at the level gave us a profound respect for the strength and optimism of our friends in the village of Pena Blanca.

The first step in addressing any problem is to understand it. Only by trying to understand the reality of poverty through the eyes of someone living that reality, will we be able to effectively design strategies to combat that problem

Q: How and from who did you receive support (financially, academically, and structurally)? What did your school think/did you receive credit for it?

A: We applied for funding from the school through a number of outlets but did not receive any. We were asking for a total of 10k to pay for flights, equipment and post-production costs. In the end, we got a grant of 3k from the philanthropic wing of Whole Foods Markets, Whole Planet Foundation, which funded the local Microfinance organization near our village in Guatemala. They were already actively supporting us as advisors because I (Chris) worked there in the past. The student government at CMC believed in and saw value in our cause, and gave us $1,200 to afford our two plane tickets to Guatemala. We did not receive any school credit for the experience. Since returning though, the student body and the Kravis Leadership Institute (at CMC) have been very supportive of us.

Q: I also wanted to get your thoughts on creating the class on microfinance at the Claremont Colleges. Since there is relatively little mention of microfinance or social entrepreneurship at the Colleges, why do you believe it was important to navigate a way to learn outside of what your school offers?

A: We find it frustrating that there is not a significant focus on social entrepreneurship, microfinance, or international development at the Claremont Colleges. We think that a lot more could be done. To try and make up the gap, Zach and I have offered a class on microfinance to the 5-Cs that is being simulcast from a professor at Berkeley through our website MFIConnect.comThe class will be available again this year starting in October.

Q: In the best case scenario, where do you see yourselves in ten years?

A: “Using the power of film to connect different cultures. Ideally this could be done with our own TV series based on Living on a Dollar a Day in different parts of the world. With that, we would be able to make a living providing a show that people find entertaining but also has a social purpose. Similarly to the current documentary, we would act as the bridge to try and help people relate to such starkly different worlds.”

“Recognizing a need, understanding that need, and starting social business to meet that need. A sustainable company that operates a double bottom line, not just a charity.”

Sean, Zach, Chris, and Ryan in Guatamala

The response to their unique and adventurous learning journey has been “overwhelmingly positive.” “We would not have been able to make it through the summer without the kind words and emails of our followers. And since returning, we have been extremely fortunate to be able to benefit from the generosity and experience of professionals who have sought to advise us.” They are also trying to raise $100,000 for microfinance organizations in Haiti and Guatamala, and you can donate here.  

As I myself continue on my eduventure journey in Europe, I also whole-heartedly agree with the following statement they make: “Experiential learning allows a student to take abstract concepts they have learned in the classroom, and make them real. It is invaluable. I would encourage students to push their comfort zones and try to learn by seeing through the perspective of another world or culture.”

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4 Responses to “Experiential Learning: Living on a Dollar a Day”

  1. Dick Bonnet September 6, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    KIVA is another microfinance organization loaning money around the world. http://www.kiva.org

  2. Barbara Ray September 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    What a great project, and kudos to Chris, Zach and others for pursuing it in such a thoughtful way. I can’t wait for the tv series! Having studied poverty in the US for years, I would only add that we need a similar series for domestic poverty. Too often the working poor in this country are swept under the rug. Out of sight, out of mind… They need a voice as well.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Hetty and Panormitis September 7, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Very interesting and indeed as you say Weezie,” experiential learning allows a student to take abstract concepts they have learned in the classroom, and make them real.” Wish I had more time to be actually
    involved..

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