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  • My Live Below the Line shop

    Helena Molyneux
    April 25th, 2014

    Today I shopped for my Live Below the Line challenge, which starts on Monday. I spent just under £5 on food, which has to last me for five days.

    But it was not as bad as I thought! I had some ideas and checked them out yesterday on  You put in your postcode and the item you want to research, e.g. pasta. It then tells you which local supermarket has the best deal and quotes the price.  In my case, it was mostly ASDA. Even Waitrose was good for some products e.g. lemon juice 28p.

    Live Below the Line shop

    Here is a picture of what I bought. Some items are only viable if you buy a large packet e.g. porridge in kilo bags, whereas I’ll only eat 40g rams per day.  So a lot of the dry goods you see will be eaten after Living Below the Line.

    So what is my strategy?  The idea is to do various combinations of the ingredients I’ve bought and keep a calculation so that I stay under £1 per day.  Basic sample menu so far:

    Breakfast – porridge 3p per portion  (1kg bag 75p)

    Lunch – a lentil salad flavoured with onion, lemon juice, olive oil, chillies, a bit of carrot – 20p

    Dinner – pasta with spiced up tomato sauce 30p, half a can of pineapple 22p, total 52p

    Day total 75p.  Phew! There is some room for manoeuvre … a treat maybe?

    I found bananas for 11p each, so that’s a possibility.

    You can still take part – just sign up to the Live Below the Line challenge here.  And if anyone wants to sponsor me, please do.

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  • Living Below the Line – an easy decision

    James Smith
    April 25th, 2014

    From Monday for five days I will be living on £1 per day in support of Practical Action. As a trustee and a firm believer in empowering people through access to appropriate technology and innovation, the gesture of support, and associated fundraising was an easy decision.

    At the back of my mind I recognise the slightly arbitrary nature of £1 (or $1.50) per day as a definition of extreme poverty, and the fact that five days is a gesture that can’t possibly capture the long-term, cumulative grind of poverty. What it does do though is make the abstract nature of very small ($1.50 per day) and very large (1 billion people undernourished in 2009) numbers real.

    It reminds me of the poverty of restriction, of limiting of options and lack of choice. I generally don’t give much thought to food. I worry a bit about what is ethical, what might make me fat, and what is healthy but its hardly a preoccupation. I only think about food if a supermarket aisle or menu is directly in front of me.

    james eating

    Thinking about my £5 food budget has forced me to sit down and make choices and trade-offs. I’ve had to plan and think and become preoccupied. It reminds me of the perpetual planning needed to navigate poverty.

    Relative wealth insulates us from having to make decisions, and when we do have to do so it can insulate us from the implications of those decisions. One of the reasons I am raising money for Practical Action is exactly their concern with sustainability, justice and unequal development. You can engage with and support their endeavours by Living Below the Line too, or even by sponsoring me.

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  • Living below the line

    Helena Molyneux
    April 17th, 2014

    In less than two weeks I start living below the line for 5 days, spending £5 or less on food and drink. I made this commitment to Practical Action a couple of months ago not long after taking over as Chair of Trustees. And now I am feeling OMG, what have I let myself in for. It will be hard.

    101012 Upper Guruwe - livelihoods improvement agri processing - peanut butter making

    Making peanut butter

    Truthfully, there are aspects which will not be hard. I like rice and pasta simply flavoured. I don’t mind forgoing meat.  Porridge is a great filler in the morning. I am OK with drinking lots of water – hot or cold. I will give what I would normally have spent on food and drink as a donation to Practical Action.

    But I will miss: a morning coffee, having lots of fruit and vegetables, a glass of wine and probably most of all, spontaneous decision making about what I eat. Living on £5 for the 5 days requires planning and research about where I shop. But these limitations and frustrations are what most people live with every day of every year.

    Reflecting on my experience of the five days is one of the things I want to get out of it. And that’s apart from raising awareness of the work Practical Action does in enabling people to lift themselves out of poverty by accessing simple, useful know-how and technology and of course raising funds for that work. If I can have the optimism and lack of self pity during these 5 days that the people I met in Zimbabwe when I went to visit Practical Action’s work there have, that will be something.

    Farmers from Upper Guruwe

    Farmers from Upper Guruwe

    I took this photo in northern Zimbabwe, a place called Upper Guruwe where Practical Action has enabled local communities to improve their vegetable growing. And not just that, but also enabling people to create higher value-added food products which they can sell at market and so earn more money for themselves and their families eg. peanut butter making also pictured here. One of the things that really impressed me was how people make sure that the elderly and the sick in their communities get the benefit of these vegetables – not just keeping them all for themselves or for selling at the local markets.

    Do have a go at Living Below the Line too.  Who knows what you might learn from the experience or how much money you might raise if you get people to sponsor you. And if anyone wants to sponsor me, please do.

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  • Water – don’t take it for granted

    April 10th, 2014

    I’ve never been one to drink much water, I don’t really like it, tea’s my poison and failing that a nice diet coke goes down well. During my week doing live below the line however, my relationship with water really changed. It became my crutch. It became my best friend –  the one thing that I could have that kept me feeling full and sweetened the horrible taste that was permanently hanging around my mouth from the poor diet I was enduring.

    child drinking safe clean water in Kenya

    Communities in Turkana, Kenya, get access to clean, safe water for the first time!

    About half way through the week I went to the tap to fill my bottle up, on the way through the office, my eye was drawn to a photo on the wall of a woman collecting water from a dirty pool.

    As I stood at the tap letting it run until it was cold enough, I started to think. It’s all very well living on £1 a day, it was really making me empathise with the tedious lack of choice and eating to survive rather than eating for pleasure, but the very people I was doing it for had another problem…they couldn’t just go to a tap and keep hunger at bay with a glass of clean water.

    It might shock you to hear that 758 million people are without clean safe water. We live in 2014 and yet millions of people have no access to something as simple as clean water. It really made me think. Without water I would have been more hungry, felt weaker and without doubt would have felt worse. It almost felt like cheating!

    The good news is that my efforts living on £1 a day have helped solve just a teeny weeny bit of the problem. Last year Practical Action helped 68,000 improve their access to drinking water and sanitation. The money that I raised might be a drop in the ocean (pardon the pun!) but every little helps and until all 758 million people have access to clean water, living on £1 a day suddenly feels like a walk in the park!

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  • Why I Lived Below the Line (apart from peer pressure…)

    Highlights and LowlightsI was asked the other day if I took on the challenge of Live Below the Line just because I felt I had to as a member of Practical Action staff. I thought about it for a few moments and whilst a motivating factor, once past the sense of obligation, it was the competitive streak in me that found me darting around the supermarkets on a Sunday afternoon trying to make my £5 stretch further than anyone else.

    Let’s be clear about this. I definitely didn’t make my £5 stretch further than anyone else. And it wasn’t a case of quality over quantity either. The banana and tinned spinach smoothie on day three is testament to that. (I’ll be writing a blog about preparing for LBTL soon – lesson number one, don’t buy tinned spinach).

    I took on Live Below the Line because I wanted to challenge myself in the same way I’ve challenged myself running races, cycling long distances and climbing mountains. I wanted to prove to myself that if there are people living below the poverty line, then I could too. I was offered a pint in the pub on day one by a friend – ‘I won’t tell, no one will know’ he said. ‘I’ll know’ I said.

    Pub LBTLThis was the same determination and frustration I faced for 5 days, opening the fridge in the silence of an empty house, home from work before my girlfriend, with no one but myself witness to whether I reached in for something I hadn’t bought with my £5. ‘I can’t’ I said. ‘I’ll know’ I said.  Yes I was talking to myself. Hunger has strange side effects.

    Live Below the Line is a personal challenge, and a challenge it certainly is. There are millions of people that live on less than a £1 per day on food, drink, and living costs too. There was no way I was going to fail at just 5 days of £5 for food and drink when so many live so much harder than this little struggle I faced. By taking on the challenge I helped grow awareness of the issues facing the poorest in the world, raised money for Practical Action’s work, encouraged others to take part (and do better than me) and gained a personal sense of how lucky I am to have a sort of gadabout hedonistic lifestyle of convenience. That’s got to be worth the challenge in itself.

    You can still challenge yourself, family and friends by signing up for this year’s Live Below The Line here. Avoid tinned spinach and you’ll be fine.



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  • Smelling the coffee

    April 7th, 2014

    Last week, the Practical Action team spent four days exhibiting at the London Coffee Festival. Thursday and Friday were attended by those working in the coffee trade, and the weekend was open to coffee loving members of the public. I arrived early on the Friday and wasted no time in locating the Green & Black’s stand – yep chocolate for breakfast – but after deciding it was too early to find the Kahlua, I donned my Practical Action apron.Coffee Fest

    The atmosphere was buzzing throughout the day; traders spoke passionately about their products, and coffee enthusiasts stocked up on freebies to last them a lifetime. There seemed to be people there from all over Europe, and from all kinds of exciting coffee-related initiatives. We were there (armed with free flapjack) because Practical Action supports coffee farmers in places like Peru and Bolivia. Not only were we keen to share this with people, but we also wanted to find some challenge participants for Live Below The Line.


    Live Below The Line is a world-wide campaign to raise awareness of extreme food poverty, which the World Bank has recently defined as living on $1.25 a day. This equates to £1 a day for those living in the UK, so we have been asking people to take on the challenge of spending just £1 a day on food and drink for 5 days.

    You’d think that people who routinely spend about £3 on one cup of coffee would declare the challenge impossible, but no! Over the course of the Festival over 200 people signed up to Live Below The Line and raise money for Practical Action.

    We made sure that we weren’t throwing people in at the deep end by sending them off equipped with a memory stick loaded with an example shopping list, recipes and a participant starter pack. In keeping with the Festival, we also gave them a free Practical Action mug, magnet and flapjack.

    Next weekend, we’re taking Live Below The Line to Spitalfields Market in London, but this time we will be providing shoppers with LBTL lunches at just 40p a portion. There’s still plenty of time to sign up for Live Below The Line - on the website you can find links to participant blogs, and recipes for inspiration.

    Jamie London Coffee Festival


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  • Day 3 of Living Below the Line

    This week I am taking on Practical Action’s challenge to Live Below the Line. The World Bank defined the new international poverty line as $1.25 a day for 2005 and so Live Below the Line challenges participants to live on a food and drink budget of just £5 for 5 days. I’m taking on the challenge with my girlfriend, Lizzie, and so we have a joint budget of £10 to see us through from Monday to Friday. All of our meals have been based around a staple of chapatis as a very cheap, filling carbohydrate. Early in the week we made Split Pea Dhal which was pretty basic, but yesterday evening we realised we could make pizzas within our budget, which was a revelation.

    A big part of the challenge was to try and carry on with my life as normally as possible whilst only spending £1 a day on food and drink. So that meant 6-aside football on Monday and cricket nets Tuesday. And today (Wednesday) I am absolutely exhausted. I don’t think this is just down to how I am fuelling my body. I think it’s also how much time and effort it takes to prepare everything, when you’re starting with basic ingredients. Yesterday I was up much later than I wanted to be as I still needed to make chapatis from scratch for today’s lunch. Normally, had I got late into the evening without lunch planned for the next day, I’d know I could just leave it and pick up a £3 meal deal from the local supermarket without too much hassle, but not this week. This week, each evening we are spending about 3 hours between us in the kitchen preparing food for dinner and breakfast and lunch the following day.

    It’s not the food that I miss (I’ve been quite happy with what we’ve been eating), it’s the convenience that we enjoy when we are able to spend a bit more money.

    That got me thinking about the people I met in Turkana, Northern Kenya, last summer. Even with all the mod-cons of our kitchen and an electric oven it’s still taking most of our evening to prepare our food. But for some people in Turkana, preparing their food is a much longer process still. It can take most of the morning to collect the water needed for the day (and still there is not enough). Then if they are cooking on an inefficient three-stone stove, they will need to collect plenty of fire wood before they can even start thinking about kneading any flour for chapatis or any other food preparations. And what if the only water they have access to isn’t clean, then they have spent their day preparing a meal that could make their family very sick.

    So whilst taking part in Live Below the Line is challenging and tiring, it is also enjoyable and thought provoking. And if you’re happy to put the work in, you can create some pretty delicious meals.

    If you are interested about finding out more about Live Below the Line and seeing how you can get involved. Go to


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  • Take the Live Below the Line 2014 challenge!

    Gemma Hume
    March 7th, 2014

    Could you get by on just £1 a day for five days for ALL your food and drink? That’s the challenge we’re setting you from Monday 28 April to Friday 2 May 2014 as part of the Live Below the Line challenge.

    Live Below the Line

    What is Live Below the Line?

    Live Below the Line is a campaign that gives people the chance to gain a small insight into the challenges and choices faced by those living in extreme poverty, by living on £1 a day for food and drink for five days, whilst raising vital funds for charity.

    1.2 billion people worldwide live on £1 a day for ALL their needs – food, clean water, shelter, education, health.

    This is not about replicating poverty or pretending that changing your eating habits for five days will  give you an understanding of what poverty is truly like, but the intention is to start conversations, raise awareness and raise funds.

    The Live Below the Line rules

    1. You must spend no more than £1 a day, for the 5 days, for all your food and drink
    2. You can’t buy an item, such as a bag of pasta, and then only include part of the cost in your budget because you don’t use it all. You have to include the cost of the whole packet, even if you don’t eat it all. However, for items such as salt, pepper, herbs and spices, simply work out the cost of each item per portion and budget your shopping accordingly.
    3. You can share the cost of your food and drink with a partner or team e.g. between two of you, you have £10 for the 5 days to share the costs of ingredients (this makes it easier!) but no participant is allowed to spend more than £1 a day of their total £5 budget.
    4. You can’t grab a cheeky snack from the cupboard unless you include the cost of buying the item new in your budget.
    5. You can use food you’ve grown yourself as long as you account for production costs.
    6. No combination of any meals on any given day can exceed the £1 spending limit.
    7. You cannot accept free food and drink – you must ask for a donation instead
    8. You are allowed to drink tap water. It is recommended that you drink between 6 and 8 glasses a day.

    Think you can do it? Then take Practical Action against hunger and join Team Practical Action for the Live Below the Line challenge – you could make a real impact by raising vital funds for our life-saving work!

    Practical Action helps children and families to escape life threatening hunger, disease and poverty by using simple technology and sustainable long-term solutions.

    We’ll make the challenge easier for you, with a whole host of recipe suggestions and fundraising tips. We’ll be doing plenty of blogging and tweeting and we’ll be on hand to answer any questions and give advice. Just email us at

    So what are you waiting for? Sign up for Live Below the Line now!

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  • Innocent until proven guilty

    To a large extent, many of us rumble through life with little thought to the what if’s of any given situation, but every now and then a curve ball comes our way which makes us stop and think. This is certainly true in my case, when I recently had the opportunity to visit Practical Action’s work in Peru and Bolivia. I saw for myself the difference financial support can and does make to the communities living in the high Andes. Practical Action can only fulfill the commitments we have made to the communities who continue to live in extreme poverty, with the generosity of like-minded individuals, organisations, trusts and foundations.Digital Image

    If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I could never have imagined the enormity of the Peruvian landscape and the difficulties communities face on a daily basis. If it is not the distance, or the altitude or the state of the roads, it is the extreme heat of the day or the cold of the night. Nothing is easy for these communities – they are the innocent bystanders in a far from innocent world and I know I was guilty of being blinkered to their plight.

    I suspect there are a lot of people like me, guilty through no fault of our own, just innocent actions and a touch of ignorance which is why the innocent foundation’s support of our work is so incredibly special; not only to all of us here at Practical Action, but to the communities who they have so generously supported for several years.

    Digital ImageLiving in a one room hut is the reality for communities, but the implementation of basic services – simple amenities that we all take for granted can and does make a difference to them. The difference is plain to see, and I was lucky enough to meet and talk to the community involved in this project during my own visit and who feature in the innocent Chain of Good video being aired on television.

    To have a chain of facilities such as power, water and appropriate sanitation is life changing and will break the chain of poverty for good. It means they can afford the essentials in life such as food, clothing and education. However, one thing that has stayed in my mind was the lady who when asked how the new facilities had made a difference to her, replied, ‘it allows me to take the truck down to the town to buy a few essentials.’  Not a bus with a comfy seat, air conditioning and a bag of sweets, but the back of a truck, and a five hour drive down the rough mountain track on a Saturday, to return on the Sunday with a few basics and a bad back!

    We are all innocent until proven guilty – what we do here in our everyday lives is in complete innocence, but it makes us all guilty of being inflexible to the implications of our actions in the wider world. The Chain of Good video portrays a powerful message and I hope it will stop us in our tracks and make us all think – not for me or for any of us here at Practical Action, but for the communities that will benefit from the real and lasting difference individuals, organisations, trusts and foundations can and do make.

    It is two months on since my return from Peru and Bolivia and not a day goes by I don’t think about the communities – the families that I met or the images I saw – the innocent foundation inspires; on behalf of those communities, thank you.



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  • Innocent abroad

    Liz Frost
    January 20th, 2014

    I love going to meetings at the innocent drinks’ offices.  Apart the from the funky surroundings (hanging basket chairs, fake grass, table tennis tables in the kitchen) where else do you get given a nice little brown bag at the end of a meeting and told to help yourself to the drinks cabinet.  The temptation is great – all those lovely smoothies, peaches and apricots, mango and passion fruit, and my personal favourite – pineapples, bananas and coconut.

    But I’m not writing this to plug the deliciousness of  innocent’s drinks or the virtues of  innocent’s office, many though they are (and by the way, as it says on the side of their drinks’ cartons, anyone can visit their offices if they make an appointment), but to also describe the amazing support they give to organisations like Practical Action.

    innocent’s project support in Peru

    So this is about innocent abroad – actually innocent foundation abroad – which has supported Practical Action’s work in Peru since 2007 when they funded our project providing water, sanitation and energy to communities in the high Andes, 5,000m above sea level.   These are families living, cooking and sleeping in simple mud walled homes, thatched with straw.  Being so few they are largely forgotten or ignored by local government when it comes to providing basic services.  Water was collected from streams, often contaminated by animal waste and human faeces, (open defecation was the norm) and their only power sources were using kerosene or burning dry dung, their remoteness making it unlikely that the national grid will ever reach them.  With innocent foundation’s support this has all changed.

    Water, sanitation and energy

    Practical Action, together with the communities, has built eco-san toilets, and as importantly, communities are now aware of the dangers to their health that open defecation brings.  Piped water is available, filtered at household level to reduce the risk of diarrhoea.

       Seňor Santiago's filtered water tap

    Seňor Santiago’s filtered water tap

    And they have power, harnessing the renewable energies of the sun with small solar panels provided by Practical Action.  This simple technology is enabling these alpaca farmers to increase their alpaca wool production with small electric spinning machines, bringing them increased incomes, enabling them to better support their children’s education and health needs.

    Who would have thought that drinking an innocent strawberry and banana smoothie could make such a difference?



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