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live below the line

I like to think myself a thrifty person. In true accordance with the student stereotype, my dinners usually consist of either vegemite toast or cheap Vietnamese takeaway, and yet my financial standing still has a tendency to stray into the red. So to curb this worrying trend, I have joined the thousands partaking  in Living Below The Line: $2 a day, one week, and a whole lot of rice. An upside to this campaign, besides the amusement of witnessing caffeine withdrawals, is the hundreds of thousands of dollars it contributes to foreign aid. An added bonus if you will.

Live Below The Line’s inception came in the form of a backyard discussion between one Rich Fleming and Oaktree’s Nick Allardice one night in 2009. After trialling the frugal budgeting on his own diet for 3 weeks, Nick noticed the keen interest it sparked, and so it came to be. The following year LBL was launched, managing to draw over 2000 participants and raise over $500,000 in donations. Last year this figure leapt to 6500 participants and $1.4 million. This figure is set to be surpassed this year, with over $1.1 million raised thus far.

In 2011 LBL reached beyond the well-intentioned students and philanthropists to the higher celebrity circles, drawing the participation of faces such as Hugh Jackman and Triple J’s Tom & Alex. Jackman has since adopted an official ambassador role with the second brainchild of Oaktree’s founder – and co-organiser of LBL – the Global Poverty Project. Through the collaboration of GPP and Oaktree, Live Below The Line has stretched beyond Australian shores to New Zealand, the UK, and the United States.

“But what use does a youth-run organisation have with all those moneys?” queries your cynical, poorly spoken friend. Well, I’m glad you asked. As an organisation, Oaktree currently funds projects in four countries: Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and South Africa. I say fund because this forms Oaktree’s focus. Implementing international projects is outside the limitations of an organisation with a membership restricted to 26 years and under, and so for us in the projects team, our role is to scope, fund and monitor arduously selected projects in these countries. These projects are selected with a focus on youth and education, and have shown to have a ‘ground-up’ approach within their communities.

With Cambodia being the face of the LBL campaign last year, it has seen a great deal of work come of the fundraising. Through Oaktree’s partner KAPE (Kampuchean Action for Primary Education), the rural district of Kampong Cham has seen an overhaul of 3 of its lowest-performing public schools as part of the Beacon Schools Initiative project. In literal terms, this means major renovations, the installation of IT departments, hundreds of student scholarships, and valuable teacher training.

This year the focus is on Papua New Guinea, where Oaktree supports two community projects. Rates of domestic and sexual abuse against women in PNG are some of the highest in the world – with over 50% of the female population reporting physical abuse from male partners, along with substantial rates of sexual assault, particularly in the highland regions. Most recently Oaktree has collaborated with City Mission, developing a project which aims to empower disadvantaged women in Port Moresby by offering them vocational education programmes. Though these programmes require substantial funding, and that is what LBL aims to provide.

So spare a thought, dear readers, for those edgy, caffeine-deprived folk staring solemnly at their fifth serve of lentil curry this week. Life below the poverty line is a tough gig, and that’s precisely why we’re doing it.

To learn more about Live Below the Line, or to donate, visit their website!

By Alex Wycherley

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