The registered nutritionist, personal trainer and Pilates instructor gave up a portion of her own daily food to satisfy the hunger of her two daughters when the family took a five-day challenge last year called Live Below the Line.
"I was the one that ended up being the one most depleted because I found myself as a mother, like the mother's intuition, to just give your children your food," said the Aurora, Ont., mom. "It just blew my mind the idea that, oh my God, these people in depressed environments or in extreme poverty, the mothers must be the most malnourished."
Her research afterward revealed that to be true.
"I hope that I never, ever have to (deprive my children of food) out of necessity," she added. "I hope this is just a lesson I can teach them and I get that there are people out there every day that struggle to put food on the table for their family and I'm grateful that I'm not one of those people. But I need my kids to understand how to feel grateful about that and really the only way to do that is to experience it. ...
"Until you experience hunger you can't experience how consuming it is too. You're hungry. When's the next meal? I've got two more hours. How can I distract myself?"
Live Below the Line is an initiative spearheaded by the Global Poverty Project that challenges participants to understand the reality of extreme poverty. Participants are asked to eat and drink for $1.75 a day for five days — the extreme poverty threshold that the World Health Organization has deemed that 1.2 billion people worldwide survive on for all their needs. This year's campaign runs April 28 to May 2 and participants can choose to raise funds for organizations that spearhead initiatives to raise awareness and help eradicate extreme poverty.
Chychrun wanted to see if it was possible to have a nutritionally balanced diet on such a strict budget. She also saw it as a learning experience for her children, Vanessa and Olivia, now 12 and 10.
The girls were initially eager to raise awareness among their school chums, though hunger and a growing weariness of eating what they termed "mushy" food — oatmeal, lentils and beans, stew — took the edge off their enthusiasm.
"They learned very quickly that you can't be picky. This is it. It's that or nothing. Really nothing," said Chychrun.
She was proud when her youngest daughter pointed out at the end of the challenge that they could resume their normal eating habits while people in need have no choice.
Live Below the Line is a fledgling program in Canada but is well established in the United Kingdom, the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, where anti-poverty activists Richard Fleming and Nick Allardice started the campaign in 2010. Actor Hugh Jackman invites people to take the challenge in a video posted on the organization's website.
Odette Hutchings, manager of Canada's Live Below the Line campaign, says participants can channel funds raised toward one of eight partner organizations that sponsor programs running the gamut from agriculture, humanitarian relief, sanitation and health to advocacy and literacy. Last year Canadians raised more than $110,000. This year's target is $300,000.
The Toronto-based Hutchings, who was doing the challenge this week, said "you end up thinking about food quite a bit, and seeing other people eating can be quite difficult."
She has been going to bed early "because it's uncomfortable to be awake and to be hungry. So it really does put you in touch with the reality that 1.2 billion people are living with every single day and for me it's only five days. At the end I get to go back to my normal life.
"But for someone who's dealing with that every day the consequences aren't just that you're hungry but also that you're not nourished properly. I'm eating almost entirely carbs this week and am probably missing out on a ton of micronutrients. For one week is OK, but for a lifetime it does impact people's health."
For more information, visit livebelowtheline.ca.
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