Beginning April 16, 30 Drexel students spent three days participating in Two Dollar a Day, an initiative organized by weServe, a program that works to generate awareness about poverty locally and internationally through such events.
The students built a large cardboard structure on the field next to Lancaster Walk off of 33rd Street. This structure was to be the home for program participants for the duration of the challenge.
The group was divided into a blue community and a gold community, each of which had various responsibilities throughout the event, including organizing meals.. The leaders of the communities were senior biomedical engineering majors Vince Petaccio and Katelynn Montgomery.
Participating in the challenge involved more than just the monetary and residential restrictions. Each community was tasked with creating an idea for an educational children’s toy that could potentially be used as another means of spreading awareness. The toy was to be directed toward children between the ages of 5 and 12 and was to incorporate the idea of connecting people throughout the world.
WeServe program director Shirin Karsan posed the challenge as an experiential learning exercise last year and was glad to see it realized for the first time. According to Karsan, the purpose of the challenge was to “raise awareness about what is going on in our own backyard.”
“It shows the harshness of life for people who are living with not much available to them. … It gives us a glimpse of what it’s really like for people who actually have to live on $2 a day,” Karsan said.
To sustain themselves, the students pooled their meager dollars together to be able to afford food.
Elise Krogman, a senior biomedical engineering major, said, “It really makes you re-evaluate the things you purchase on a daily basis. A cup of coffee from Starbucks is more than I would be able to spend in a day.”
The challenge generated a lot of interest, and many students stopped to ask why their peers were living in a cardboard shelter. It also allowed people to make donations of money and food that were then appropriated to local programs such as Philabundance and other international weServe programs.
Also involved with the challenge were two speakers who gave insight into the problem of poverty. Tuesday’s speaker was Christiaan Morssink, president of the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia, and Wednesday’s speaker was Peter Amato, associate director of philosophy at Drexel, who brought one of his classes to the site to have a discussion on the subject.
Students had to surmount not only the difficulties of financial poverty but also the problems that arise from living outdoors. Strong winds during the first night caused the shelter to collapse, and on the second night two female students attempted to destroy the shelter until its purpose was explained to them.
The hardships of poverty were internalized by junior physics major Paresh Brahmbhatt, who after experiencing their resistance to his attempts at panhandling, said of his fellow Drexel students, “They don’t care as much as I thought they cared.”