March 23, 2012

Coming Clean

Recovering from depression is not unlike
climbing out of a well.
"Is this project going to mess up Sean's head?"

That was a concern raised by my Uncle Dave last July when I started the project.  He knew that I've battled with anxiety and depression in the past, and hoped that doing these experiences wouldn't knock me for a loop, psychologically speaking.  I assured him at the time that I was feeling great, had lots of good tools at my disposal to combat anxiety and depression, and that I had a fabulous network for moral support.  Oh, how naive I was!!

Yes, naive.  How could anyone live amongst abundance and deprive themselves in a variety of ways over extended periods of time not be affected by it?  In hindsight, the real question isn't "if" living outside, or struggling to get by, or eating basic rations for 3 months each will mess one up, but "how much" it will mess them up.  Of course, there are those who appreciate these lifestyle choices and will thrive in them.  However, for the vast majority of us who have come to not only appreciate but rely upon our creature comforts, it would mess us up to some extent.

I've decided to come clean about the true extent of the impact this project has had on me.  For the last three months I've been suffering and recovering from a low grade depression.   Depression is an illness . . . not a weakness . . . not a figment of one's imagination . . . and a potentially fatal illness at that.  Just like many other potentially fatal illnesses, like diabetes or heart disease, it can be treated very effectively.  However, just when I should have been extra vigilant because of the stressors I was experiencing, I dropped my guard and the combination of the time of year (seasonal affective disorder) along with not doing the things that I know help me (regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and taking down time rather than being "on" 24/7) knocked me on my butt.  That said, I've been able to gut it out and keep working, but it has been incredibly difficult at times.

Why conceal my depression?  The short answer is . . . I don't really know.  There are many factors that I suspect played into it.  First, the illness itself is isolating and self-deprecating.  In other words, the depressed person believes he or she is weak . . . and who wants to broadcast weakness???  Second, somehow I convinced myself that the depression had nothing to do with my experiences but rather that it was a susceptibility I brought to the table in advance.  But, really . . . it is something a lot of people bring to the table!  Some people suffer mental illness and it results in them living in poverty, and many may find themselves in poverty and then suffer from mental illness because of it.  Third, and probably the most likely factor I didn't write about it, I felt I couldn't write about it until I had healed sufficiently.  That said, I did drop some clues along the way in previous blogs . . . "Inside an Anxiety Attack" and "I'm S.A.D. . . . and My Oilers Suck". 

So why come clean now?  I had an "a-ha" moment . . . or perhaps is what a "duh" moment.  People must be made aware at how devastating depression can be, and the HUGE role it can play in keeping people in the muck once they find themselves in poverty.   If I could get depressed, when doing these experiences voluntarily and have the tools and training to stave off depression, then the 99.9% of people who find themselves in poverty involuntarily are sitting ducks.  Once a person becomes depressed . . . they have less energy (if any at all), their get up and go has got up and went, they think poorly of themselves, and they tend to isolate themselves from any support networks.  In other words, the depressed person in poverty becomes deprived of all of the tools they need in order to get out of poverty and they become entrenched.

The good news is that there are organizations working city streets and in communities that help people regain their mental health as they are helped back on their feet and out of poverty.  (e.g. The Mustard Seed in Calgary)   We just need to support them more so that they can reach even more people.  And, even better, we need to put in the societal safeguards that keep people from falling into poverty in the first place.

Oh . . . and in revising my answer to my Uncle Dave's concern . . . "Yes, absolutely.  How could it not?  But, if more people get involved in being part of the solution to eliminate poverty, then it is a price I have been willing to pay."

Hey!! I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click Here to See WHAT YOU CAN DO

Click Here to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders

March 17, 2012

The Insidious Nature of Scarcity Thinking

Being fear-based, scarcity thinking makes us think
we have less than we need . . . and certainly not
enough to go around.
In this phase of That Poverty Project, I haven't been able to shake the feeling of not having enough.  Not just with respect to food, but everything.  During the first two phases, I was definitely in the position of having limited resources and few options.  However, during this phase only my food choices and amounts are limited, nothing else.  Yet, still, I have to constantly remind myself that I can do things like rent a movie, or buy a t-shirt, or get my wife flowers.  I have enough, and yet scarcity thinking has its grip on me.

It really makes me understand my grandparents who had lived through the Great Depression and then for the rest of their lives were in penny pinching mode.  It also makes me wonder if those who find themselves in poverty situations have a tough time breaking free partially because of the way they come to think.  Does scarcity thinking become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Of course, scarcity thinking has been around since the beginning of human history.  It's scarcity thinking that causes us to horde, guard, and develop a "me first" mentality.  It's scarcity thinking that is the foundation of many conflicts between people and nations.  It's scarcity thinking that sets the expectations that a segment of the population being in poverty is natural, and therefore something that we cannot and perhaps should not change.   While scarcity thinking may serve one well when lost in the woods with limited rations, in most other cases it is a destructive force.

There are many who rely on scarcity thinking to make massive profits.  Advertisers are fully aware of how easy it is to leverage scarcity thinking into making a sale.  They tell us what we need in order to be safer, healthier, more beautiful, richer, more respected, and happier.  Because, without this product or that product we are sorry excuses for human beings who will shamefully lag behind all others until we die a horrible, lonely death.  Scarcity thinking sells.

However, scarcity thinking can never be satisfied.  It is a constant gaping bottomless hole into which we throw stuff, only to be wanting more stuff soon after.  While many a commercial enterprise not only survives but thrives on this mentality, it is like a cancer that undermines society and literally leaves billions of people without their basic human rights.  "Oh," we say, "we'd help them if we could, but there's not enough to go around and we certainly don't have enough to be able to help."  Scarcity thinking is quite simply . . . wrong.

The fact is that we live in a world of abundance.  There IS enough for everyone to have their basic human rights met.  There is enough for those who are rich to still be rich and for no one to be in poverty.  It's not a question of whether there is enough to go around, but rather simply a question of priorities.  In fact, in many cases in the developed world, it would actually cost society less to eliminate poverty than it does to service it.  Yes, that's right, those of us lucky enough to live in a land of prosperity would have a little bit more by eliminating poverty.  And, in the developing world, it only takes a small fraction of what the world spends on military, as an example, to ensure that everyone everywhere had food, water, access to medical care, education, and shelter.  Yes, poverty is actually a matter of priorities, not a question of scarcity.

I encourage you to take a look at what you have and be grateful; be skeptical of what you are told you need to have; and to speak out to make it a priority that everyone have their basic human rights met.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click Here to See WHAT YOU CAN DO

Click Here to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders

March 11, 2012

Kudos for Kony 2012

Like it or not . . . the Kony 2012 campaign is a public engagement success, and one which should be celebrated.  As of this moment, the recently released 30-minute video produced by Invisible Children has exceeded 70 million views in order to raise awareness about the atrocities against children and their families committed over the last 20+ years by Joseph Kony and his Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda and neighbouring countries.  The campaign calls upon people to make Kony famous (I'd have chosen "infamous") in order to encourage the powers that be to increase their efforts in finally bringing Kony and his cohorts to justice.

Yes, the campaign should be celebrated.  It's not easy to engage people to the magnitude that Kony 2012 has done.  In fact, it's incredibly difficult.  Unfortunately, the campaign has also attracted a plethora of detractors who take aim at Invisible Children's depiction of Uganda, its financial transparency, and what the group actually funds overseas.  However, I would encourage these critics to take a step back and recognize the primary intent of the video . . . to engage people in setting a new precedent for international justice.  Kony 2012 is intended to get a man topping the international most wanted list onto the public's radar in order to motivate world leaders to get the job done in finding and arresting Joseph Kony.  While it remains to be seen whether Kony will be caught in the near future, there can be no doubting that the campaign has been an absolute success in doing what it set out to do.

I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't wish the campaign were focused on eradicating world hunger or eliminating poverty rather than taking aim at Joseph Kony.  However, I recognize the positive impact that such a campaign can have on other causes.  The more that people become accustomed to getting involved, having a say in important issues affecting the world, the better.  At the end of the day, I much rather have people mobilize to put heat on Kony and the LRA than not be mobilized at all.

Don't think for even a moment that this campaign is only about raising awareness to catch one bad guy.  It's much, much more than that . . .

  • It's about achieving justice for tens of thousands of kids and their families who were cruelly tormented and had their lives destroyed.  I have worked hands on with former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, West Africa and it meant the world to them to have their tormentor, Foday Sankoh, brought to justice.  Talk to victims of violence or sexual abuse and you will hear how important it is that their tormentor face ramifications for the wrongs bestowed on them and others. 

  • It's about giving notice to those who would partake in such abuses that the world is watching, and the public will no longer stand idly by while injustices are committed.  This engagement translates directly into political will . . . giving leaders a "green light" to apply resources to bring the accused to face the consequences of their actions.

  • It's about creating renewed awareness regarding the plight of child soldiers, and harnessing public energy to better address this terrible practice.  About 12 years ago, I was involved with raising awareness about children affected by war, and the Kony 2012 video reminded me very much of the realities of children that I witnessed first hand.

I'm grateful for the Kony 2012 campaign, despite its warts.  I just hope that it will translate into paving the way for increased involvement by more and more people in addressing a variety of other issues that will better OUR world.


  • If you haven't seen the Kony 2012 video, you can check out by clicking HERE.

  • This is by no means an endorsement to give money to Invisible Children.  I encourage everyone to research organizations they wish to support financially.  There are many organizations around the world doing great work on a variety of issues . . . find the one you would like to support.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click Here to See WHAT YOU CAN DO

Click Here to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders

March 7, 2012

Our Century's Greatest Injustice

The oppression, discrimination, and abuse of women and girls is one of the most serious issues affecting poverty around the world.  Beyond the cruel injustice of such acts, it is such a huge poverty issue because women and girls are one of the greatest, if not the greatest, part of the solution to alleviate poverty.

As pointed out in this TED Talk video by Sheryl WuDunn entitled "Our Century's Greatest Injustice", educating the girl child accomplishes three incredibly important things in the global battle against poverty.  First, since it has been shown that girls with education have fewer babies, it reverses the trend towards overpopulation that plays a big factor in poverty proliferation.  Second, experience has also shown that women make better use of resources for the benefit of the family.  Third, it increases the involvement in women in being part of the solution breaking the poverty cycle.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click Here to See WHAT YOU CAN DO.

Click Here to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders.

March 1, 2012

Phase III Begins! (Day One - March 1, 2012)

Having the same food everyday, and less of it than I'm used to.  That's what Phase III of That Poverty Project introduces to me.  For three months I will be only eating the equivalent of rations provided by the World Food Programme to people in refugee camps.

Why?  Because this is the food that people around the world are provided when they need food.  Because this is the food that the almost 1 Billion hungry, malnourished people in the world are dying for.  Literally.

The above rations provide approximately 2100 Kcal of energy per day.  Trying to be as authentic as possible, I've only made only two changes to the actual WFP rations.  First, whereas the World Food Programme provides a vitamin fortified "super cereal" comprised of cornmeal and soya beans which I cannot duplicate, I've simply included the ingredients separately.  Second, I am following the example of my West African friends in Sierra Leone who wouldn't dare eat the above without a little "peppa".  Thus, I will be adding some hot sauce.

I am willing to make this sacrifice as a indication of the depth of my belief that poverty eradication is the single most important, preventable issue facing our world today.  Solve poverty, and you improve the world many times over while ridding the world of a whole whack of other issues along the way.  With every grain of rice and every bit of fibre in the lentils I'm eating, I believe, based upon facts and actual real world examples, that poverty CAN be eliminated.  Collectively, we just need to make it a priority.

Oh, by the way . . . I put on a little bit of weight since the end of the second phase.  I am now 222 lbs, which is 11 lbs lighter than at the very start of the project back in July 2011.  In the coming days and weeks we'll see how the above diet affects my weight.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click Here to See WHAT YOU CAN DO

Click Here to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders