As students on twenty-two campuses rallied around AID’s first $2 A Day Challenge last week, the issue of global poverty—what it looks like and what should be done—has certainly become the topic of debate.

A student at Northwestern University submitted an opinion piece to the editor of the North, positing that attempting to live on $2 in the U.S. would not only be futile, but “disingenuous” to assume that money doesn’t go farther in a developing country.  Most of us who have traveled to a developing country, whether low or middle income, recognize that goods and services cost less—a meal at the corner taquería, bus fare, or a walk-in doctors visit and prescription.  But apparently, still not enough of us know that $2 is NOT living wage enough to sustain a family or individual with basic needs or opportunities for a creative and fulfilling life.  If $2 affords so much in a developing country, tell me why young girls in Mexico sell candy in the streets, putting themselves at risk of rape or worse, when they should be in school or home safe with their parents getting ready for bed? Tell me why a woman in rural Guatemala gets herself pregnant with the sole purpose of selling the newborn child to a corrupt international adoption agency if her income is enough to sustain herself and the children she already has?   Tell me why another young girl in northern Brazil is being treated for an STD she contacted from her older brother because her family does not own enough towels for each member of her family?  The aforementioned student author adds that confronting students with stories like these and asking them to consider walking a day in their shoes, “something they already know to be impossible, serves only to engender guilt, not action [and would] turn people off to the cause of eradicating poverty.”

A second Northwestern student acknowledges the tribulations of poverty, but argues piecemeal donations to the disadvantaged will not address the structural nature of the problem.  Very true.  However, she takes issue with the AID $2 A Day Challenge as a mere awareness raising campaign: “Unfortunately, empathy won’t build libraries or stock them with books. No amount of identifying with poverty can end it.”  She goes on to say, “Depending on the generosity of a bunch of American college students is not sustainable and will never eradicate poverty. Inspiring change will require the movements of big players.”  Again, I agree.  But I ask then, what can a full-time college student be doing to move those big players?

Yes, there’s voting and lobbying.  But, those approaches have their limitations as well.  What AID is doing is asking students to take on their elected officials, but also to think outside the box and be resourceful.  Student advocates of Western Kentucky University’s AID chapter have been unabashed in their approach to harnessing commitment from their campus and wider community.  They signed up over 130 students to take the $2 A Day Challenge and convinced a mayoral candidate and their University President to take the Challenge as well.  The University President publicly commended the students’ efforts and participated in an evening rally in which he read a worldwide pledge of commitment against extreme poverty and inequality.

My point is that sometimes being a part of the solution is closer than you think.  We need to hold all links of the chain accountable and not wait on the big players (as that John Mayer song obnoxiously suggests), if we are to correct the systems, which currently exacerbate poverty.  Getting your university administration and local elected officials to take concrete action towards adopting more equitable and sustainable policies and practices is an important first step!  One that has power to change the culture of a community and a nation.