Westport native lives on $1 a day in new documentary

Studying economics and international development in college, Chris Temple was well aware of the statistics: 1.1 billion people in the world live on $1 a day.

“Growing up in Connecticut, I couldn’t understand how that was possible,” Temple, a Westport native and Graduate of Green Farms Academy, said. “It seemed so distant from any reality I knew.”

Temple wanted to a “deeper understanding” of what it meant to live in extreme poverty. So, he and his classmate, Zach Ingrasci, and their two friends, decided to try it for themselves: for an entire summer, the four college students lived in the tiny village of Pena Blanca in Guatemala, subsisting on a total of just $224.

The group captured their experiences in the full-length documentary, “Living On One Dollar,” which airs on Hulu now through May 3.

Filmed in the summer of 2010, between Temple and Ingrasci’s sophomore and junior years at Claremont McKenna College, Calif., the documentary follows the four friends as they navigate the precarious existence of rural impoverishment. Aside from agonizing over their meager budget, the friends battle exhaustion, hunger and disease (Temple, at one point, suffers a nasty episode of giardia, an intestinal infection marked by abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea and watery diarrhea).

There were times when they wanted to quit and go home.

“We were only eating one small bowl of rice and beans per day . . . and then working as farmers for eight hours a day,” Temple, 23, recalled. “You don’t have nutrition, you have no energy, you’re sleeping on a dirt floor being bitten by fleas every night — it’s not an easy life to go through.”

However, in spite of the hardships, the group takes solace in their neighbors and friends. There’s Chino, who dreams of going to school despite being forced to support his family by working in the fields; and Anthony, who assists his friends with financial needs despite having to support his wife and large family.

“When we met our neighbors and became integrated into the community, we stopped complaining,” Temple said. “We focused on our neighbors and telling their stories — that was the inspiration we needed to complete the film.”

And once they did, Temple and crew decided to take their mission a step further, establishing Living On One, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting “our peers with the reality of poverty” and inspiring “us all to take action,” according to the group’s website.

So far, they’ve raised $20,000 for a micro-finance program and for scholarships for Chino’s entire family. In addition to donating directly to microfinance programs, Temple encourages everyone to visit the group’s website and host a screening of the film.

Temple acknowledges the impossibility of “fully replicating” a $1 a day life. But he believes that by experiencing poverty first hand and “taking others along for the ride,” he has been able “bridge a gap of understanding” between himself, his friends and his family and the people of Pena Blanca.

“When we show people this film, they can relate to us, and meet our neighbors,” Temple added. “They realize: poverty isn’t just about overwhelming statistics. Behind the statistics is the hope and dreams of a single person, and that’s something everyone can appreciate.”

Watch the film below:

Scott Gargan