Five Ways the Poor Describe Poverty
How do you define poverty?
This question was posed to a group of women in rural Rwanda who live on less than $2 a day.
Their first five answers were …
- Poverty is an empty heart
- Not knowing your abilities or strengths
- Not being able to make progress
- No hope or belief in yourself
What is unexpected is that not having enough money isn’t mentioned.
Lack of access to clean water, eating one meal a day, or being uneducated isn’t either. While the answers from women in rural Rwanda may be surprising, several years ago researchers at the World Bank asked the same question to over 60,000 people living in poverty. And the answers were strikingly similar.
Researchers Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett at The Chalmers Center for Economic Developmentsummarize the results: They tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms. Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.
Defining Poverty: In the West, we define poverty primarily by a lack of material wealth, such as insufficient food, money, clean water, and medicine. The poor themselves describe it in different terms. As organizations of 58: come alongside the financially poor, we need to keep reminding each other to define poverty as the poor define it—as inherently social, psychological, and spiritual.
Consider the example of Mukashema Berinadath, someone we work with in Rwanda.Though poor materially, Mukashema described her greater concerns as being isolated, alone, and depressed. Left a widow to take care of two children, she says she didn’t have the energy to wash her clothes or bathe herself.
Several years ago, she joined a savings group, Abateranankinga, which means supporting one another. Besides providing her with a goat, a cow, and a place to save she found a community, a network of support. She also experienced success with her garden and can now afford to provide for her children and pay for schooling.
Most important, she has also experienced the love of Christ through her group. Today she prays every day with group members and thanks God for all he has done, transforming her life and bringing reconciliation with her community and with God.
Mukashema’s story shows how interconnected poverty is. Yes, she had an opportunity to save, but it was within the context of relationships and reconciliation with Christ that her life was changed.
It is stories like Mukashema’s that make me thrilled about the 58: campaign. A uniting belief of 58:member organizations is that poverty is more than just material. While each member provides different services for example, HOPE offers savings services, loans, and biblically based business training while Plant With Purpose is reversing deforestation, restoring land productivity, and creating economic opportunities for the poor. We share a belief that poverty must be addressed holistically.
Affirming that the financially poor have dignity, talents, and potential because they are made in the image of God, organizations of 58: can do more than help to build wells, create business initiatives, or fight against deforestation. In such organizations through Christ the process of reconciliation, between all of us and with God, can be unleashed.
To help others in Rwanda like Mukashema, join our Adventure Capitalist campaign here.
*Reposted from guest post on 58: blog. I’m so thankful to be part of the 58: campaign as it follows the call of Isaiah 58 to address physical and spiritual poverty. For more information on the58: campaign, go here.
Peter Greer is president and CEO of HOPE International, a global nonprofit focused on Christ-centered job creation, savings mobilization, and financial training.
A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School and the former Managing Director of Urwego in Rwanda, he authored The Poor Will Be Glad (2009), The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good (2013), and Mission Drift (2014). Peter blogs at www.peterkgreer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @peterkgreer.