Part 1 – What is Poverty?

Understanding Poverty


How we understand poverty will determine our response to it. Many, especially in the West, understand poverty as economic poverty. For example, the World Bank defines people in poverty as those living on less than $1.90 a day. 

Other measures of poverty such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and The Happiness Index look beyond economic poverty, recognizing that poverty is more complex and also relates to health, education and access to resources. Tearfund’s understanding of poverty goes much further than even these definitions or metrics.


Fifty years ago, Wolde’s family farm in Ethiopia was vast and full of life, filled with trees and abundant harvests. But as the family grew, the land was split into smaller plots, and more land was needed. Trees were cut down to make space. The soil became overworked and sandy, and heavy rain washed a lot of it away. 

Wolde inherited poor soil. With no other options, he was forced to try to make ends meet with what he had. But no matter how hard he tried, he could never grow enough to provide enough food for him and his family. For half of the year they only ate one meal a day. His children became weak. 

But then he heard that the local church was teaching farmers a new type of farming – called conservation agriculture – one that could increase his crop yields by 3 to 4 times! He couldn’t believe it was true, but had little to lose. While he was there, the trainers taught Wolde how to replenish the land with compost, mulch and minimum tilling. He also learned about God’s heart for restoration. 

Wolde got to work. He replenished his dusty fields into healthy soil and began reaping higher yields! He soon had a harvest large enough not only to feed his family but to sell as well. The amount of time required to maintain his crop reduced, he experienced new community and received a new heart for God’s creation. “The soil is now improving, and it’s growing better yields. We are seeing the difference within months,” Wolde exclaimed joyfully. 

Catching a glimpse of God’s heart for restoration in his own family and community, he decided he couldn’t wait to tell others and became an ambassador of this mission in Ethiopia. He shared with us, “The basic principle of conservation agriculture starts with our relationship with God, our neighbours, and the resources God has given us. In Ethiopia, we have destroyed the environment as the population has grown. This has affected the land, our communities, and our churches. We are now involved in a restoration movement.”

Tearfund is adamant to honour God’s mission of restoration and to invite others into seeing His earth restored. Our desire is to spread Christ’s mission of restoration across the world by giving people the resources they need to lift themselves out of economic, social, emotional and spiritual poverty. Acting as Jesus’ hands and feet, we respond to the relief and development needs of the very poorest places on earth to see restoration and the cycle of poverty broken.


We believe that poverty is a result of broken relationships; relationships with God and people, within ourselves, with each other, and with creation. Any attempts to address poverty must focus holistically on not only the economic aspect of poverty – but the social, emotional, and spiritual aspects as well. 

Thanks to God, Wolde’s field is now thriving and providing him and his family with what they need to live life to the fullest. He eagerly tithes to his church and builds relationships with his neighbours. He is always smiling.

You can impact a family’s life by bringing an end to poverty

The solution to poverty is more than physical, it’s spiritual. Instead of handouts, you will be partnering with local churches to permanently lift families out of poverty. Will you join us?


Tearfund Canada
600 Alden Rd.,
Markham, ON L3R 3T7
t: 1-800-567-8190


Charity Number: 108222191 RR 0001