Understanding Poverty (Intro) 1

Understanding Poverty (Intro)

Adut and her family of seven live in Majokdut, a small village in war-torn South Sudan. The land lays damaged from conflict and famine, and has changed some people’s lives forever. Adut’s husband was left disabled after he was shot during war and could no longer support his family. Adut joined other women in difficult casual labor for scarce income to provide for her growing children. Most days, she could only afford to feed her family one meal per day…

When we look at the world, poverty can feel both deeply shocking and profoundly normal. We hear the statistics regularly: 10% of the global population live on less than $1.90 a day, while even in Canada a so-called ‘developed’ or ‘first-world’ country, 3.4 million people continue to live under the poverty line. Most of us are used to a regular onslaught of images and stories in the media about poverty and disaster, and frequent requests for help. If Tearfund supporters’ response to such stories and appeals is anything to go by, the shock of being confronted with poverty does not seem to fade. As human beings, we instinctively understand that this is not how the world should be: people are not meant to live in poverty. 

Understanding Poverty (Intro) 2

People’s desire to respond to this suffering does not seem to fade either. They can be incredibly generous, ready to give of themselves – their time, skills and money – to help make the world a better place. A key question for an organization such as Tearfund, for our supporters and for those with whom we work is: How can we best respond? What are the steps and activities that will help end extreme poverty, and how do we, individually and corporately, play our part?

Understanding Poverty (Intro) 3

To answer this question, we need to look more closely at poverty. We need to understand what poverty is and how it affects people, to think about its root causes and the different factors and systems that can enable and exacerbate it. We also need to have a vision of what a world without poverty would look like so that we have an end goal for our relief and development work and we know what we want to see as a result. This means asking deep questions about what it means to be human, how we are supposed to live in the world and what it means to flourish.

This series presents Tearfund’s thinking about what poverty is and how we can best respond. It draws on years of experience and reflection and on conversations about these very questions with many different people: from those we are working with and serving in some of the world’s poorest communities, to development experts, church leaders and theologians, to politicians, academics and business leaders. It describes our understanding of the nature and causes of poverty, and our vision for a future in which the whole of creation thrives. Subsequently, we explain how this vision can be pursued, with a particular focus on the part that we believe Tearfund is called and equipped to play. Finally, we conclude with some suggestions for how you can join Tearfund in this work, as individuals, and with your churches, focusing on prayer, giving and action.

Acknowledgments: Adapted from Tearfund UK’s booklet “Understanding Poverty” by Anna Ling and Hannah Swithinbank