What comes to your mind when you think of poverty?
Maybe it’s not having enough to eat. Maybe it’s homelessness or lack of clothing. Or maybe you define it in more measureable terms – what tax bracket someone falls into, the GDP of a nation, eligibility for government subsidies or the value of a home.
While those are all aspects of poverty, simply viewing poverty as the lack of a certain resource can lead to an oversimplification of the problem – and an oversimplification of the solution.
Poverty is complex and it’s cyclical. It’s multiple factors working together that keep people trapped in its clutches, which is why there is not a one-size-fits all approach to solving poverty in individual communities or around the world.
Let’s take a closer look at the different aspects of poverty, to understand what we must address in order to break its cycle:
Physical needs are what we most commonly think of when we think of poverty: hunger, homelessness or insufficient housing, lack of health care, lack of clean water, no schools, or maybe no jobs. While any one of these needs is painful and real, we also must consider the way that the lack of physical resources works together to hold people back. For example, say we build a school in an impoverished area; need met, right? But if a child has to stay home from school to gather clean water or work to supplement the family’s income, that school does them no good. Or maybe he or she attends school but is too hungry to focus and learn. While it’s important to tackle each individual need, we must always keep in mind the big picture of how those needs work together to hold a person in poverty and how we can holistically address them.
Poverty is more than just a physical state. It carries an emotional weight we often overlook.
The environment we grow up in shapes our worldview and sense of possibility. A child born to college-educated parents likely sees college as a requirement, not an option. Where a child born in poverty, to a family that is maybe not educated, or not employed, or incarcerated, or dying from disease, might not even see college as an option. Part of the emotional aspect of poverty is what dreams someone has or does not have for themselves and what they believe they can or cannot accomplish. Someone who spends all of their energy trying to survive simply doesn’t have time to think about a better future and how to achieve it.
The other emotional aspect of poverty is a sense of dignity. While it’s important to help meet physical needs, treating people as charity cases ultimately perpetuates the cycle of poverty and dependency. Most people do not end up in poverty because they are lazy; it’s ingrained in human nature to want a sense of identity and value, to work and accomplish and contribute. If we treat people in a demeaning way, even when trying to help, we smother their sense of dignity and desire and ability to give back and create a life for themselves. That’s why it’s so important to offer solutions that equip and empower, giving people tools they need to pull themselves out of the cycle.
The Bible tells us that every one of us is born into spiritual poverty, sinful and separated from God. Because of this, we are all equals, desperately in need of grace, and because of this, we are motivated to help others out of love and out of awareness of our own need.
When we address spiritual needs in impoverished communities, we provide hope for life on earth and assurance for the future, regardless of earthly circumstances. Not only do we offer people the Gospel and the joy and salvation it intrinsically brings, meeting spiritual needs also helps connect people to their identity in Christ, their sense of calling and their faith in the fact that God has plans for them and hope for their futures.
Physical needs are often the most obvious, and often carry the most emotional pull. We see suffering and want to stop it, putting a Band-Aid on whatever the wound is. But when we stop there, we ignore the complexities that create and keep people in a cycle of poverty. While holistic solutions that address all the aspects of poverty can at first seem daunting, we are also hopeful because we know that real solutions can bring real change. We can empower people, who can break the cycle of poverty and can create sustainable, lasting transformation.
Tune in next week to learn just how Reach Youth Global is working towards transformation from the inside out.