Poverty in Asia: Lessons Learned in Breaking Its Chains

After Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, he didn’t know it would inspire generations of people to give at Christmastime as a lesson learned from the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s selfish ways. Charitable giving would become a hallmark of the season in part thanks to the classic story.1 What charities did not completely understand then but are learning now is that there are right ways and wrong ways to help those enslaved by cyclical poverty. Globally, organizations have had to learn the best ways to reduce poverty in the world, and the chains of poverty in Asia have proved to be some of the toughest to break.

When examining the global poverty rate, Southeast Asia consistently comes in second to sub-Saharan Africa. For the purposes of this article, Southeast Asia countries will include Nepal, India and Pakistan, as well as Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore. Together, these countries average a poverty rate of 15.09 percent, with 256 million of them classified as extremely poor.2 This grouping of countries consistently ranks high in percentage of people living below the international line of poverty, at $1.90 per day.3 Each of these countries’ history with poverty is mired in cultural, political, geographic and environmental factors.

Organizations and philanthropists mean well when giving or serving the poorest of the poor. From meals to microloans, many strategies have been attempted to alleviate the conditions that generations have experienced. What many have failed to realize is that the multidimensional issues of poverty in Asia need deeper and better-connected solutions.

In an article for the Christensen Institute, Efosa Ojomo noted this in his article about failed poverty intervention:

“A major contributing factor is that many anti-poverty programs are designed to be deployed in a modular fashion. Modular solutions work when they fit seamlessly and predictably with the other elements in a system; in other words, there are well-defined interfaces between the different elements and the proposed solution. In contrast, a solution must be interdependent when there aren’t well-defined interfaces between it and the other elements in the system.”4

Serving meals is modular, as is teaching a skill. But if a solution is presented that combines multiple areas, then it has a much better chance of lifting someone out of poverty. An individual or a family mired in waterborne illness cannot escape poverty simply because they all learn to sew but never have clean water. One solution does not necessarily lead to or connect to others. This is what Ojomo means by modular instead of interdependent. The solutions must be connected in a way that provides an overall lift to the person, family or community.

Divena’s family was one such family that had multiple issues facing them. Divena’s mother left her father, her older brother and her when she was just three years old. Because her father was a truck driver, he had to leave her and her brother alone for weeks at a time. Divena would spend her days playing in the mud near their tarp-covered hut. There was next to nothing for food, let alone school, clothing or hygiene. One meal would not help Divena’s family.5

Divena shares,

“I was totally discouraged when my mother left us alone. It was very difficult for me and my brother to live without her. We starved many days, and our father also could not look after us. Whenever I saw the children going to school with their bags, I felt very sad.”

Divena (pictured) and her brother lived alone in this tent while their father spent weeks at a time on the road as a truck driver.

A GFA worker was visiting some of her students near Divena’s home when she learned of her plight and felt great compassion for her and her brother. She knew she could help through GFA’s child sponsorship program. She helped Divena, now five, and her brother get enrolled, and it changed their lives.

Not only did Divena and her brother get nutritious food, they also had their school tuition fees paid for and school supplies provided. Enrolled in the program, Divena also learned the joy of friendship, games and fun.

GFA’s child sponsorship program provides many solutions to the war on poverty for families like Divena’s. It’s never just one hand out but always a hand up, filled with the love and compassion of the GFA workers.

Just $35 a month, for a child like Divena, changes their life not just momentarily but for their future, too. Children receive support that help meet critical needs, and that helps build their future. Food, clean water, education assistance and even help for parents can be one gift away for thousands of children reachable by GFA.

Meet the children like Divena who need the support your monthly gift helps provide, to escape poverty in Asia. They can go from playing in the mud to playing with friends at school with the help of your generosity.

Learn more about poverty and education

1 Andrew Billen. Charles Dickens: The Man Who Invented Christmas. 2005, London: Short Books.
2 Tonmoy Islam, David Newhouse, and Monica Yanez-Pagans. “International comparisons of poverty in South Asia.” Asian Development Bank. 2021. https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/689686/adr-vol38no1-poverty-south-asia.pdf.
3 “Measuring Poverty.” The World Bank. Last updated April 16, 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/measuringpoverty#1.
4 Efosa Ojomo. “Why most anti-poverty programs fail to eradicate poverty.” Christensen Institute. August 27, 2020. https://www.christenseninstitute.org/blog/why-most-anti-poverty-programs-fail-to-eradicate-poverty/.
5 Neglected Girl Replaces Mud Canvas with Paper, Pencils. GFA World. May 2020. https://www.gfa.org/news/articles/neglected-girl-replaces-mud-canvas-with-paper-pencils/.