“What Is Poverty?”

Asking good questions and finding good answers can be part of the process that leads to effective solutions to problems. Imagine a little girl sitting on a chair, her legs dangling. She’s licking an ice cream cone when she overhears a word she hasn’t learned yet. “Mommy, what is poverty?” she asks earnestly. Her mother tries to think of an answer that the little girl will understand. “Well, it’s not having enough of what you need.” The little girl ponders this and then asks, “So if I need more ice cream, then I have poverty?”

We may laugh or even grimace at this perspective, but the little girl is asking a real question that deserves the world’s best answers and solutions.

The World Bank, a global organization committed to ending poverty, estimates that there are as many as 700 million people worldwide who live at or below poverty, meaning they subsist on or with less than $1.90 per day.[1] This is the international standard of poverty, but to many of us, it seems an absurdly low amount that doesn’t fully encompass poverty’s reach.

The little girl in our example is eating an ice cream cone that probably costs more than that, and it is a treat in her life, not her family’s daily income. It’s important then to understand the use of this $1.90 a day figure.

“Almost all national poverty lines are anchored to the cost of a food basket—what the poor in that country would customarily eat—that provides adequate nutrition for good health and normal activity, plus an allowance for nonfood spending,” the World Bank explains. “Measures based on an international poverty line attempt to hold the real value of the poverty line constant across countries, as is done in making comparisons over time within countries.”[2]

When the World Bank asks, “What is poverty?” they are using factors like purchasing power of currencies, inflation, and standard incomes and expenditures for countries.[3] It’s a way of leveling a worldwide playing field in order to understand the larger number of 700 million people living at that rate of income. A step further would be to give an extreme poverty definition, which is living on even less than $1.90 a day.

But maybe the mother’s response to the little girl is closer than we realize. What does poverty mean? Is it not enough food, not enough clothing, no adequate housing, not enough school supplies, no access to regular healthcare and hygiene? Most of that doesn’t fit in the World Bank’s food basket.

Poverty defies easy categorization in the reasons behind it.

“We can monetize a lot of the aspects of poverty—access to clean water and access to health care, for example, are put in monetary terms in our model—but there is a legitimate debate about the multidimensional aspects of poverty,” explained Ana Revenga, senior director of the Poverty and Equity Group at the World Bank. “When you talk to the poor, they will talk about a sense of dignity and about having a job, not just receiving money. How do you monetize that? You can monetize access to schooling, but it is more difficult to monetize the quality of schooling.”[4]

GFA World sees past the numbers and statistics to the very people our mission longs to serve. Our mission in life is to be devout followers of Christ and to live lives fully pleasing to Him. God has given us a special love for people in need who do not know of Christ’s love, and it is our desire to minister to them and help them through ministries like education programs, health initiatives and practical gifts, and through the spiritual transformation that brings about peaceful hearts, restored relationships and mended lives. We do this all in community and in partnership with the global Body of Christ.[5]

There is not one reason for poverty; therefore, there cannot be one solution. This is the design behind GFA’s Christmas Gift Catalog. Each item or service that can be sponsored through the gift catalog provides a way for an individual or family to take a step away from poverty that addresses multiple issues at once.

For instance, a mosquito net may not seem like a way to help a family avoid or get out of poverty, but to them, it is a safeguard for their health. If the main breadwinner of family becomes ill with a insect-born disease, then the family that was already barely making it now totters near the edge of financial ruin.

Likewise, women’s literacy training is the key that unlocks safety, skilled labor, advocacy for her children and more. Vocational training has similar benefits, as does clean water, both things that can be sponsored through the gift catalog.

Through GFA missionaries, these gifts are distributed along with the love of Jesus Christ. GFA missionaries are from the countries where they serve, so their hearts are uniquely tied to their mission field and the people they serve. By understanding the multiple dimensions of poverty, they can help individuals and families get connected to these life-changing gifts that come from people like you.

When you give farm animals, water filters, sewing machines and other wonderful gifts through the gift catalog, you are helping to change the life of the family and their community. You are also helping to bring the loving care of Jesus Christ and the hope of the Gospel into places in the world that most desperately need the light of the Savior.

View the catalog today and change lives!

Learn more about poverty in Africa

[1] “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2022.” World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/poverty-and-shared-prosperity. Accessed October 28, 2022.
[2] “Poverty and Inequality.” World Bank. https://datatopics.worldbank.org/world-development-indicators/themes/poverty-and-inequality.html#:~:text=Poverty%20measured%20at%20the%20international,than%203%20percent%20by%202030. Accessed October 28, 2022.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Frykholm, Amy. “Ending extreme poverty: Economist Ana Revenga.” The Christian Century. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-05/ending-extreme-poverty?CID=POV_TT_worldbank_EN_EXT. June 2, 2016.
[5] “About Us.” GFA World. https://www.gfa.org/about/what-we-believe. Accessed October 28, 2022.
* Cover Photo: “Canal Street Slum Kolkata.” Calcutta Rescue. https://flickr.com/photos/cphotor/4904151460/. March 17, 2009.