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World Food Bank Interviews the Poor

In the early 1990s the World Bank tried a new approach in their attempts to alleviate world poverty: they started consulting with the real experts on poverty—the poor. They asked over 60,000 people from sixty low-income countries this basic question: what is poverty? The results of this study have been published in a three-volume series of books—Voices of the Poor.

Here are some samples of how the poor described poverty:

  • From Guinea-Bissau: "When I don't have any [food to bring my family], I borrow, mainly from neighbors and friends. I feel ashamed standing before my children when I have nothing to help feed the family. I'm not well when I'm unemployed. It's terrible."
  • From Uganda: "When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family."
  • From Cameroon: "[The poor have] a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard."
  • From Moldova: "For a poor person everything is terrible—illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of."

Notice that there's usually a big difference in the way middle-class American Christians describe poverty. North American audiences tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc. While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they typically focus on their sense of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, social isolation, and voicelessness.

Possible Preaching Angles:

The authors of When Helping Hurts use this illustration to show that the poor don't just need handouts of money and material goods (although there is certainly a place for that). They also need relationships with Christ and with others that will ennoble their lives with dignity and trust. They need Christians who will walk beside them in true friendship, respect, honor, and equality.

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