Take a minute and ask yourself the question? What is poverty?

Did you do it? I’m going to guess your answer goes something like this, “Lack of basic needs like clothing, food, water, and shelter.” Almost every American would answer exactly the same. When we see poverty we see the material side of it. The lack of clean water and food are what shock us.

But, what if we ask the poor the question, “What is poverty?”. The poor have been asked before and their answer may surprise you. The poor answer the question with statements like these…

  • “When you have no power to change things that is poverty.”
  • “We haven’t spent the holidays with any of our friends or family because we have no gift to bring with us. We feel ashamed so we will not attend.”
  • “It’s our destiny to be poor.”

They don’t define poverty as physical like we do. They define it as relational, spiritual, having a poor self image, and not being able to provide for themselves. Poverty may manifest itself in the physical, but the root of poverty is anything but physical.

Take a villager in the Mathare Slum for example. Let’s just call him Mark and say he lives with his wife and two children. Mark and his family moved to the slum to look for work. Where they had been living there was a terrible drought and Mark couldn’t provide for his family so he moves them where he thinks there is work, the city. After months of looking for a job and not finding one his self confidence plummets.  He’s alone with no work, no extended family, and no way out. There are no social services for him to fall back on. Unemployment, welfare, free medical care, banking services, small business loans, none of these exist in his country. There are thousands of “Marks” in this same situation. No community, no services, no hope.

They don’t live in poverty because they didn’t have running water or a proper house. They got here because they lacked community, self confidence, resources, and hope.

The next time you see someone living in poverty take another look, because poverty goes past the physical.