Tough Questions: “How Did You End Up Living in Poverty?”

This is part three in a five-part series answering tough questions people ask about poverty. (Read the previous post.) We posed five difficult questions to parents of children in Compassion’s program. In vulnerably sharing their experiences, they hope to break the stigma and reveal the truth about living in poverty.

Tough Question 3: “How did you end up living in poverty?”

The causes of poverty vary widely. Poverty can be purely geographical: Simply where you are born can dictate so much about your life. It’s mind-boggling to realize how latitude and longitude can determine your opportunity for wealth, employment, education, access to food and water, and other factors that perpetuate generational poverty.

But although poverty is often passed down for generations, the plunge to life below the poverty line can also be blind-siding. These families share their experiences of being born into poverty or ending up there because of changing circumstances.

Unexpected Illness

In 2018, Pradeepkumar’s lungs ached, and he couldn’t stop coughing. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a serious and infectious lung disease. The doctor said the illness was the result of his work environment: His lungs were damaged by years of inhaling fine chili particles at the spice grinding mill.

“Because of this, he had to leave that place of work. Since then, it has been very difficult to earn a steady income,” says his wife, Devaki.

Girl standing in a doorway wearing a dress with a flower print.
Pradeepkumar and Devaki’s 7-year-old daughter, Rebeaka

After the birth of their first child, Olive’s previously healthy husband began struggling with mental illness. Sometimes he leaves their home in Uganda and doesn’t return for weeks at a time. With only Olive’s income as a laborer to provide for their 10 children, their situation soon became desperate.

“Before my husband became mentally ill, we used to work together and provide for our family. We had never lacked food. When Jackson became sick, he couldn’t work anymore,” she says. “Sometimes we would spend two or three days without food. My mother-in-law would give any food she had to the children, but the rest of us would just drink water.”

Unable to Finish School

Born into poverty, Orlando was encouraged to start working at a young age to help his family. In El Salvador, 70% of the working population toils in the informal sector, just as Orlando does. Competition for work is extremely high.

Orlando, wearing a dark blue shirt, is looking for items he can recycle in the local landfills.
Orlando looks through a landfill for recyclables, which he can sell for a small amount.

“Never having been able to finish school affected me. My family discouraged me from school and were okay with me just working. That is why I only made it to seventh grade,” he says.

In Indonesia, Frangky was an excellent student and was selected for university. However, he was forced to drop out after six months because his parents couldn’t afford the tuition fees. He pursued a career in the police force and then the army. But despite multiple attempts, he didn’t pass the admission tests.

“Since then, I always work wherever, and whatever the pay,” he says. “I realized that I have the skill to work in the sea as my father did, so I ended up working to find fish and sell then for money.”

Family Size

For Orlando and his wife, Consuelo, a lack of family planning education made finding steady work difficult.

“We had too many children and with a short time between them. When you have young children, it is very hard to go out to work or find a job,” Consuelo says.

Orlando, wearing a gray shirt, and Abner, wearing a blue shirt and green shorts, are outside their home playing with their mother and father.
Consuelo and Orlando laugh with their sons outside their home.

In our next blog post on tough questions, parents living in poverty answer: “Why do families in poverty have phones or TVs?”

Field photography and reporting by Vera Aurima, Odessa B, Nico Benalcazar, Caroline Mwinemwesigwa and Alejandra Zuniga. 

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