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Poverty is more than just a physical reality.

Poverty is a tricky thing to define; especially for those of us living in a Western context.

Ask a dictionary and it’ll probably tell you something about its correlation to a lack of material possessions, money, and other resources. Ask most Americans and chances are they’d focus on a simple lack of water, food, housing, or other things traditionally associated with the realities of daily living in the Global South.

This isn’t to say that Western nations, or even Americans in general, are completely ignorant to the existence of poverty; the realities of domestic poverty in urban and rural America have shown us quite the opposite.

What’s troublesome, though, is that many of us struggle to imagine that poverty is anything more than a physical reality. So often, we focus on relief efforts that throw old clothes, shoes, water wells, and free food at an issue that, quite frankly, deserves some more thoughtful consideration.

Before providing answers, let’s ask ourselves a question: What does experiencing poverty actually feel like?

Poverty unveiled

Back in the 1990s, the World Bank conducted surveys of men and women in 47 countries around the world who were currently living in poverty. These studies were eventually compiled into a series of books called Voices of the Poor; the resulting findings shed light on the powerful grip poverty has on so many worldwide.

A woman in Moldova said, “Poverty is pain; it feels like a disease.” In her own words, “It attacks a person not only materially but also morally. It eats away one’s dignity and drives one into total despair.”

In Latvia, another shared: “Poverty is humiliation, the sense of being dependent.”

In Pakistan, one individual …

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