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22 Powerful Photographs That Will Challenge Your Perception of Poverty

This remarkable collection captures the colour, hope and faith of those living in poverty.

My first experience of extreme poverty was a slum community, living perilously on the side of a rubbish dump in South Africa. For ages, when people talked about poverty this was the image that came to mind.

It can be too easy to reduce poverty to a single image. To imagine a malnourished child in ripped clothing, or a rough sleeper at the side of the road. When we do this, we miss some of the complexities, and even risk overlooking situations of poverty altogether.

We’ve gathered together a collection of 22 striking photographs that will help challenge your perception of poverty.

1) Poverty and beauty can’t exist side-by-side

From tropical jungles in Indonesia to mountain plains in Bolivia, Compassion works in some of the most beautiful but remote places around the world.

For those living in rural locations, poverty is no better or worse than those living in poverty in an urban setting, however it comes with its own distinct set of challenges.

Alarcón, Peru

Alarcon Peru

Eight-year-old Enán lives the remote village of Alarcón, deep within the jungle of Peru. Despite the beauty of the lush, tropical vegetation, the village is one of the most impoverished communities in the region.

Oloika Village, Kenya

Nasinde and her brother

Nasinde with her husband Ndakai, rest against a tree as the Masai Mara stretches out behind them. The couple, both in their seventies adopted their son Lenkai 11 years ago after he was abandoned.

HueHuetenago, western Guatemala

poverty in HueHuetenago

In the community of Huehuetenango many children leave school early because their parents can no longer afford the fees. Thanks to Compassion child sponsorship, we're helping to reverse this and give children the education they deserve.

Tahuna Island, Indonesia

poverty in Tahuna Island Indonesia

For Stevi and Arnold who live on Tahuna Island, collecting water is a daily activity. From their home accessing the only clean source of water involves crossing a rocky river. When the rainy season comes, the crossing becomes too hazardous and the water mixes with mud leaving the families no choice but to consume contaminated water.

The mountainous town of Cantel, Guatemala

poverty in cantel guatemala

Sertão, Brazil 

poverty in Sertao Brazil

Sertão is a semi-arid region of Brazil known for its dry climate and water scarcity. Every year, thousands of its inhabitants migrate to the city to find work. For those families who choose to stay, they face a daily struggle with drought as they try to maintain their culture.

2) Children in poverty wear scruffy clothing

Perhaps the first thing that came to mind when you thought of poverty was an image of a malnourished child in ripped and dirty clothing.

At Compassion, we want to be honest about the challenges people face, while upholding and respecting their dignity. For this reason, we make every effort to ensure the children we photograph are always dressed in a way that honours them and protects their dignity.

When you receive a photo of your sponsored child you may notice their smart dress which can seem at odds with the image you had of a child in poverty.

Families want to take pride in the picture of their child that is being sent to strangers on the other side of the world, therefore the same set of good clothing will often be passed from child to child for their photo.

smiling girls in Togo

Friends Tete, Henodiji and Nyamedo have big dreams to make sure everyone in their community in Togo feels beautiful.

"When people get their hair done they feel beautiful. They look beautiful. We're going to open a hair salon. I'll wash, she'll cut, and she will style. The name of the salon will be ""I Will Praise You,” says Tete.

smiling friends in Thailand

smiling girls in Guatemala

In Guatemala, coloured clothing represents the culture, history, traditions and the spirit of each Guatemalan person. 

3) Those living in poverty don’t experience joy

We often describe poverty like a thief that seeks to rob a person of their hope and their joy.

While there’s no denying this, those facing poverty every day also demonstrate an incredible resilience as the next set of images capture.

mum and triplets in Uganda

Annet with her triplets Patience, Samuel, and Grace.

“When my husband found out that it was not twins we were having but triplets he switched off his phone. In our culture, twins are a blessing, but triplets are a curse,” says Annet.

“I am grateful for the help of the Compassion project and I feel so protected here. Without the project I would have nobody to take care of me, but because of them my children and I are healthy are fed and have a place to sleep.”

poverty in Playa Verde Bolivia

Alex and Juan play together high up in the hills of the mountain above Playa Verde, Bolivia.

poverty in Indonesia

12-year-old Putri and her friends run through the jungle near their home in Indonesia.

rescued from a voodoo temple

Aklobessi (right) and her friend playing a clapping game in Togo.

Aklobessi had only been registered at her local church-based Compassion project for a month when she disappeared. Concerned, the project staff immediately began searching for her and were shocked to discover the little girl had been kidnapped by the temple priestess from the local voodoo shrine.

Upon hearing the news, Fernand, the project director, began to mobilise the Christian church community, reaching out to 11 other Compassion church partners to fast and pray for Akloblessi’s to be brought back home. Fernand did not cease, lobbying the government social workers to intervene and even reaching out directly to the priestess to convince her to release the little girl. Every day, along with his team, he lifted Akloblessi up in prayer.

Eleven months after she was taken, Fernand’s prayers were answered. At last, the priestess agreed to give Akloblessi her freedom. She was able to return home.

smiling toddlers in Bolivia

Daniel and his brother in Bolivia

mother and son in Togo

Elvis and his mum Alice in Togo.

4) You can always spot poverty

It’s often easy to assume that poverty will be obvious when we look at photos. These next set of photos show that isn’t always the case.

Playa Verde, Bolivia

poverty and beauty in Playa Verde Bolivia

The beauty of the mountains which dominate the skyline of Playa Verde in La Paz seek to distract us from the reality going on below. Across the city, rich and poor live side-by-side, with the poorest citizens being pushed up the mountain where the landscape is stark and climate harsh.

Rolling hills near Gasutamo, Rwanda

poverty in rural Rwanda

The lush green hills near the mountainous village of Gasutamo, Rwandan seem vibrant and fertile.

Although the rate of malnutrition is decreasing, 37 percent of Rwandan children under five are still chronically malnourished.

5) Poverty is black and white

The World Bank defines bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than US$1.90 per day and moderate poverty as less than $3.10 a day. While this is helpful for measuring and comparing poverty across countries and over time, when you do so in absolute terms you miss the other social, cultural and political complexities.

This final collection of photos captures the colour, beauty, hope and faith of those living in poverty. May they continue to remind us that poverty can’t be reduced to a single image, that’s it’s complex, diverse and can surprise us.

friends in Ghana

Grace and Priscilla from Ghana.

“My name is Grace and I am 13 years old. I joined Compassion when I was 8 years old. Life was very difficult for us growing up as we did not have money for school and our house was dangerous and unstable to live in after part of it collapsed. In addition, my mother is disabled so the only money our family can make is from the maize my father grows and the items my mother sews. My older sister had to be in and out of school her whole life because money was not much. We come from a poor community and my family has often felt overwhelmed.

“At Compassion they teach us how to make beautiful bags, clothes and crafts. They’ve taught us about reading the Bible and being a good friend,” says Grace.

smiling girl in Honduras

13-year-old Rixie from Honduras 

poverty in Barkoundouba Burkina Faso

Two boys play football outside Jam Tam Church in the village of Barkoundouba a Fulani, Burkina Faso.

poverty in Thailand

Lorlapor and her friends gathered around a home near the Myanmar boarder. 

We hope this collection of images has challenged how you see poverty and has even given you a greater insight into your own sponsored child’s world.

What we love most is the overwhelming feeling of hope these images capture, despite the incredibly tough circumstances those photographed face daily.

You can bring hope to a child in poverty today by becoming their sponsor today.

Empower a child to overcome poverty

WORDS : Emily Laramy

PHOTOS : Compassion International



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