Interview: Responding to Poverty

Amber Van Schooneveld is Senior Writer and Editor for Compassion Canada. She is the author of Hope Lives and is passionate about advocating for those in most need.

How did you first become involved with Compassion?
Before I worked for Compassion, I had written a number of resources for Women’s Ministry. I really enjoyed that, but I also wanted to be writing things that could help people who are in need. So I began working on a book and the publisher developed a partnership with Compassion International that they would partner on this book.

As part of writing this book, I was able to travel to Kenya and witness Compassion’s work firsthand. I had previously sponsored children with Compassion, but I hadn’t seen the work for myself. I was so impressed with what I saw, that I decided to apply for a job with Compassion. That was about nine and a half years ago. I have been working for them ever since.

That must have been nice being able to have that first-hand experience in Kenya.
Yes, it was truly amazing. Besides the fact that Kenya is a beautiful country and I loved seeing the culture and the people, there were a number of things that impressed me about Compassion’s work. One of these things being that they only work with locals, so it’s not people from another country coming in and telling them what to do and how to improve. It’s people from that country and from that community because Compassion works with local churches to help them reach out to their own community. So I liked how it was just local churches who were being equipped and empowered to be the ones who are reaching out to their communities and helping people in poverty.

We all understand that poverty has different faces, and appears in several different forms. But I’d like to know if you can share what poverty looks like to you on a personal level.
I think one of the main things that we see working with people who live in extreme poverty is that poverty goes beyond just the lack of material things. What most of us usually think about when we think of poverty is not having material resources, not having enough food, clothing or money to be able to provide for basic necessities. But there have been various studies where those living in poverty were asked how they would define it.

There was one study in particular, in Rwanda, where women who lived in extreme poverty were asked what poverty meant to them. And their answers weren’t at all focused on material things. Instead, their answers were focused on things such as: “It’s a lack of power” and “It’s a lack of having a voice”. For a lot of people, what can happen is when you have lived in poverty and you don’t see any opportunities or ways to change your circumstances, you can lose hope that there is any chance of changing…

Poverty can at times be overwhelming, and it can become very easy for us to distance ourselves from it. How can we overcome this apathy and take action when it comes to this issue?

The most helpful thing is to not think about the problem as one big whole. There is a large issue, but that issue is just made up of individual people who are at the core of it, just like us. It can be extremely paralyzing when we focus on the entire problem because there is not a single one of us who can really address or change the big problem. But that shouldn’t stop us from helping an individual.

There’s this old illustration that has been heard many times. There is a young boy picking up starfish on the beach

 

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2 Comments
  1. It’s wonderful to read about the work you’ve done via Compassion International! I, too, enjoy traveling and serving abroad. I appreciate your perspective regarding poverty’s impact on individuals who make up a whole community. This enables each of us to know that we can all make a difference … one individual at a time! Blessings to you!

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