The Poverty Mindset

Breaking Free from the Poverty Mindset

In countries where generations of families have been under the thumb of poverty, a poverty mindset can be deeply ingrained and difficult to break. Education has been identified as one of the leading ways in how to break the cycle of poverty. However, simply imparting information to someone does not mean they are fully capable of using it or even that they believe they are worthy of using it.

A person whose socioeconomic status is looked down on is typically never taught to believe they can be and do more. Certain diseases, such as leprosy, can mark a person for life as an outsider, hindering any thoughts of personal worth or ambition. A child who grows up in a home full of scarcity or crime will absorb the ethos of that family. These are just three examples of the kind of situations that can lead to a poverty mindset among the most vulnerable in the world.

“A child with a healthy attitude about themselves and their abilities will feel capable of tackling life’s challenges, both inside and outside the classroom. A good self-image will lead to good mental health, social happiness, and academic and professional success.”1

Mikelle Despain in a 2018 blog about teaching children self-worth

Charlotte Mason, a British educator and reformer at the turn of the 20th Century, had core values around which she built her philosophies on education, the first of which was the idea of personhood from the start of a child’s life. This was revolutionary even in the Western world of privilege.

Mason wrote,

“Let children feed on the good, the excellent, the great! Don’t get in their way with little lectures, facts, and guided tours!”2

It is the lack of good ideas, as well as a learned negative self-worth, that can perpetuate the poverty mindset, no matter a person’s background. Add to that never having enough to eat, constant illness from contaminated water and you begin to understand how the lens through which someone in poverty looks is never clear enough to see a way out.

Bir was one boy whose chances of breaking the cycle of poverty looked slim.3 At six years old, his job was to scavenge for plastic bags for his family to put vegetables in to take to market. When he wasn’t doing that or other chores, he was going to school. But he was not successful at school. He fidgeted, he was hungry and he could not absorb what the teacher taught. All of this furthered his decline academically and reduced any motivation to gain an education. He could not have named it, but he had a poverty mentality.

In addition, his village had strict cultural norms that prevented someone from improving their state. Outsiders were not welcomed, and change was rejected. It was into this situation that GFA World brought a child sponsorship program that would provide school supplies and tutoring. Though first viewed with suspicion, the villagers were curious and started enrolling their children.

GFA workers do not merely bring help with reading or math; they bring much-needed values to those they serve. Through the child sponsorship program,

“Children learn lessons on values such as diligence, honesty, kindness, respect and more. They learn their lives matter—no matter how poor their families are or how behind they are in their studies.”4

Bir’s story is no less than miraculous. With the caring, value-based help from the program staff, Bir started to flourish. Each new success brought more courage and motivation, resulting in strong academics. Bir excelled so much that he was able to go to college, a feat once thought impossible by him or his family.

Mason wrote in A Philosophy of Education,

“Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information.”5

GFA World was able to install the valuable idea of self-worth into Bir, as they do with all the children they serve.

GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program can help thousands of other children just like Bir. A child can remain in the strictures of a poverty mind frame, or they can be given the tools, care and support they need to break free from this mindset.

Just $35 a month brings practical help and shares the love of God not only with the sponsored child but also with his or her family and community. Let Bir’s story be an inspiration for what one person can do to end the cycle of poverty for a family. Visit today to meet some of the children in need.

1 Despain, Mikelle. “Teaching Children Self-Worth.” Kids Village. January 15, 2018.
2 Mason, Charlotte, Vol. 6, A Philosophy of Education (Tyndale House Publishers, 1989)
3 “From Picking Trash to Picking a College.” GFA World. July 1, 2019.
4 Psarris, Emily. “Fighting Global Poverty with Ideas” GFA World. October 14, 2020.
5 Mason, Charlotte, Vol. 1, A Philosophy of Education (Tyndale House Publishers, 1989)