Poverty has a devastating impact on the lives of people around the world—including 356 million children.

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One hundred kilometres off the coast of West Timor, Indonesia, lies the beautiful Rote Island. With white clouds dotting clear turquoise skies and nightly shows of pink and saffron sunsets, few places can compare to the natural beauty on display at Rote Island. Yet the remote beauty and peaceful lifestyle comes at a cost: poverty makes life a daily struggle for many.

Meksi and Erma live on Rote Island with their two young girls: Jani and Julenda. Meksi is a local fisherman, and Erma is one of the few female brick layers in the community. It’s hard and physically demanding work for minimal reward, but she is determined to help her family.

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With the looming uncertainty of what their hard labour will produce every day, Meksi and Erma find it a challenge to regularly put food on the table for their children.

They are not an exception.

736 million people live in extreme poverty every day.1 The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than US$1.90 a day. That’s $2.60 Australian dollars.

For the cost of a loaf of bread in Australia, a whole family must source their breakfast, lunch, dinner, clothing, transport, healthcare, housing, utilities, and education.

It is a grim existence for many.

Poverty might be described as the complete lack of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs, such as food, clothing and shelter. But this definition still falls short.

Humans are more than just what they own. They are social, emotional, spiritual and physical beings. Income alone can't tell the whole story.

The multidimensional nature of poverty makes it difficult to know where to start, but there have been great strides made over the last two decades that have seen a substantial decrease in those living in extreme poverty. With the onset of industrialisation and rising productivity, the share of people living in extreme poverty started to decrease.2

And then, everything changed.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2019 stopped decades of progress in the fight against global poverty. For the first time since 1998, the international poverty line increased, pushing around 97 million additional people into poverty, a historically unprecedented increase.3

Among people living in poverty, children are the most vulnerable. Statistically, children are more than twice as likely to be in extreme poverty as adults.4 An estimated 42-66 million children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis in 2020, adding to the estimated 356 million children already in extreme poverty.5

Poverty affects all areas of a child's life: physically, economically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Children living in poverty are more likely to have lower quality friendships, yelling in the home, less enjoyment in exercise, inadequate fruit and vegetables, worse mental health, lower school attendance, less learning at home and less involvement in extracurricular activities like sport.

There's no one picture that can adequately describe all situations. However, what is clear is that without external intervention, poverty is a legacy that can continue generation after generation. It takes us all to play a part in the fight against poverty.

In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

While our location may be local, our neighbourhood is in fact, global. How can we heed the words of Jesus and be a good neighbour to children living in poverty around the world? How can we point them to the hope that Jesus brings?

For Meksi, Erma and their two girls, this hope arrived by way of their local church partnership with Compassion. Their eldest daughter Jani is registered with the Compassion program, and as a result the whole family receives support with education, food and even support to repair Meksi’s old faulty boat engine.

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Jani already has big dreams.

“I want to be a doctor because I want to help others. Here in my village, we don’t have a doctor. We have to travel to the city when we need a doctor,” she says. “At the Compassion centre, my tutor teaches me so I can be smart. I know that to be a doctor, I must be smart, and my tutor helps me to reach my dream.”

Children like Jani deserve every opportunity to achieve their dreams, and through the local church’s partnership with Compassion, she is receiving the support and care she needs to pursue her dreams. But Jani is one of many children who need our love and support.

Poverty is a complex issue, and its impact can only be reversed when we all play our part. As we heed the words of Jesus, we can learn to be a good neighbour to people around the world who need the love and hope that Jesus brings. Find out how you can be a good neighbour to children living in poverty today.

Join us as we further explore the devastating impact of poverty and hear from those who are making a difference on the ground in episode one of The Good Neighbour docuseries.

Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, so you don’t miss any upcoming episodes. You can also invite your friends and family to be a good neighbour by sharing the series with them.

Together, we can be a part of a solution more powerful than poverty!

Words by Sidhara Udalagama with field reporting by Zoe Noakes.

1The World Bank (2020). Poverty. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview

2Our Word in Data (2019). Global Extreme Poverty. https://ourworldindata.org/extreme-poverty

3World Bank Blogs (2021). Updated estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty: Turning the corner on the pandemic in 2021? https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/

4UNICEF (n.d.). Child Poverty. https://www.unicef.org/social-policy/child-poverty

5United Nations (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on Children. https://unsdg.un.org/sites/default/files/2020-04/160420CovidChildrenPolicyBrief.pdf