Why Do Poor Families Have Luxuries Like Mobile Phones?

Have you ever received a letter from your sponsored child that mentions social media, televisions or mobile phones? Has it made you wonder if they really need your support when they have these ‘luxury’ items? The reality is not that simple.

08 Feb, 2016

Why Do Poor Families Have Luxuries Like Mobile Phones?

Reading ‘Facebook’, ‘computer’, ‘internet’ or ‘television’ in a letter from your sponsored child might seem like a red flag. You may even think, ‘Do they really need to be sponsored if they can afford these luxury items?’

You wouldn’t be the first person to think that, but the simple fact is that families in developing nations do not view mobile phones and other technology as luxury items. They are needed tools for development, education—and, sometimes, survival.

Children In Poverty And Computers


Would you or your children be able to go about your day-to-day life and studies without internet access? Potentially, but it would be difficult. So why do we expect children living in poverty to go without access to such a versatile tool?

Many Compassion child development centres have computer labs with internet access. It’s in these labs that children learn computer skills and are able to complete their homework—both avenues help them upskill for work in the future which will help to lift them out of poverty, which is what Compassion is about to begin with.

In Australia, our picture of the internet might be streaming Netflix on your television while reading blogs on your laptop and scrolling through Facebook on your phone (wait, is that just me?). But the internet, for all its flaws, can be a life source, not solely used for entertainment purposes. Internet access gives people the opportunity to further their education, search for employment, and keep up to date with information that will benefit their farming or business.

Why Children In Poverty May Have A Mobile Phone

Mobile phone

In developing countries (as everywhere) a mobile phone is much more than a phone—it’s a radio, a torch, a news service. Farmers can use mobile phones to gain access to market prices, ensuring they are being compensated appropriately for their produce. They can use their mobile phone to keep an eye on weather conditions so they can plant and harvest their produce at the right time.

Innovations like Kenya’s M-PESA, which helps mobile phone owners easily and securely send money, are significant. In some ways, new technologies, especially mobile technologies, are progressing faster in the developing world, and they are allowing people to do business more safely and efficiently. And with companies offering prepaid SIM cards with relatively cheap pay-as-you-go rates, they are also cost effective to use.

Without landlines, emergency lines and ambulances, a mobile phone can be a life-saving alert system and access to emergency assistance from others in the community when needed.

Children In Poverty With Television


Similar to mobile phones, televisions (and radios) can be purchased for relatively little. These items can be a crucial means of receiving warning signals during natural disasters or weather forecasts that inform agricultural decisions such as when to plant and harvest.

Most of us like to be entertained and people living in poverty deserve that chance. Television can also provide a form of education and/or entertainment that was not previously available.

While sitting in front of the television and not moving all day isn’t ideal or something we would encourage, sometimes having a television can be a good thing. For example, in dangerous areas where gang violence is an issue and parents are unable to watch their children all the time due to working, television can be a relatively safe and educational option.

Children In Poverty With Computers

Social media

It’s hard to find people who don’t have a social media account of some sort. The same can be said of many children in Compassion’s programs. And why not? They’re free to use and open up a world of information.

While children and teenagers in Compassion’s programs are taught by Compassion staff not to contact their sponsor outside of Compassion’s official channels, many of them are curious and may try to find you on Facebook or some other site.

While we celebrate the deep relationships our supporters share with their sponsored children, if this happens, it’s really important that you don’t respond or accept their friend request for the protection of both you and your sponsored child.

This is to keep your personal details secure and to protect you from receiving unsolicited or inappropriate requests from members of your sponsored child's community, who could otherwise gain access to your personal details. It’s also because outside Compassion’s communication channels and monitoring, we can’t be certain the person contacting you is your sponsored child.

In the event that this happens, please contact us and we can help you out.

If you consider the low cost of many of these technologies and the lack of other community resources we often take for granted, you can start to see how technology in developing countries can be seen as an important tool for survival.

Before assuming that your sponsored child no longer requires sponsorship as they’ve mentioned one of the above technologies, consider the various benefits we’ve outlined. Technology, when wisely deployed, can help keep people safe, connected and informed—all important steps on the path out of poverty.

Words by Monique Wallace and Susan Sayler

Some of the information found in this post was previously published on the Compassion International blog and has been republished here with full permission.

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