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What it means to be poor

How do we judge poverty? Learning about the strugglingexistence of most people in Afghanistan brings economic and social issues into sharp focus, says Ted Wragg

What is poverty? A billionaire might think that it is being down to your last million, while a happy pauper might believe that it is lack of love, friends and family, clean air, or sunshine. Afghanistan is generally recognised as a poor country for many reasons: low per capita income, riven by war, barren terrain where it is difficult to grow food, lack of education, loss of freedom. This makes it a strong starting point for considering the whole idea of poverty, an important issue for young citizens.

Look at a map and pick out areas where people are not very well off in financial and material terms. These will be found mainly in Africa, Asia and South America. There are, however, countries in Europe, such as Albania, which are not especially wealthy, so the concept of poverty is partly comparative - if you lived among millionaires, you might be regarded as poor if you didn't have your own helicopter.

Ask children how we judge poverty. They may say, first of all, that it is related to money and income, but will soon realise it is wider than this. If you grow your own food, have shelter and warmth, then actual cash may be of little importance. You might even operate a barter system ("I'll do this for you if you do that for me") in which goods and favours are exchanged.

What about the wider aspects of poverty? Children can think about what gives them pleasure in their lives, such as having friends, being a member of a family and community, travelling to the seaside, taking part in or watching sporting activities and other events. Is a rich person with no friends or interests a poorer person than someone without much money who is very contented?

All this leads naturally to a consideration of what can be done to help those who are poor. Education and training are good examples of ways in which people can be given greater self-sufficiency, so that one day they can cope better with the problems their country faces.

What can children do to help their fellow citizens in Afghanistan who face a life of poverty and yet have been denied education, their fundamental human right? Just a few pounds will provide essential material for a whole class of children, so raising money for the TES-UNICEF campaign CHILDREN HELPING CHILDREN can make an important difference to thousands of children's lives.

For more teaching ideas and suggestions for fundraising activities for the appeal, visit If you don't have access to the web, ask for copies of the ideas from UNICEF on 0870 606 3377. We want to publicise what schools are doing to help, so please let us know what you are doing.Email: Ted Wragg on 020 7782 3205 Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University.

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