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5 Ways to Teach Your Students about World Poverty

Erasing poverty

Jamie L. Franco-Zamudio, PhD (Associate Professor, Spring Hill College) with assistance from students, Paige E. Guillory and Claire M. Oswald

Although in observance since 1987, in 1992 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the resolution to designate October 17th as the “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty”. On this day, and throughout the year, the International Committee for October 17 encourages us to raise awareness about the effects of living in extreme poverty and to develop action plans to eradicate poverty on the local, national, and international level. In 2015, they called for actions that are focused on building a sustainable future. The call included one important point—that our strategies should be developed in solidarity with people living in poverty because their expertise is essential for creating plans that will primarily affect their communities.

I teach about issues of economic justice in many of my classes, but this is the first year that I will formally observe what is also known as World Poverty Day. As I was brainstorming different ways to teach about poverty across the globe, I realized it would be beneficial to enlist the assistance of two undergraduate students. Together we developed this list of resources and activities.

You might choose to cite these resources in lectures or use them as content for assignments. For example, when teaching about disseminating information to a broad audience I ask students to create infographics, fact sheets, or policy briefs. My student, Claire Oswald, created the one below.


Infographic by Claire Oswald: Healthcare and Poverty

1. Share these informational resources on global poverty

The website includes information about the goals of the initiative, and includes links to the 17 goals for sustainable development and the millennial goals for 2015 and beyond. There are links to fact sheets and informational videos on topics such as “Empowering Women”.  The bottom of the United Nations home page includes links to issues such as Zero Hunger Challenge and Refugees and Migrants.

This report includes information about the effects of living in extreme poverty, outlines specific human rights, and lists the obligations of the international community to eliminate extreme poverty.

The website provides statistics describing what poor people think about poverty, illustrations of the poverty line, and graphs and charts illustrating the number of people living in poverty across the world.

The report includes recommendations to reduce prejudice and discrimination of people living in poverty and promote inclusion in the political process.

The website includes resources for developing partnerships, child labor, better working conditions, and improving living standards using local resources and employees.

This report illustrates the health and mental health outcomes for children living in poverty.

2. Screen these documentaries on global poverty

This is an excellent documentary describing how “charity” to impoverished countries is more paternalistic and self-serving than helpful. One reviewer, Peter Debruge, commented, “It all comes down to the old “give a man a fish” vs. “teach a man to fish” quandary, wherein donations provide a temporary fix, whereas training and help building connections to the world market could empower a way out.”

An excellent documentary describing the environmental, social, and psychological effects of “fast fashion.” A section of the film highlights the experiences of low-wage workers in Bangladesh.

This documentary illustrates what it is like to live on a dollar a day in rural Guatemala.

For a list of many other insightful documentaries about poverty, visit the Documentary Addict page.

3. Encourage your students to take action against poverty

  1. Invite your students to sign a petition to end poverty

  2. One

  3. Overcoming Extreme Poverty

  4. Provide students with links to volunteer at a local homeless shelter via the Homeless Shelter Directory.

  5. Fundraise to provide a loan through Kiva to help someone start their own business.

  6. Invite students to take action via the Results website, which provides links encourage legislators support policies to end world poverty.

  7. Free Rice is an online “game” website that for points scored, rice is donated to feed the hungry.

4. Try these activities with your students so they can better understand poverty

  1. Encourage your students to try to live on a limited budget by participating in the online challenge at Spent.

  2. Spend the day participating in a poverty simulation.

5. Assign the following readings to your students

This book focuses on the work of Dr. Paul Farmer whose life calling was to provide healthcare to communities in need in Haiti, Cuba, Peru, and Russia. Dr. Farmer asserts, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world” and “For me, an area of moral clarity is: you’re in front of someone who’s suffering and you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate that suffering or even eradicate it, and you act.”

For more books about world poverty, visit The Borgen Project.

This paper by Dr. Heather Bullock is sponsored by the National Poverty Center. We encourage you to review the references for additional relevant articles.

This website includes links to resources, readings, and information regarding how to help.

Below, Paige Guillory, one of my students, provides a great example of her learning experiences regarding global poverty.

A Case of Service and Immersion: Paige Guillory Shares her Experiences

Immersion Trips

Paige has travelled to several different countries with the Spring Hill College International Service and Immersion Program (ISIP) and partners such as International Samaritan, Mustard Seed Communities, Hand in Hand Ministries, and Caribbean Social Immersion Program.

“After being very fortunate to travel internationally to experience global poverty and serve where you can, it is important to return home, tell the stories of those you met, and do what you can to give to those you met or serve your local community in similar ways. After traveling to the Dominican Republic (DR) and meeting Haitian migrant children at a shelter in the DR, our ISIP group returned home to share their stories, raise money for their shelter, and bring awareness to the problems surrounding immigration. We created a website to easily share what we experienced and what we planned to accomplish.”

Learning from Local Issues

“As important as it is to serve those in poverty globally, especially in very poor, underdeveloped countries, there is so much local poverty surrounding us that needs immediate attention as well. For example, it is important to realize that every local tragedy, natural disaster, or devastating situation in a local community affects those living in poverty in very different, and usually more devastating, ways. In Louisiana, where the dangerous flooding that occurred in mid-August of 2016, thousands of families lost their homes, businesses, and possessions in a very quick few days. In looking at where the flooding caused the worse damage, many poor communities with lacking resources, the inability to safely evacuate, and unfortunate home locations near bayous, canals, and rivers suffered the most damage. It is a harsh reality to realize that those living in poverty are more at risk for losing their lives and possessions when disasters occur locally. Being aware of these setbacks should call us to rethink our education, healthcare, disaster relief, and political systems to better accommodate those who are at greater risk for failure and setbacks. Although not everyone was able to realize that the flooding in Louisiana affected those in poorer communities to a greater and more devastating degree, the community of south Louisiana and those who have come from out-of-state to help rebuild our community, provide support, and donate needed items have seen that Louisiana is a community that gives to our neighbors in times of need.”

You might choose to plan a weekend volunteer day. For example, the students at her college spent the day with NOLA Tree Project gutting four of the over 100,000 homes damaged in the flood.


Pictured: Paige Guillory taking down molding drywall

Author Biographies:

Jamie Franco-Zamudio, PhD, is an Associate Professor at Spring Hill College. Her current research addresses the benefits of experiential learning and service-learning for social justice outcomes. Franco-Zamudio is a member of the Governing Council of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and is currently serving as Co-Chair of the SPSSI Teaching and Mentoring Committee. She is a member of the Board of Directors for Lifelines Counseling Services in Mobile, AL.

Paige Guillory is a senior student at Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL but originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is a member of Psi Chi International Honor Society and is currently studying Biology, Psychology, and Biochemistry. She plans to pursue a Medical Degree and Masters of Public Health in the hopes of becoming a physician.

Claire Oswald is senior health sciences major with a psychology minor at Spring Hill College. She plans to pursue a career in occupational therapy. She is a member of Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology and the American Medical Student Association. She has participated in many social justice endeavors, including the Ignatian Teach-In and 3 years of participation in the International Service Immersion Program.

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