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The cycle of poverty

Several narrators’ stories demonstrate how poverty reinforces poverty. For example, Anna’s husband is ill; they have a prescription but cannot afford the medicine. As a result, he has been unable to work for months and their situation is worsening.

Ruth explains how the pressure to simply survive and find food for your children undermines people’s ability to combine forces and put time into making progress cooperatively.

Benson, an ex-soldier who is active in his community, explains their failure to finish building a clinic: serious food shortages have sapped people’s energy and motivation.

Several stories demonstrate how poverty makes it hard to take risks. Grace mentions that she did not dare invest even one chicken in a poultry project without being sure of a positive outcome.

All narrators, even the better off, say they face a constant struggle to survive, although there is little overt mention of the stress this brings. One narrator vividly describes the anxiety brought on by poverty: Edward lies awake at night, worrying how to feed his children. He talks of”staring at the darkness trying to figure a way out of your predicament”.


The cycle of poverty is a key theme of the Living with poverty: Zambia oral testimony project.


Anna: strong and hardworking

Benson: people need jobs

Dominic: valuing tradition

Edward: anxiety of poverty

Gilbert: cattle is wealth

Grandwell: sustained support

Mirriam: dedicated to others

Ruth: a mother’s struggle

Sara: coping without family

Utrina: working the land

Warren: the HIV burden

Grace: an open approach

Key themes

Introduction to the project


Food security


Water and drought


Survival strategies

Self-help and community support


Loans and debt

Political representation

The cycle of poverty