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Nearly 640,000 Malaysian households are poor. What’s it like to live with lack?

Malaysia’s absolute poverty rate has alarmingly increased – from 5.6% in 2019 to 8.4% 20201. The combined effects of economic strain, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have wiped out many families’ savings and left millions struggling in poverty.

Jesus Christ calls us to care, but to do so we must first understand. What’s it like being poor?

Sometims, you don’t know when your next meal is. Image Source: Henrique Félix on Unsplash

Hunger is a common experience for you. Meat and fruits are luxuries, with the limited cash you have spent on carb-heavy foods like rice and noodles with vegetables on the side. Sometimes, your family skips meals simply because you cannot afford to eat three times a day.

“We can only afford ‘cheap’ vegetables. Then if we have extra money, we buy fruits.”

Mrs. S, 41, self-employed single mother2

Homelessness is hard to imagine if you’ve always had a roof over your head. When you don’t have a home to go to, your bed is somewhere flat, sheltered and hopefully warm. You skip showers and use public restrooms. Everything you own is on your back. 

Homelessness is often a result of ineffective policies. Image Source: Jimmy Chan from Pexels

A largely misunderstood form of poverty, homeless people are often seen as shifty, lazy and unwilling to work. However, it is often far from the truth. Did you know that 90% of the homeless community are Malaysians?3 Research has suggested that more effective policies need to be in place, because the solution to homelessness is not found in employment or charity.4

“We need to understand the majority of [the homeless] are actually working. The issue is they do not have enough disposable income to even afford a room.”

Pete Nicholl, president and founder of Reach Out Malaysia5

When you’re cash-strapped and living hand-to-mouth, you don’t even think about pursuing a tertiary education. In fact, you may not even be able to complete primary or secondary school, depending on your family’s situation.

“…More than 1 million Malaysian children are not in school… and there are 2.7 million children from poor families who do not have enough money to go to school.” Dr. Maszlee Malik, Former Education Minister6

Education is a universal right, but poverty often blocks school-age children from experiencing the joy of learning. It’s all hands on deck to put food on the table; school becomes a luxury you simply cannot afford.

Going to college or university may seem impossible. Image Source: Dollar Gill on Unsplash

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to care for the poor (Luke 12:33-34). In the Old Testament, God ordained social structures protecting the most vulnerable (Leviticus 19:9-10). In the New Testament, Jesus embodied the love of the Father for the downtrodden and suffering. It is therefore a faith-driven mandate to reach out and love those in need.

Looking for ideas? Scope these simple ways to live out your faith and lift others up!

1.  Household Income Estimates and Incidence of Poverty Report Malaysia, 2020, Department of Statistics Malaysia.
2.  UNICEF’s Families on the Edge Issue 4, 2021, UNICEF.
3.  Homelessness in Malaysia: NGO and Government Collaboration, The Borgen Project.
4.  Wee, YG & Raja Norliana Raja Omar, 2015, Homelessness in Malaysia: Victims of Circumstance or by Choice?, Asian Journal for Poverty Studies.
5.  90% of the homeless are Malaysians with jobs, 2014, Astro Awani.
6. Social Media Post by Dr. Maszlee Malik, 2020, Facebook.
7. Cover Image: Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash.

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