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World News

Superhero churches lifting world's poorest out of poverty

by Donna Birrell

For the first time, a monetary value has been put on the positive change that a church in a lower-income country can bring to people’s lives and wellbeing.

The Christian relief and development agency Tearfund surveyed 8,000 people in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Sierra Leone and found that investing through local churches is a highly cost-effective way of improving wellbeing. It’s results show that every £1 invested through churches helps the whole community unlock £28 worth of social value.

A total of 23 aspects of economic, social and personal wellbeing were surveyed, including access to food, medicine or schooling, resilience to unexpected events, and financial earnings.

The study found that people in communities who engaged with Tearfund’s church training and investment programmes were 62 per cent were more likely to invest in assets and 51 per cent were more likely to have the same or higher earnings than last year.

It also found that 45 per cent of people were more likely to feel that people would be there for them if they needed help, 26 per cent were less likely to have a member of their family miss school and 26 per cent less likely to have gone without enough food.

Tearfund says improvements to wellbeing were felt irrespective of whether individuals attended church and its programmes or not.

Dr Ruth Valerio, Director of Advocacy at Tearfund, told Premier that because of foodbanks and support programmes in the UK, people are increasingly aware of the contribution churches make to communities. But this is the first time the impact of church investment has been studied in poorer countries:

“We think that's an incredible return on investment. The research has shown that people who were engaged with the Church and its programmes, saw improvements in every measured aspect of economic and social wellbeing. So this includes access to food, access to medicine or schooling. Our research showed increased resilience to unexpected events and financial earnings.

"So the report really shows that investing in churches is a brilliantly effective way to help people lift themselves out of poverty.

"The church is a superhero.”

Mother-of-four Beatrice from Rwanda was a landless labourer. After taking part in Tearfund’s programme she now sells food in the market and is able to rent land to raise a cow and goats. 

 She said: "I was invited to attend training in the church. I started thinking of having a plan for the development of my family. It was hard but I was encouraged by others. We now have enough food to feed our children and pay school fees; I no longer work for others because we have our own business. We can contribute, when there is a need, to support vulnerable people especially disabled and aged people in our community."

The study was independently conducted by State of Life, a UK-based research consultancy.

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