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The Roots of Poverty

People often think about the symptoms of poverty without thinking about the causes of poverty. In this activity, separate the symptoms of poverty from the root causes and brainstorm ways to help

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  • What is the difference between a cause and a symptom 
  • What materials will you need for this activity?  
  • How can you work together so that everyone has an opportunity to participate? 


  • Working together, start by brainstorming some of the causes and symptoms of poverty.  
  • Some examples of causes of poverty include: lack of education, natural disasters, illness, corruption. Some of the symptoms of poverty include hunger, homelessness, and lack of access to education. Some things can be both a cause and a symptom. For example, lack of access to education can cause poverty. At the same time, living in poverty can mean that you do not have access to education. 
  • On a large sheet of paper draw a large tree with lots of branches and lots of roots under the soil. Use sticky notes to attach the causes of poverty to the roots and the symptoms of poverty to the branches.  
  • The causes of the poverty are similar to the roots of a tree because we often do not see them, but just like a tree’s roots cause its branches to grow, the causes of poverty create the symptoms of poverty which we do see.  


  • Is it more important to try and fix the causes or the symptoms of poverty? Why? 
  • Are there any organizations in your community working against poverty? Are they trying to stop the causes or the symptoms of poverty?  
  • Did you notice any cycles when you were making your tree? For example, lack of access to education can cause poverty, but it can also be a symptom of poverty. How can we break these cycles of poverty? 


  • Writing and colouring utensils 
  • Paper 
  • Sticky notes  

Keep it Simple

Instead of making a poverty tree, you can make an iceberg! Draw an iceberg on a piece of paper. Make sure some of the iceberg is below the water. Brainstorm the parts of poverty you can see and the parts of poverty that someone might keep hidden. Use the sticky notes to put the parts of poverty you can see on the top of the iceberg, and the parts of poverty you can’t see on the part of the iceberg below the surface of the water.   

Take it Further

Once you have decided whether it is more important to treat the causes or the symptoms of poverty, work as a group to brainstorm a way to treat one of the causes or symptoms you put on your tree. How can you work to solve this problem? For example, if you want to help treat a symptom of poverty you could create care packages for people experiencing homelessness