Looking beyond poverty: poor children's perspectives and experiences of risk, coping, and resilience in Addis Ababa

  • Bethlehem Gebru

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Despite the increasing policy and academic attention given to child poverty in recent years, little is known about children’s perspectives and their experiences of risk, coping and resilience in the context of poverty. The existing child poverty literature is dominated by studies from economics and developmental psychology, which for the most part overlook not only the perspectives of children in poverty but also their use of coping strategies and experiences of resilience. Much can be inferred, however, from studies of the lives of children in developing countries in terms of the active role poor children play in their lives and their families’ lives. Additionally, a small but growing number of qualitative child poverty studies in Europe and North America (e.g. Ridge, 2002) have highlighted the resourcefulness and optimism of many children living in poverty. They have shown the merit of prioritizing children’s perspectives and experiences or minimally setting them alongside the perspectives of adults in order to understand their lives and concerns fully. This thesis builds on these studies by exploring the lives of children living in poverty that go beyond their material disadvantage or survival. It highlights the priorities, concerns and responses of children living in a context different from the one covered by most of these studies. It also explores the theoretical concepts of coping and resilience to establish whether these constructs can be reliably applied in a society that is very different from the one in which they were developed. The study focuses on Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world. It addresses the perspectives and experiences of twenty-six children (11 girls and 15 boys) between the ages of 11 and 14 in Kolfe area, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Addis Ababa. It employs qualitative research methods such as semi-structured individual interviews, daily diaries, drawings and timelines with the children. The key finding of the study is that the majority of these children perceive that relationships that are characterized by conflict are more damaging than material poverty. This suggests that research and interventions focusing on poverty not only undermine children’s positive experiences and agency but also obscure their real priorities and concerns. The children’s accounts further suggest that the theoretical concepts of “coping” and “resilience” are applicable to Ethiopian children, although as in other contexts how the children understand and experience them is influenced by the culture and environment in which they live.
Date of Award1 Sept 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorChris Griffin (Supervisor)


  • risk
  • resilience
  • Ethiopia
  • Child poverty
  • Addis-Ababa
  • children's perspectives
  • coping

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