Discussion Guide on Poverty, Millennium Promise and
This Discussion Guide is intended to accompany Millennium Promise’s DVD that tracks the
progress in Sauri, Kenya. It includes a synopsis of the film, relevant discussion questions, and
suggestions for how students can get involved.
Excerpt from “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs and an article in People Magazine about Gift
Msunzi, a Malawian boy, is available with this guide at:
For a free Millennium Promise DVD to accompany this guide, please email us your address:
firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you one.
At the start of the film, we see a man attempt to ride a bike. Despite his best efforts to move
steadily in the right direction, he can’t help but repeatedly fall off track. Just a few years ago, the town of
Sauri, Kenya was similarly stuck. More than 60% of its villagers were living in extreme poverty. The
village lacked the knowledge and resources necessary to attain economic prosperity. Then, in June
2004, Sauri became a Millennium Village, and things have started to change for the better.
Edward, one of Sauri’s villagers, discusses the agricultural transformations that accompanied
Sauri’s becoming a Millennium Village. Before, population growth had led to a shortage of land, and
subsequent overuse had diminished the fertility of the limited land available. These factors made it
difficult for Sauri’s villagers to grow enough food to feed their families and impossible for them to produce
excess food for other purposes. As a Millennium Village, Sauri was given fertilizer, new seeds, and better
farming techniques. Austin Oumo Oweno, the district’s area assistant chief, tells us that these
improvements have helped average production to soar from 1-2 sacks per acre to 7-12 sacks. He
explains that now, “Each and every family has enough to eat and some surplus to sell to cater for other
We then hear about the changing quality of water in Sauri. Sauri’s villagers have always
collected water from a number of nearby springs. However, this water used to be unsafe and unclean
and was constantly contributing to the spread of disease. Now, the springs in Sauri have been protected.
Villagers can continue to gather water without having to fear that it will make them ill. Also, many of
Sauri’s homes have been equipped with roof-based rainwater harvesting systems, further ensuring
access to clean, safe water.
Joseph Lanya Oriwor, the head teacher at Bar Sauri Primary School, speaks about the progress
in his school. Before Sauri became a Millennium Village, this school was ranked 198th out of the 353
schools in the country. One reason for the weak academic performance was the inability of many
students to even eat every day. As food production has increased in the village, the school has become
able to serve lunch to its students. Over 17,000 students are currently being served lunch every day in
all of the area’s 28 primary schools. Now, Bar Sauri Primary School is ranked 4th.
Meanwhile, the young boy continues to try to ride his bike. This time, however, his friend gives
him the boost he needs to get started. As he rides, his friend runs by his side, ready to catch him each
time he falters. He still can’t quite keep himself balanced on his own, but he is getting closer and closer
with each attempt.
Health conditions in Sauri have also made progress. There is now a free clinic that provides
treatment and a dispensary that supplies medicine. These changes have improved health and given
hope to villagers. One woman tells us, “My life is not so good right now. But because of the project and if
the clinic remains here, I can see myself surviving longer.” Despite the other problems that continue to
exist, the clinic is at least able to enable survival. Houses in Sauri have been supplied with anti-malarial
bed nets, as well as education regarding how these nets are to be used. These nets and malaria
treatment in the clinic have led to a major drop in malaria’s prevalence in Sauri—it has fallen from 55% to
As Sauri continues to develop, new projects are being attempted. One group of villagers is trying
to grow mushrooms indoors. Despite initial resistance from villagers, more and more people are getting
involved as trial mushrooms start to grow. This project has allowed villagers to work together, and one
leader explains, “Every member, when it is harvested, will have a share”. Another site of success can be
found at the local barber’s stand. The barber is constantly busy, sometimes working 11 hour days to
keep up with customers’ new demand. The changes brought by Millennium Promise have allowed all
types of business throughout the village to flourish.
Sauri is now better able to communicate and connect with the rest of the world through a new
phone and improved roads. Villagers no longer must embark on a 5 kilometer trek in order to make a
phone call. Roads allow both those in Sauri to travel to other places and visitors to come enjoy Sauri’s
progress. One man plans to establish Sauri’s first small hotel. “…I was just looking for an opportunity
and using it,” he explains.
Again, the boy tries to ride his bike. His friend gives him another push, but this time he is able to
keep riding on his own. There are at first moments where it looks like he may fall, but he keeps on
peddling and is able to keep moving forward. Sauri is on a similar path to success. Villagers have begun
to come up with their own strategies to keep Sauri moving along the path to prosperity. The villagers’
success is now largely in their own hands—and they are optimistic about their futures. The village barber
tells us, “I think that if I just go on with the hard work, I think I’ll just succeed.”
1. What is extreme poverty?
[A: Extreme poverty is defined by living on less $1 a day. There are more than 1 billion people
today who live in extreme poverty. These people can’t afford the medicine they need to keep
themselves healthy or the food they need to keep themselves from going hungry. The average
American makes a little more than $100 a day.]
2. How did adding fertilizer improve crop yield in Sauri? Why is adding nutrients to the soil
an important part of the elimination of extreme poverty?
[A: As demonstrated in Sauri, when population increases, less land is available to each person,
causing the land to be overused and depleting the nutrients in the soil. As a result, families
cannot grow sufficient amounts of food. The fertilizer that has been given to villagers allows their
crop yield to increase dramatically, insuring that villagers have enough food to both eat and make
a profit. The benefits of increased crop yields can also spill over into other efforts in the village.
For instance, a portion of yields is now being allocated to schools so that they can feed their
students to improve education.]
3. Because Sauri does not have access to running water, villagers have to carry water each
day from the source to their homes. What different uses might the water be used for? How
much do you think is needed each day? What are the risks and problems encountered
when the villagers carry all the water they use?
[A: Water is used for drinking, cooking, cleaning, farming, and bathing. Risks include injury,
having to leave children unattended, and dependence on distant, sometimes unreliable water
sources. Other problems include the time lost while collecting water: every hour spent collecting
water is an hour that could have been spent on other productive activities.]
4. How has health in the village changed since Sauri became a Millennium Village?
[A: Sauri now has a free clinic. Villagers who never before could have afforded either can now
access both a doctor and medicine. Efforts have also been made to combat the pervasiveness of
Malaria. Long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets now protect many as they sleep. Bed nets do
three things: they physically protect people from insect bites, they repel mosquitoes from the
area, and they kill any mosquitoes that land on the insecticide-treated net. Malaria treatment at
the clinic gives those who do contract the disease a better chance to survive.]
5. How are these things—lack of access to water and vulnerability to malaria—related to
[A: They are all parts of the trap of extreme poverty that keeps people poor. When women spend
all their time gathering water and fuel, they can’t spend time on productive activities. Malaria
makes enormous numbers of people sick, lowering their productivity and ability to escape
poverty. Combined with illiteracy, gender inequality, environmental degradation, and the other
problems targeted in the Millennium Development Goals, these problems can keep people stuck
in extreme poverty.]
6. In Sauri, the school meals are free for the children and locally produced. What are the
benefits of having a free meals program? What are the benefits of having the meals be
[A: A free meal program has been shown to increase enrollments in very poor communities
because it increases parents’ incentive to send their children to school where they will be fed
without cost to the family. In places where students suffer from chronic hunger, a free nutritious
meal helps them concentrate in class, improving academic performance. Having the food be
locally produced links the meal program to increased farmer productivity.]
7. The teacher mentions that the national ranking of Sauri’s primary school has moved from
198th to 4th. How is this change an important part of the long-term goal of eliminating
8. How do the problems that arose in the attempt to recruit people to plant mushrooms
reflect a more general difficulty of trying to implement change? What techniques helped
the villagers to successfully overcome this problem?
[A: When new ideas are proposed, people can be reluctant to invest in what they know little
about. People were at first hesitant to take part in the mushroom venture because the techniques
being used seemed unusual. Once villagers saw the feasibility of the plan on a small scale, they
were much more receptive to the idea of becoming involved in the project.]
9. One man talks about his desire to “lead a comfortable life”. How does he define a
luxurious life? How does his definition differ from a typical definition of a luxurious life in
the United States?
[A: To him, living luxuriously means having access to what he calls “the necessary need”. In the
United States, we frequently define luxury as having things that are desired but not needed.
However, in a society in which one can not count on basic needs’ being met, confidence that one
can have something as seemingly simple as clean water can be considered a luxury.]
10. Sauri’s hairdresser discusses how his business had prospered. How have the
investments made in agriculture, health, water, and other areas led to more success for a
[A: When people can’t afford clean water or enough food to eat, it is unlikely that they will be
willing to spend money on a haircut. However, once their basic needs are met, they are free to
spend on other things. This freedom allows villages like Sauri to develop a much more varied
economy than what would have previously been possible. Once people are willing and able to
spend money on the things that they want, the number of services that can be profitable in the
village grows exponentially.]
11. Sauri now has a telephone. How does the ability to communicate more easily with those
outside the village relate to poverty?
[A: Communication is essential to growth. As Sauri continues to develop, it will be most
successful if it can connect to the outside world and take advantage of what other villages,
countries, and continents have to offer. Also, the time saved by eliminating the need to walk five
kilometers to use a phone can be put to more productive uses.]
12. One man talks about his plan to build a small hotel. How does this idea show the potential
for the basic assistance given to the Millennium Villages to transform into further
[A: Once people have their basic needs met, they have the time and resources to invest in
greater projects. An idea like this one will both provide income for the man building the hotel
and those who work in it and attract more outsiders to come invest in the village. This increased
investment will then permit additional interesting projects to be developed in the village.]
Research and Write
In each Millennium Village, investments are made in many different components of the village’s troubles.
Health, education, food production, and clean water are issues that must be considered simultaneously.
Each of these problems must also be understood individually. Try one of the following to better
understand the issues affecting water:
• Imagine that you are in charge of an African village’s water. Devise a plan to ensure that
everyone has clean water. Research health issues that need to be overcome. Have an
understanding of the difficulty of guaranteeing that everyone has access to the water. Consider
budget and research imitations.
• Learn and write about the water system in your community. How does it work? Is your water
safe to drink? If so, who makes sure? Compare this structure to systems throughout Africa.
What techniques are the same? What are different?
• Explore the different uses of water. Consider the role of water in your own life. Research its
many functions in daily life throughout the world. What are some of the consequences if people
can’t access clean water?
Now think about the other fields being advanced—health, education, and agriculture—and consider some
how the questions posed above apply.
Discuss and Debate
• Millennium Villages attempt to tackle the challenges posed by extreme poverty in a coordinated
fashion. Based on your own knowledge and what you have seen in the documentary, how likely
do you think it is to succeed? What are its advantages, and what are its disadvantages?
Research other methods of fighting extreme poverty. What are some of the pros and cons of
• The United States gives .17% of its Gross National Income to Foreign Aid. Is that too much? Not
enough? Does the United States have an ethical obligation to work to end poverty in other
countries? Is ending extreme poverty in the self-interest of the United States, economically or
militarily? What should be the focus of US aid?
The Millennium Villages
To tackle the inter-related problems associated with extreme poverty, twelve research sites in ten different
countries served as testing grounds for how different interventionsi would work. These sites exemplify the
problems thousands of other villages throughout Africa face. In partnership with local governments, the
Millennium Villages model bundles critical, life-saving, and practical interventions together in order to
address the inter-related facets of extreme poverty (such as hunger, disease and lack of access to
education and infrastructure)—enabling whole communities to fight against poverty so extreme that it
There are many ways that students can get involved in the fight against extreme poverty. One possible
opportunity is Millennium Promise’s You+Village campaign. The You+Village campaign aids the work of
Millennium Promise in Tanzania. You can either raise money to help these efforts or work in your
community to raise awareness about the campaign. Contributing to You+Village allows you to see the
direct impact of your involvement. Over the course of the campaign, we will follow the villagers as they
plant and harvest crops grown with new seeds and fertilizer; track the arrival and distribution of life-saving
bed nets; observe the effects of school feeding programs on academic performance; and see the impact
of clean water, accessed through newly drilled borehole wells, on villagers' health. We will regularly
update you on the real progress being made as a result of your support.
You can also become involved in the campaign to end Malaria. Millennium Promise is a founding member
of an organization called “Malaria No More.” As shown in the DVD, malaria is a massive, urgent, global
health crisis. Luckily, it is also both preventable and treatable. Students can be a major part of the effort
to end malaria. It takes just $10 to buy a bed net and save a life. For more information on how to help
fight malaria, visit http://www.malarianomore.org/.
Interventions are goods or services that can help address specific problems related to poverty. For
example, distribution of insecticide-treated bednets are an intervention to help prevent malaria; likewise,
providing free school meals is an intervention that can help boost enrollments and improve academic