In my classes, we often ask "Why are people poor?" "Why does poverty exist?" The issue is fairly complex, and one of the most interesting groups talking the problem in developing countries is the Millenium Promise Project. Their goal is to "eliminate extreme poverty by 2025."
From their website: "Our flagship initiative, the Millennium Villages, now operating in 78 villages across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, takes a comprehensive approach to addressing extreme poverty. By combining the best scientific and local knowledge, Millennium Villages address all the major problems simultaneously -- hunger, disease, inadequate education, lack of safe drinking water, and absence of essential infrastructure -- to assist communities on their way to self-sustainable development."
Here's an excerpt from a hopeful email I recently received:
"Koraro, Ethiopia has seen dramatic and hope-inspiring changes since the community began working with Millennium Villages in February 2005. More than 150 new homes dot a landscape that was once barren. Crops like maize and sorghum now grow where only splintered rocks and dusty earth once stood. And parents are now deciding that it makes more sense to send their kids to school than to keep them home to work.
One of the first efforts of the project was to give farmers improved seeds and fertilizer. This together with new farming techniques and the hard work of the villagers has produced crop yields four times as large as when the project began. During the last planting season, in July 2006, many villagers decided to diversify their fields to include oranges, bananas, coffee, coriander and ginger—crops that will improve nutrition in the village and command a higher price at local markets."
For more information on this project, and how to end poverty, see Jeffrey Sach's book: The End of Poverty