Poverty data rarely capture processes of change, limiting our ability to understand poverty trajectories at the individual or household levels. This article uses a household survey, village-level participatory studies and indepth life-history interviews to examine people's poverty trajectories and to identify what drives and maintains chronic poverty. Composite shocks can propel previously non-poor households into severe and long-term poverty. Poverty is hard to escape, and people born into chronically poor households find few opportunities for accumulation and wealth creation. The analysis highlights the importance of poverty interrupters, including the end of conflict and the re-integration of internally displaced people, and suggests that state-led interventions would be needed to provide real opportunities to the chronically poor.