Inspired actions by "Hidden dimensions of Poverty"
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Letter to Friends around the World # 106

Martinien Moukete, from Cameroon, works with the “Bonassama Association of Enterprising Youth”, on the Cameroon coast. He is also a correspondent for the Forum for overcoming extreme poverty. Because of this, he wants to share how close the research of “Hidden dimensions of poverty” is to what his teams are living on the ground.

Our teams on the ground in Cameroon live and experience a reality which is very close to the hidden dimensions of poverty described in the report on the participative research done by members of ATD Fourth World and researchers at Oxford University. I would like to point out especially two of these: “emotional and spiritual pain” and “institutional abuse”. The “Bonassama Association of Enterprising Youth” on the Cameroon coast finds these hidden dimensions of poverty very palpable during the Covid 19 pandemic. This is what fascinates us in this ATD Fourth World research and moves us to congratulate them and inspired by this research to develop three main analyses of our reality in Cameroon.

Firstly physical, emotional and spiritual pain is a lived reality for internally displaced people in Cameroon. The north-west and south-west regions have suffered crises which have forced certain people time and again to move, leaving behind all that they have and all their belongings. They find themselves in a strange environment. They suffer from being English speakers arriving in French-speaking areas, having left everything, without work, without any means of survival. Already, as well as that, there is the language problem. They feel stigmatized and misunderstood when passers-by look down on them or scorn them. Having already lost everything, work, housing, and now being unable to make a living, they feel rejected. We can see that they don’t just suffer from a lack of housing, food or education, but that it is above all a problem of integration. They suffer emotionally, in their hearts and minds.

Secondly, I think of the resistance shown by the population in hardship. In a disadvantaged part of our area there are young people, children and adults too who are organizing their environment each time because they feel abandoned and left to themselves. Some people told us that if they didn’t do this they would be exposed to flooding. They would not have any housing and would not even know what to do any more.

Finally the topic of institutional abuse is an obvious aspect of the Covid 19 pandemic. In Cameroon we had populations that were neither even informed, nor prepared and didn’t know what to do in the pandemic. With our association we went to meet them on the ground. Seeing that they hadn’t even been informed about what was happening, or about protective measures, with no prevention kits against Covid which was raging, just because they lived in areas that are difficult to reach.

Often these same people don’t have any say. They are left out by the local authorities and others decide for them. I remember a woman who told us that because they don’t have a voting card, their opinion doesn’t count. Consequently they have other worries, they are not interested in public policies about their environment and they suffer abuse, not only from the establishment, but also from rich people around them. These are clear examples of institutional abuse. I have seen, on the other hand, that they have developed their own strategies by themselves.

So we have worked out some ideas along the lines of the conclusions drawn from the research report by ATD Fourth World.

We decided to rethink our way of acting, no longer working just on essential needs or questions of housing or access to decent work or something to eat. We decided to organize local dialogues with people from the area to encourage good community relations and the integration of internally displaced people from the north-west and south-west of Cameroon.

Noting that these people who live in poverty really have skills as is noted in the report, we turned to training and associating people living in poverty to work on community projects set up in the area. We also thought about the aspect of unrecognized contributions, of supporting a social and craft economy. With these people who even have means, skills, habits, qualities to develop, we decided to encourage this local know-how to really take on board their participation in local development plans in order to give equal access to social rights (education, health, safety etc.).

In conclusion we thought about reinforcing the obvious resilience of the vulnerable people and the working class areas. This, despite the fact that they are exposed to afflictions of all sorts such as alcoholism, prostitution etc. It remains true that people living in this extreme poverty develop resilience to it every day.

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