Pedro’s Life Lessons

In this article, the founder of the Movement for the Abolition of Extreme Poverty tells us about Pedro, his struggle for dignity, and the “lessons of life” that he reveals to us. Spotlight on correspondents of the Permanent Forum on Extreme Poverty in the World.

The non-governmental organization "MAM" (Movimiento de Abolición de la Miseria) accompanied families living in intolerable conditions in the outskirts of Santa Fe, Argentina, for 10 years (until 2003). At its beginnings, the orgnization’s members formed a group called “For a Better Quality of Life”, which worked to create a partnership with very poor families of the “La Tablada” sector of the city.

MAM was unable to survive the economic crisis that shook the country. But while its legal structure no longer exists, the commitment that gave rise to it lives on in each of its members.

Pedro’s Message

In an outlying area of Santa Fe (Argentina) where bricks are made, the residents knew that Pedro lived in a makeshift shelter under a tree. Alone and sick, he didn’t let anyone come near him. You could see him when he went to look after his boss’ furnace. People said that he received, for his wages, a plentiful supply of wine and a cold meal. His living conditions aggravated his state of health, and his suffering pushed him to approach ‘Movement for the Abolition of Extreme Poverty’ (MAM) and he was taken to hospital. From that moment on, feeling recognised as a human being, he began to reveal to us what he considered his ‘lessons of life’.

When he arrived at hospital, Maria, a volunteer with MAM, took Pedro to the emergency services. The diagnosis of the young doctor who examined him left no doubt. He had wounds on his hands and arms, and in places his skin tissue was decomposing. The gravity of his situation meant immediate hospitalisation. The warmth of the welcome from the young doctor contrasted with everything he had suffered in his solitude, and the promise to visit him the next day made him accept being hospitalised.

The doctor did not hide from us the difficulty of combating an addiction to alcohol without a support group, and he had liver disease. Pedro stayed in hospital for three months, and because he felt supported and respected, his health improved greatly and he was even able to offer help to others. Patients who were not able to move from their beds called him, and he came to their assistance. And as no one knew loneliness better than he did, he revealed himself to be a real samaritan. Sometimes patients in their final stages of life called for him by name. They were frightened of being on their own and they asked him to keep them company. There was no one like him for comforting those who were suffering, for giving spoonfuls of water to those who were thirsty, and for doing lots of other little gestures of love. So much so that his companions in his ward did not want him to leave the hospital, and the nurses remarked on his transformation.

When he left the hospital, Pedro went to live amongst the other members of the group who welcomed him warmly. He agreed to be responsible for a group called ‘alcoholics for a better quality of life’. He put various people up in his little home, and sent them to a volunteer to get sorted out and to have access to a doctor and be cared for as he had been. As he did not manage to create a permanent group, he sometimes resorted to drinking, but his real efforts could be summarised by what he said when faced with each new difficulty: ‘It’s not enough to talk, you must take action.’

One day, Pedro told people when his birthday was, and they decided to celebrate it at the same time as his successes. The day came, and everyone was there to see him, well dressed and nervous, waiting for the birthday cake. But when he saw that it was actually happening, and that they were bringing a cake and were going to celebrate his birthday, he could not handle the emotion and he left, simply saying, ‘I never believed that I would ever receive a birthday cake.’ He was moved to tears, and he went to drink in complete isolation and slept till the next day. When he came back, no one spoke about the incident. The acceptance of such situations is a lesson for each MAM volunteer, as deep respect is owed to the person who is ill or in difficulty.

One night, returning home, Pedro drowned in a ditch. His friends planted a wooden cross beside the ditch with the words, ‘Indian, rest in peace’. They called him Indian, perhaps because of his coppery skin. They attached a bouquet of flowers to the cross and they asked the parish priest to come to that place to pray for his soul.

A few years later, Maria met a friend of Pedro’s who told her that since his death, he had taken the decision to stop drinking and to support others to do the same, in order to carry on what Pedro had started.

Pedro left a very rich legacy, because in the last years of his life he was able to demonstrate his struggle for his own dignity and to pass on to others his great hope.

Ester C., Movement for the Abolition of Extreme Poverty, Argentina

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