Everything concerned with poverty, every person left by the wayside, involves me, and I go to see. My work is very simple: I go into the neighbourhoods, I walk around, usually nobody counts the poor, but you can always find them.
My desire is to see that the person has a certain dignity; for them to stand up straight, to hold on. It’s a question of presence. When I go up to them, I always say “I have nothing to give you, but I’ve come to say to you: you’re important to me. Others may scorn you, but there is somebody who is here for you for whom you have great value.” This is really important. What counts for me is to be present, to be with them, because that’s vital for the poorest. They’re used to thinking they are cursed. You have to be able to answer, to say things that create optimism: “Nothing is lost, another life is possible".
The attitudes I cultivate are: presence, listening, building capacities, respect. Poor people talk a lot; they have a lot to say. Usually nobody listens to them, but I always take the time to listen. When I visit them, we sit down together and talk, and talk. I also try to show them that despite everything another life is possible, that they shouldn’t think they are the damned of the earth. This is the most difficult thing to say, because they say, “How are we going to find a solution?”
It’s true that it’s an existential problem: the families don’t even have enough to eat. When they ask, “How are we going to find a solution? Tell us!” the temptation is to say, “OK, here’s 1,000 francs”. What happens after that? Often I try to get them to look at things differently: “You have potential, you are the one who can get yourself out of the predicament you find yourself in. Poverty isn’t a curse; it’s a situation that can arise in anybody’s life. One day you’re rich, the next you’re poor.
You have capacities. I usually say to them “Tell me, you have qualities don’t you?” “Yes”. “Tell me what are just 10 qualities that you think you have; just 10”. This introspective approach is difficult but helps the person to realise they are worth something. If you have capacities, talents, qualities, then you can do something. So usually they say to you: “No listen, it’s other people who should tell us this”. I say, “No, you can, look at yourself, look at what you’re capable of doing.” That’s when the person starts to say “OK, I think I can do this, I’m this, I’m that, etc.” And I catch hold of one of their main qualities. Development of potential is very important. When you look at someone positively, it’s a powerful lever that gives us the strength to surpass ourselves.
Respect the person in poverty for who they are, don’t tell them what to do. I think that examples speak louder than words.
Blaise N., Cameroon