Every attitude, every gesture has to fight poverty and exclusion. There are many ways to act, regardless of our skills and availability. These messages, these testimonials reflect. Feel free to contribute.

Testimonies are published under the responsibility of the author. They are subject to validation: these will be published only if they comply, in form and substance the spirit of this day as defined in the International Charter for October 17.

 

Testimonies
United States

Message of Activist, Kimberly Cook, October 17, United Nations HQ, New York

Good Afternoon,

My name is Kim Cook. I was pregnant when I first went into a shelter.

At first, the Department of Transitional Assistance couldn’t help me. They said I didn’t need a shelter — I could sleep on someone’s couch. I only got into a shelter when I showed up with my infant son in February and told them: “I have nowhere to go. I am going to be out on the street tonight with a 2-month-old in the middle of winter.”

I have been in a shelter for five years now. They were giving out housing vouchers, but I was not eligible because my last permanent residence wasn’t a Boston address. The shelter I am in now is infested with mice. People break the rules and have cats to control the mice, and the shelter lets them do it.

In the welfare hotel we were in before, there was no kitchen, just a tiny microwave and fridge. Microwaving food is not a healthy way to raise children, but that was the only choice we had. I got a crockpot, but they took it and said they would return it when we moved out because crockpots were not allowed.

It seems like a lot of the system is built to keep people in poverty. For example, there’s a limit to how much money you can save. If you have more than $2,000, your benefits get cut off. But it costs more than $2,000 to get an apartment. You need the first month’s rent and a security deposit. How am I supposed to save for an apartment if I can’t have more than $2,000?

There are assistance programs, but it is not feasible for families to get assistance with all the hurdles they have to jump. Sometimes, I feel like policies are put in place more to protect the system from abuse than to lift people up.

My children are half Native American. We lost our state health insurance for two months because they said I didn’t send in the necessary paperwork to prove that my children are Native American. With Massachusetts’s health insurance, there are no extra benefits for being Native American. Why did I have to get all these documents?

In the end, they listed my kids as white. I got my health insurance back by hiding who they truly are for the bureaucracy. I think it’s partially discrimination, but it’s also a lack of trust.

At the dentist, it was either live with a rotting tooth or pay the $1,500. In the end, I went to a dental school where a student worked on me. They got hands-on training, and I got the tooth removed. When you live in poverty, you have to know those strategies, otherwise you can’t get what you need and access your basic rights.

I know homeless couples who are in the street because they are not legally married and can’t go to a shelter together. I know a 17-year-old teenager who is out on the street because family shelters won’t take males over 17. There are so many faces of humanity being ignored because of poverty.

In Boston, most public bathrooms close at 5pm. After 5, there is nowhere for people living on the street to even wash their hands. There should be access to basic necessities regardless of income or housing status. The homeless community says this is just how it is; the bureaucrats don’t listen to us. We vote, but things aren’t changing the way we want. Why am I settling for that? Why am I not crying out that this is a crime against humanity? That this is degrading?

I want to be part of changing the system.

I volunteer every week with a program that has free lunch and art programs for the homeless. I can always help people in some way. I buy them a cup of coffee when I have the money. They struggle and get down and I say: “It’s going to get better; just keep hanging in there.” The only thing that gets us through each day is that we rely on one another. We are stronger together. Really, we’re a family.

While I live in the shelter, I’m trying to give my kids as normal a life as possible. I might not be able to afford everything, but I want my children to have diverse learning experiences. They know they live in a shelter, but they don’t feel any different than their friends at school. I don’t want them to feel they missed out on something because of our financial situation.

Children are the ones that will carry us into the future, so we need to raise them right. I pride myself on raising my children without discrimination. I teach them that everyone is the same; it doesn’t matter if they look different, if they speak different; everyone is the same. That is a very important lesson that needs to be spread.

There can be discrimination against people who receive public assistance or have government health insurance. There needs to be public education to end this discrimination. It’s not something that happens overnight; it’s not something that’s ingrained in us. It’s something that’s taught. This is a vital step for people to get out of poverty. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

Video: Commemoration at the United Nations Headquarters
25/10/2018
Genevieve Tardieu
United States

Message of Activist, Patrick Matara, October 17, United Nations HQ, New York

Good afternoon,

Today, I will share my story. I think stories inspire people and sometimes can change them.

I grew up in a very humble family in rural Kenya. My dad left my mom and four siblings, so my mom raised me. When I reached secondary school, I was unable to go because we could not afford the fee. I was devastated because I did very well in primary school and I saw my friends going to school. I thought: “This is my end.” Then I said to the god that I always pray to: ‘‘I know one day, sometime, I will be in school again.” I decided to go to Nairobi to look for my dad. It was a challenge: where could I find him?

After a month and a half, I finally found my father. I was very bitter when I first saw him. But I did not want to show my feelings, so I told him why I was looking for him: I wanted to go to school. My dad used to drink at that time. But I talked with him so much that he stopped, and he found the sense to take me to school. With his support, I finished high school. I even found someone to sponsor me to go to university.

There, I met Sister Joan, my professor. She challenged me. She inspired me. I used to think that you had to have money to give back to society, but she changed my mind. She taught us that we didn’t need money; we had other resources. We could create with the time and energy we had and be friends to the friendless. I realized that there are children who will never have a big brother to talk to. They will not have someone who can be their voice, who can teach them their rights and the responsibilities of human beings.

That inspired me to invest in the children of Kibera, a very large slum outside of Nairobi. There are so many children who are struggling, and as a young adult, it was my responsibility to make sure no child experienced what I went through. So, by talking and playing with them, the group I belong to gives them hope. I tell them my story and how I was able to go to school. It challenges them and pushes them to not feel hopeless, unwanted, and useless. It is something that has touched me in Kibera. Children go through many problems, and they need somebody who can stand up for them, work with them, speak with them, and show them the way.

When I think about the furthest behind, the ones who come to mind are children who have been discriminated against, isolated, and left in the streets. I work with the Edmund Rice Karibu Group to find those who are left behind.

One day, a group of children we work with told us about a child and her mother. We decided to visit them. We met the 16-year-old girl and noticed that she was mentally disabled. At first, she was not comfortable sharing with us because it was our first time at her house. But the second time, she started opening up about her challenges and how she was discriminated against and isolated.

Her father died when she was 7 years old. After she was born, her mother went to a clinic for a checkup and was told that they both had been infected with HIV/AIDS. The doctors wanted to take the child and give her another home. The mother refused. When people in the community learned they were infected, they stopped visiting and talking to her. The woman became depressed. She thought about leaving her daughter. Through time and friendship, we connected them with a center our group works with. The mother was recovering and her daughter went to school, but some people still abused her.

When we found out she was being abused, the police apprehended the man, and now he is behind bars. He did not realize that sleeping with the girl would infect him. This girl and her mother are the kind of people who are left behind. We must befriend the marginalized.

When people experience challenges and injustices, we need to come together to address the problem. If we work as a team, we can win. We will accomplish our goal of eradicating poverty.

Human beings should be treated with dignity. It is our responsibility to value every human and respect them for who they are; to treat them equally. Children like the one whose story I shared today need to be protected. We need to respect their dignity and value them.

We give them value by helping them realize their potential and ability and by addressing their needs. If they need education, how can we help them succeed at school? That shows we value them. Another way we can give value to somebody is making them realize how important they are. Even if they don’t have anything, if they aren’t schooled, if their parents died, they are valuable.

My hope is that the children I am friends with realize what life means and how precious they are to us.

Video: Commemoration at the United Nations Headquarters
25/10/2018
Genevieve Tardieu
United States

Message from Activist, Salehe Seif, October 17, United Nations HQ, New York

Hello, good afternoon everybody!

Before I came here, Asha told me: “People living in extreme poverty are often humiliated and disrespected. When my visa was refused I felt that my rights were violated, that I do not have an equal opportunity to travel and belong to a larger world.  They told me they cannot give me a visa because of my income, and they did not believe that I would come back to my country after the event of October 17.

I was very disappointed. I believed that I would meet different people, with different experiences, and I believed I would share my knowledge and my experience and learn from others as well.”

Asha was refused a visa because her worth as a person and her human dignity did not have value. Of course she has no money, and they judged her based on that.

If an academic had wanted a visa, they would be happy to provide one, because an academic would be recognized as contributing knowledge. But Asha has knowledge to share too.

People living in poverty are not trusted, even if they tell the truth. They have no chance to express themselves.

For example, some of my friends were caught, suspected of doing something wrong. But it has been almost five years and they have not been judged yet. They have been locked up and forgotten. I just try and encourage the relatives of my friends to continue to visit them in prison. If human rights and dignity were respected, these friends of mine would have come before a judge.

Poverty forces you to make choices that you know are not what you want for yourself and your family. Asha told me: “I was one of the good students despite poverty and struggle. However, my mother had to advise me to fail the national exam. She was worried about the cost for secondary school because she was alone — because of the loneliness of the extreme poverty we were facing.”

In my country, if a child passes the national exam and parents don’t bring him or her to secondary school, they would go to jail. And it is also a shame for parents if their child passes the exam and they don’t bring them to the secondary school. What other choice did Asha’s mother have?

Parents who work at the stone quarry also cannot make the choices they want for their children. People who work in the quarry are considered the lowest. They risk their lives. They work very hard, but what they get from their work is very little. So, to help support their parents and to increase the household income, children do not go to school regularly. But they end up getting sick because of the dust, and then the family suffers more because they have to struggle to cure them.

I think there should be a policy to support people living in extreme poverty to avoid this situation. If the parents have enough security — for example if they are sure of having food — they would not allow their children to work at the quarry; they would send them to school.

Sometimes security is provided, but it does not involve the right people. Those who get that support already have a little bit.

People who live in poverty are not beggars. They don’t complain; they don’t come forward and say, “I need help.” Often they work hard; they do their best to hide their poverty, to make sure they wear clean clothes. It is a way of defending themselves.

So how can they be reached by a protection system?  It is not enough to ask: “Is your house a mud house?” It is a question of people participating in the community. The people in the community, they know themselves. They can say who should be helped.

When we come together, we practice solidarity and respect for every human, by acting — by doing it, not by preaching. When we say "coming together," it often includes only people who are not in poverty. Coming together must also include those who are experiencing poverty, because they are often left behind for many reasons. But they are the ones who live in poverty, and they have contributions to make and opinions about what works better for their lives.

When the human rights and dignity of everybody are taken into account, the world will have sustainable peace and love.

Video: Commemoration at the United Nations Headquarters
25/10/2018
Genevieve Tardieu
United States

Testimony of Ashley Knoskie, October 17, Dickenson County, VA, USA

My name is Ashley, I am a single mother from South West Virginia. I remember there were hard times at home, times when we had nothing, times when we needed help and we didn’t get it. We only had each other as a family. Dad was working a long way away and he‘dbeen gone weeks at a time.

He got very sick one year he had a mini stroke. He also had diabetes through the orange agent he was exposed to in Vietnam. His legs got very bad. He had to quit his job and Mom had to start working at the prison. It's hard when you are 13 to see your dad going down slowly.

To me he was invincible, he was my superman. I had to take over the finance of the family, my dad taught me. He also taught me to drive. He taught me a lot. He always encouraged me to read, He’d say if you read your mind will be open and you will learn I had started going to college but then I had my son Xander and I had to give it up. I knew I had to care for my son first.

I ended up being my dad’s full carer. I used to drive him to the hospital a long way away. Getting him in the truck and I came back in time to take my mom to her work in the prison. Through it all, my dad kept telling me: one day you’ll get back to study to be a nurse or a doctor.

When he died 5 years ago it shattered me. I was lost. My mom helped me; she pushed me to get out of the house and meet people; I went bowling, made friends…

My best friend’s mom offered me a job as a receptionist in the nurses’ office. Little by little I got doing things with patients. I knew how to do them because of my dad. The more I learnt in the medical field, the more I wanted to become a nurse. I became a nursing assistant. Now I am studying to be a registered nurse.

Between work and studying and looking after my son, it’s a long week. I get very tired. I get up at 5.30 to get Xander to the baby sitter who takes him to school. I have to do miles to go to work and to college. In the evening I get my son from school. At home I have to give him all my attention as he is autistic and needs even more attention. It’s a hard journey but anything you do that’s hard is worth it in the end.

I would like to tell young people never to think “I am not smart enough to do this or that.” It doesn’t matter what people might tell you. It’s not what they think, it is what you want. You can do it if you want it bad enough. And if you have people around you, who believe in you.

25/10/2018
Ashley Knoskie
United States

Reflections on participation - Fostering dialogue between persons living in poverty and decision makers

Geneviève Tardieu: Good afternoon. I am Geneviève Tardieu, a member of ATD Fourth World, and I will be introducing our speakers. They will share their reflections about participation or lack of it, coming from their own lives.

The experience of people living in poverty is crucial to policy making. Leaving No One Behind is one of the best examples. While evaluating the Millennium Development Goals, people living in poverty reacted strongly against the goal of reducing poverty by one half, which would leave out the most isolated people. The concept of leaving no one behind was forged by people living in poverty and is now the backbone of the 2030 Agenda.

However, there are a lot of barriers to participation, one of them being that people living in poverty are not expected to make meaningful contributions.

Ms. Stacy White, you have the floor.

Stacy White: I live with my daughter in a shelter in New York City. For me, poverty is about neglected areas, where there are limited resources for families. So, we’re going to continue like that, unless people living in poverty let their voices be heard.

It's important that we stand up for our rights and that we voice our needs.

I mean going to meet people and speaking with them, because a piece of paper is just not going to work. It’s important to be heard because it’s only right. Everyone should have the right to say how they feel about what is going on in their life.

A lot of times I had the feeling I was not heard. When I went into the shelter system, I was told I was giving them false information. They don’t listen because a lot of people judge others by their status. So, if we’re not on the same level, people won’t listen to us.

Kim Cook: The shelter system is not appropriate and the homeless community has no say about it. Homeless couples who are not legally married can’t go to a shelter together.

Family shelters won’t take males over 17. In Boston, most public bathrooms close at 5:00 p.m. The homeless people say, “This is just how it is; the bureaucrats don’t listen to us.”

We vote, but things aren’t changing the way we want. Why am I settling for that? Why am I not crying out that this is a crime against humanity, that this is degrading? I want to be part of changing the system.

Salehe Seif: I am here today to speak on behalf of Asha a Fourth World activist from Dar Es Salam.

When her visa to come here was denied, she told me: “People living in extreme poverty are often humiliated and disrespected. I felt that my rights were violated, that I do not have an equal opportunity to travel and belong to a larger world. They told me they cannot give me a visa because of my income, and they did not believe that I would come back to my country after the event of October 17.

“I was very disappointed. I believed I would share my knowledge and my experience and learn from others as well.”

Asha was refused a visa because her worth as a person and her human dignity did not have value. The  knowledge and experiences of people living in poverty are not taken into account in society and institutions.

They are imprisoned in cages. Nobody trusts or believes them. They have no chance to express themselves.

Patrick Matara: I grew up in a very humble family in rural Kenya. I decided to remain close to the children there and to help raise their voice.

There are so many children who are struggling. Children go through many problems; they feel hopeless, unwanted, and useless.

When I think about the furthest behind, the ones who come to mind are children who have been discriminated against, isolated, and left in the streets. They need somebody who can stand up for them.

Geneviève Tardieu: Thank you. Now, we will see that the lack of participation has a number of negative consequences resulting in policies that lack efficiency and coherence.

Ms. Cook you have the floor.

Kim Cook: It seems like a lot of the system is built to keep people in poverty. I only got into a shelter when I showed up with my infant son in winter and I told them, “I have nowhere to go.” I have been in the system for five years now, and they were giving out housing vouchers, but I am not  eligible because my last permanent residence wasn’t a Boston address.

I have another example: there’s a limit to how much  money you can save. If you have more than $2,000, your benefits get cut off. But it costs more than $2,000 to get an apartment. You need the first month’s rent and a  security deposit. How am I supposed to save for an apartment if I can’t have more than $2,000?

I feel like policies are put in place more to protect the system from abuse than to lift people up.

My children are half Native American. We lost our state health insurance for two months because they said I didn’t send in the necessary paperwork to prove that my children are Native American. With Massachusetts’s health insurance, there are no extra benefits for being Native American.

Why did I have to get all these documents?

In the end, they listed my kids as white. I got my health insurance back by hiding who they truly are for the bureaucracy. I think it’s partially discrimination, but it’s also a lack of trust.

Salehe Seif: In our countries, the people in the deepest poverty do come together as themselves. The only place where they are missing is in policy making.

When the policy makers plan development concerning  the people who are left behind, they are not included. But they are the ones who live in poverty, and they have contributions to make and opinions about what works better for their lives.

When the human rights and dignity of everybody are  taken into account, the world will have sustainable peace and love.

Patrick Matara: When I reached secondary school age, I was unable to go because we could not afford the fee. My mother raised her five children by herself. I was devastated because I did very well in primary school and I saw my friends going to school.

I thought, “This is my end.” Then I said to the god that I always pray to, ‘‘I know one day, sometime, I will be in school again.” I went to see my father and got his support.

Then I had to find someone to sponsor me to go to university. Education is the way out of poverty but it is not accessible to the poorest. So there is no way out of poverty for them.

Salehe Seif: We are facing the same problem in my country.

Asha was one of the good students despite her poverty and struggle. However, her mother had to advise her to fail the national exam. She was worried about the cost for secondary school because she was alone — because of the loneliness of the extreme poverty they were facing.

In my country, if a child passes the national exam and parents don’t bring him or her to secondary school, they could go to jail. And it is also a source of shame for parents if their child passes the exam and they don’t bring them to the secondary school.

What other choice did Asha’s mother have? You see that poverty also forces you to make choices that you know are not what you want for yourself and your family.

Geneviève Tardieu: In spite of all the barriers, people who live in poverty  build relationships, reach out to the poorest people in their communities, and forge valuable partnerships.

Kim Cook: I volunteer every week with a program that has free lunch and art programs for the homeless. I can always help people in some way. I buy them a cup of coffee when I have the money.

The only thing that gets us through each day is that we rely on one another. We are stronger together. Really, we’re a family. While I live in the shelter, I’m trying to give my kids as normal a life as possible. I pride myself on raising my children without discrimination. This is a vital step for people to get out of poverty. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

Salehe Seif: People who live in poverty are not beggars. They don’t complain; they don’t come forward and say, “I need help.” Often they work hard; they do their best to hide their poverty, to make sure they wear clean clothes. It is a way of defending themselves.

So how can they be reached by a protection system? It is not enough to ask through a survey if your house is made of mud or metal sheet, to know who are the poorest of a community.

The people know themselves. They can say who should be helped and what are the right questions to ask them. We support one another, but we lack the means to do it.

Patrick Matara: In Kibera, a group of children I am working with told us about a child and her mother. We decided to visit them. The 16-year-old girl was mentally disabled. At first, she was not comfortable speaking, then she started opening up about her challenges and how she was discriminated against and isolated.

Her father died when she was 7 years old. Her mother  got infected with HIV/AIDS. The doctors wanted to take the child and give her another home, but her mother refused. She became depressed because people in the community stopped talking to her. Through time and  friendship, we connected them with one of our centers. 

The mother was recovering and her daughter went to school, but some people still abused her. When we found out, we reported it, the police apprehended a man, and now he is behind bars. This girl and her mother are the  kind of people who are left behind. We must befriend the marginalized so they can access their rights.

When people experience challenges and injustices, we need to come together to address the problem. If we work as a team, we can win. We will accomplish our goal of eradicating poverty.

Stacy White: ATD Fourth world provides a safe space for people in poverty to speak up, to speak out about our lives. That is the Fourth World People’s University.

There, we learn a lot about our rights, we are comfortable enough to speak with one another, and we feel that people have empathy. Everybody speaks honestly. There, a lot of us who are in  poverty feel that we are somebody. That’s why I encourage so many people to join. This is a place where everybody has a voice.

I am part of the planning team for the People’s University. We prepare the monthly meetings. We choose one topic; it could be homelessness, education etc. We choose activities to help people express themselves, like ice breakers and Forum Theater. We send out invitations; we reach out to other people living in poverty. We invite a guest who can discuss with us on our topic. We are together with people from different walks of life, but we all have the heart to reach out to those living in poverty. We learn a lot from one another. This is a give-and-take situation.

I have gained the right to be heard. It has helped me deal with a lot outside as well. I know that I can speak up and say, “It’s not fair what is happening.” You get so much respect when you speak up for yourself. It’s true for me, and it’s true for many others. People’s University is a  place of true participation.

Salehe Seif: In order to achieve our goal of eradicating extreme poverty, participation is necessary, and people with direct experience of poverty are the central stakeholders. They have great ideas, suggestions, and opinions for achieving goals.

When they can merge their knowledge with academics  and practitioners, the results become complete and no one is left behind.

It allows all citizens or communities to actively participate in the development of their community or country.

Participation allows everyone to be aware of what is   happening in the community, and it makes people feel proud.

For example, in Tanzania, ATD Fourth World conducted successful participatory research on Education For All, with people who have direct experience of poverty. All primary schools involved have seen positive changes. In the past, those schools did not have good communication between teachers, parent, and students, but now they do. And it makes it very easy for the children to love to learn.

This research involved all stakeholders: teachers,  parents, students, local authorities, and education officers, and at the end we got successful impacts. Participation builds up courage, confidence, and knowledge. It expands ideas and also the capacity to make appropriate decisions.

To leave no one behind, we need to include all, in every step of the design, implementation, and evaluation of policies.

Video: Commemoration at the United Nations Headquarters
22/10/2018
Geneviève Tardieu - Sec Relations Internationales