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
Hungary

Have We Lost Them? - Invisible Children

The phrase child-poverty is without meaning for many people. There is no shivering associated with it for the ones who remotely know its meaning. Many think that all of it is the parents’ responsibility. And for sure, it is not part of the responsibilities of others. Yes, that is a good excuse.

Why does one give birth if they can’t afford to raise a child?” or “Why would anyone care for someone else’s child?”

It is easy to say such arguments from the distance. Looking at the question from afar, one does not need to understand the complexities of the problem.

Looking from close by however, the walls raised by stereotypes fall down.

I remember the first time I entered the home of one of my students. They got their electricity from a neighbouring house through an extension cord, they brought water from a public well in 5 litre detergent cans and all their furniture was made up of undone beds, a fireplace used for both heating and cooking and a single shelf that held the populous family’s all clothing, dishes and toiletries next to the inevitable TV.

As I was standing there it came to my mind, what do we want from these kids in the school? What do we want with the Pythagorean theorem, coal production or industrial revolution?

How can we expect these kids to be excited and alert in school? How could homework be done here, where basic needs are not met?

How can a future different than the current situation be outlined?

Then, for years I have been trying to understand the “Why?”-s. I had to understand concepts such as the hereditary-poverty, learned-helplessness and this strange, 21st century poverty mixed with contradictions, where 19th century survival techniques and satellite TVs or mobile-phones - thanks to the consumerist society - can coexist. I experienced how can the positive effects of the school be wiped completely in the living environment and how the education, which is moving further and further away from being opportunity equalizing, is contributing to the children being stuck in those circumstance. I have been analyzing the system of causes affecting the children which today has very few elements that would help them move forward.

I am not sure whether we will ever have the power to break this viscous cycle which is continuously raising the number of people living in extreme poverty in the most disadvantaged micro-regions of the country. Will we ever be able to fight the determining powers of full-time-motherhood, “it-will-work-out-somehow situations”, working-off-the-book, criminalization and the foster-work-carrier?

Education reforms? Foster-work? Prevention? Screening-examinations? Catching-up? Settlement closures? Housing programs? And the list goes on of the attempts that never reach the ones who live in the deepest poverty.

We are running in circles, talking about them but, of course, without them. We come up with well-crafted slogans and campaigns, we use statistics to justify the positive change but one thing does not change, the lives of the ones living in extreme poverty.

The grandparents today left the school system with decreasing knowledge and insufficient knowledge which they passed on to their children. Then the knowledge decreased further in the parents’ generation.

We are here with the teenagers locked into poverty and under-education waiting at home to become adults.

And the ones who come after us will be in the similar situation. There is nothing to break the cycle. We have lost them.

Solution? At this point it is already a difficult question. I see it with certainty that for the future generations we have to work with the current one. We are late to change them because their socialization with this complicated system of problems is stronger than everything else. But it needs to be made up for what they did not get when they should have so their children will see a different path to follow. One with power, perseverance, respect for rules, motivation and responsibility. Everything that is missing but is necessary for the development of the children needs to be filled in.

Complex problem solving, unified effects, real job opportunities, tolerance, solidarity, community development. Nice words. It would be great if one day all of these would actually be present within the system.

For example, instead of the segregated education, the 16 years of obligatory schooling or the foster work program.

Then the report on the situation from me on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty would not be so bitter.

There is a photo I took a few years ago. A young girl with shining eyes and flowers on her face. At that time she was 8. She was happy because she won with her drawing on an international competition in Poland. This photo makes the viewer smile.

However, for me, it makes my stomach cramp. Because I know that she was 11 when she became a prostitute as a result of poverty and even when we took her out, it was too late. For me she is another victim of poverty. Someone whose life cannot be turned around from this path.

When one thinks about such a life story, one can find so many points of possible intervention, where this outcome could have been prevented. Many are responsible, who could have done that.

All of us are responsible for what we call child-poverty . The ones who look away, the ones who nod for everything, the ones who don’t care, the ones who make the decisions, the ones who push away the responsibility, the ones who bring the statistics or the news and the ones who manipulate.

In the meantime, all of us are dreaming about a liveable country, however we cannot initiate a real progress. Perhaps, the reason for it is that within us no change has started yet.

20/11/2015
Nóra R., - Translated by Réka Zempléni
Belgium

Visiting this area gives me hope!

"Last week I was visited Valeria and her partner. They are an elderly couple that have just been evicted from their house. They have been living in a van behind their house without water, gas or electricity for over a month now.

Sister Marianne told me about them as she lives in the same area. She makes daily visits to numerous people who are living on the streets and also visits families who are living in very unsafe conditions.

The same day Sister Marianne took me to visit Sylvie and her 3 children who live not that far from Valeria. Since their eviction they have been sharing their meals with Sylvie and her children.

Recently, Sylvie saw a message on Facebook from a homeless couple who were asking for help as they were going to be rehoused. They didn't have any pots or pans to cook with. Sylvie gave them her own ones!

Sylvie's children asked her: how are we going to eat tonight? She told them not to worry as she will find other ones in a cheap shop.

Sylvie knows what it's like to not have anything. She has a good friendship with a lady who has helped her to budget in a respectful and considerate manner.

Visiting this area gives me hope! Especially when I saw the teenage daughter of Sylvie returning home from school. When she passed by Valeria's van she stopped with a big smile and embraced her. This moment happened just after Valeria told us how she couldn't take anymore the insults, daily humiliations and people throwing stones at them."

Françoise B. Liège, Belgium, October 2015.

23/10/2015
Françoise B
Mauritius

Yes, there is development, but not for everyone.

Collective Witness of the Residents of the Port Louis Night Shelter

Yes, there is Development, but not for everyone. Give us a chance to contribute to it as well

For us, the temporary residents of the “Night Shelter”, if there is a reason for us being here, it's because of the problem of finding lodgings. We are here temporarily while waiting for a solution to our problems.

We would like to launch an appeal with regard to the housing problem.

We are saying that there is development, but not for everybody.

We realise that where there is exclusion, our human rights are not respected. Besides, the word “exclusion” shouldn't exist at all. This idea of excluding people should not exist.

It is said that the country is in the process of development, but there are always those who are falling through the cracks. Those living in extreme poverty know that better than most.

There are houses that have been built at the foot of the mountains (temporary lodgings). Every time it rains, there are landslides and the buildings collapse.

How many people have died there when there were those torrential downpours? Yet those buildings were put up as part of a development project.

Well, there is development, but what counts is that it lasts.

In order to get lodgings, we have to take out a mortgage over a period of 20 years. But we don't have permanent work. After 2 or 3 years, we find ourselves here again (in the night shelter).

In our country, most of the people doing small jobs aren't in work. Employers don't hire us, they prefer to recruit foreign workers. Why?

Because they are cheaper? Because they bring in more money? Because they work better? We don't even know why.

Suppose someone has been to prison, so he wants to turn over a new leaf. So he needs to work. But he is told “no, there is no solution because our past isn't desirable.” These days everything depends on morals. But don't you need money as well? Every day one needs money to live on. For everything in life one needs money. And that's why, in the long run, some start to steal and from that moment, we are considered as criminals. And then it's easy to succumb to despair, alcoholism, drugs …

Sometimes, even if there is work, the wages we are offered discourage us. There are even places you cannot enter with old slippers on your feet.

That's why we are saying that a lasting development is not for us. We have nothing to gain from it. 50% of us little people are in prison. Here, it's the law that rules supreme. If you raise your voice, you risk being put in jail again. But it is very rare for at least two people to sit down with us and to listen to us to prepare our message. Elsewhere, perhaps you won't find such a moment, you don't find it.

As far as we are concerned, lasting development is not taking place for us. For some, yes, it is good... But it should be done in a way that profits everyone.

We are confident that the government could change things because everything is in their hands and they know the situation.

For example, when there is a cyclone, the government helps the victims via the Prime Minister's Relief Fund. We believe that the State could ask the private sector to transfer a certain amount of money per month to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund to help fight poverty.

But however many people there are giving aid, it won't be easy to overcome poverty. If we think negatively we will always have problems, we need to cultivate a positive attitude. Working together, reflecting together, getting together to create a lasting development where everyone gets a part of the cake, rather than one taking one part and the other receiving just a small piece of sugar.

To shape our future, we want a lasting development on which we have left our mark.

23/10/2015
Collective Witness of the Residents of the Port Louis Night Shelter
Ireland

Focus on people's strengths

My name is Ann.

When I was a teenager I was diagnosed with an intellectual disorder. This meant that my school work suffered and that I found school really difficult. I got extra classes to help me in a practical way but I didn’t really understand what was going on and what was wrong. There was no one there to talk to me about it, to help me understand what was going on. It was tough at home too, fighting with my family meant that I often went to stay with my auntie, just to get away from things.

I should have been diagnosed at a much earlier stage but isn’t that often the way in Ireland? The crisis has to happen before any help is provided. This is something I’ve experienced again and again in my life. Despite all of this I got my leaving cert and started in college but due to health problems I didn’t finish it. I started working but I knew I couldn’t live at home any longer, I needed my independence and also the fighting was too much. I needed to get away. I wasn‘t entitled to

social welfare so there were no options for me – I ended up in a hostel. At this time there were only two hostels in the city for women so my options were very limited. I believe that if the criteria for rent allowance were more flexible that I wouldn’t have ended up in that situation.

The hostel was scary, sharing a dorm was awful and there were people who were using drugs, I felt so unsafe. When I found out I was pregnant it was even worse. When I had my baby a social worker came to see me – my Mam had asked them to because she was worried I couldn’t cope because of my intellectual disorder and the circumstances I was living in - but the social worker closed the case quickly when they heard I was moving into a flat with my boyfriend. Again I think if the social workers had offered me practical support things wouldn’t have got as bad as they did later on.

Myself, my baby and my boyfriend moved to a flat, it was horrible, as bad as the hostel but I didn’t have much say in it. My boyfriend controlled the money and made all the decisions. Things were too much for me, trying to cope with my health, minding a small baby and being fearful of my situation meant I just was just about surviving. I didn’t even realise that things had got so bad, that I was a victim of domestic violence. There was no one there for me.

When my second child was born he got very sick and social workers were called. They could see that I was struggling. Social workers and community supports should have intervened much earlier but again and again the help comes so late because the resources aren’t there to prevent the crisis.

My kids went to live with my parents and I went back into the hostels, I was on the homeless list but without my children I was right at the bottom of this list, I wasn’t a priority when I should have been. It was no surprise that my mental health got very bad at this stage.

The social worker helped to get me an assessment but the mental health services said they couldn’t offer me much help.

I struggled but kept going. Then, after a long dark period I was offered housing with a charity that works with people who have been homeless. Having a home of my own meant that for the first time in a long time I started to feel safe. Things were still hard but there was support to work on the issues that were affecting me, to really settle.

But I didn’t stop there. I wanted to get involved in life again, to be part of something. I took up all of the opportunities that were offered to me – I volunteered in a drop in service where people who are homeless come in to get some food, advice and be away from the street, I became part of a community choir which gave me a chance to do something I love and be part of a community of choice. I’ve now taken up the chance to become a Peer Researcher and together with a group of people from the housing and homeless charity that housed me and together we’ve developed a new charter to guide their work. My experiences, good and bad have helped to inform my understanding of support services should work.

You can see from my story that a couple of things are very important - start working on issues early and don’t wait for a crisis, focus on people’s strengths and build on these not on their difficulties, don’t let people go round and round in a broken system.

I believe that working with people to address their own needs early and consistently contributes to an equal society, a society that we can all be proud of.

Thank you for hearing my story

17/10/2015
Ann, Focus Ireland
Ireland

We are supposed to live a life of dignity and respect.

Good Morning, My name is Phyllis and I have been a resident in Dolphin House, Dublin 8 for many years. My community is a strong, vibrant one, full of people some of whom have lived there for generations but all of whom put their hearts and souls into building homes for their families. But for years the odds have been stacked against us doing just that.

We have lived and continue to live with poor housing: damp, mould, sewerage, overcrowding - for which we pay rent, and which costs a fortune to heat and decorate, which impacts negatively on our health and the health of our children, which in turn costs a fortune in medical bills and in time off school and ultimately causes huge mental stress on a daily basis.

Until such time as we started naming this lived experience as a violation of human rights, we were getting no satisfactory response from the state. We had no where to turn but were left frustrated, powerless to get on with it. We never saw the Celtic Tiger but we were told that now that he was gone, we could expect even less by way of state response to our living conditions. That is what prompted us to set up Rialto Rights in Action and to re- name poor housing as human rights violations and to campaign for change. Before this, the only human right I had ever heard about was the right to remain silent but over time I learned I and you have human rights because we are human.

We are supposed to live a life of dignity and respect. From the very beginning, I really connected to that idea of emphasising the “human” in all of us, especially when so much of our experience is de humanising. And yet all we want is an adequate home which is a basic human right.

I have come to know that an adequate home means: a dwelling that is fit to live in, affordable, has access to services, family and community supports, and is one where adults and children can live in peace, security and dignity. How can families be fully human when they live in overcrowded poor conditions that damage their health and well being? How can we as a society respond in a more human way to this type of reality?

In our campaign in Rialto Rights in Action, we learned that the state has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil our right to adequate housing and that they can be held accountable for not doing this.. We experienced the power of using human rights language, of gathering evidence, of using the media to highlight our experience in a new way. And it has delivered real outcomes in terms of:

  • Empowerment
  • Better quality short team refurbishment
  • Regeneration – at least Phase One begun
  • More respectful engagement

But it is a long journey and one where we have to keep the pressure on all the time, otherwise the system just has a way of reverting to old ways!

That is our story locally, but it led to a bigger campaign to deal with similar housing issues for Local Authority tenants on a national basis. Through this national campaign we gathered evidence across many more communities and lodged what is known as Collective Complaint with the Council of Europe.

I know it is no longer about asking please and being made to feel grateful, undeserving and blamed. This way of working is all about shifting the blame from residents to systems. It is all about taking power and feeling equal.

17/10/2015
Testimony of Phyllis read by Cecilia, Community Action Network