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Let's not give up

Speech by Isabelle Pypaert Perrin at the commemoration of the World Day for the Eradication of Poverty organized by the UN.

Are we going to learn with those who live in the most extreme situations how to build a just world for all and who think of the generations to come? Those who live in extreme poverty are not only victims. They are also agents of change, actors of world construction, and often ignored. Yet, they are the ones who pay the most for the consequences of our failings. Our broken promises and the way we have taken the right to exploit the land and the human beings.

This week, I met families in a slum in the Paris region who live in unworthy conditions, like a billion inhabitants of the earth. Life is hard, their health is damaged, the links with others are constantly blocked. Children, for whom they continue to struggle, do not grow because of the lead in the soil. Those who live in poverty reveal to us a permanent human catastrophe and an ecological catastrophe. And they resist, they act, they take responsibilities that we ourselves do not. They take charge of their environment and seek to make life possible, as we have seen throughout this commemoration. Those who live in poverty go even further: in the most abandoned places on the planet, they take care of each other. They thus give substance to the ambition set by the international community when, in 2015, it broke with the discriminatory objective of wanting to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty in order to commit to leave no one behind, to reach the most distant, the most forgotten first.

In silence, everywhere in the world, people in poverty are the first to live out this ambition not to leave anyone behind. How are we going to make room for them in the halls of power where we think and work for the future? How are we going to make room for their experience and the knowledge they gain from it? I think of those homeless families, who have found refuge in polluted land, and who say: we will not leave here until a solution has been found for the most tired of us. They show us how all our programs, all our actions must be filled with concern and search for the most excluded, those who are still lacking, the most distant. Link participation and human commitment. We know parents who go to a health centre with their child who suffers from hunger and malnutrition. They feel such a reproachful look on them that shame scares them away and prevents them from accessing treatment.

On the other hand, when everything is thought out so that trust, respect and pride are created, it is quite different. It is important to include the participation of people in poverty in aid programs and how this aim is delivered. But we must go further. At the heart of all these programs, there must be men and women that are open and take the responsibly of reaching those in deepest poverty. Seeking the participation of those who are furthest from local community programs or dialogue and consultation. Since the onset of covid, we have seen caregivers all over the world mobilize in extraordinary ways to save lives. They went well beyond the call of duty. They stirred enthusiasm and that gave us confidence.

Extreme poverty is just as much a matter of life and death for those who experience it. Consequently, putting an end to it requires such a great mobilization, an unprecedented mobilization and very substantial human commitments, commitments that we must absolutely support. I would like to end by saying that despite the dark times the planet is going through, we can have hope: Those in poverty do not give up, they believe in tomorrow, they believe in their children, they believe in the human race even if they know all the faults and limits.

So, I would like to say to the young people who are working for a better planet, and who are right to do so: make alliances with those who resist poverty, because together you will bring about real changes and nothing will stop you.

Isabelle Pypaert Perrin

Director General of International Mouvement ATD Fourth World

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