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

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

Message of Activist, Stacy White, October 17, United Nations HQ, New York

Good afternoon,

People in poverty are not the lowest of the low.

I live with my daughter in a shelter in Queens, New York City, and I am doing my best to look for permanent affordable housing to stay outside of the shelter system. I currently have twelve weeks to find an apartment based on a voucher provided by the City of New York. Throughout my life, I have lived in poverty-stricken areas. 

For me, poverty is about neglected areas — areas that are not taken care of, where there are no resources for families like libraries, good schools, or even good stores. 

In the stores, most of the groceries are expired, including potato chips and sodas. The store owners think that we’re content with living this way because they think we do not have a voice, but that is not the case. People living in poverty have this fear that if they open their mouths, then action will be taken against them, so nobody says anything. So, we’re going to continue to have stores like that, unless people living in poverty let their voices be heard, so others are stopping to take advantage of them.

In these places where sidewalks are cracked and infrastructures are broken, it's important that we stand up for our rights and that we voice our needs — make noise to get what we have the right to have.

We have to make noise. I don’t mean being loud, being violent, cursing people out, belittling people. I mean going to meet people. Because a piece of paper is just not going to work, you have to go down there and stay in their face and keep staying in their face. You have to claim your right.

It’s important to be heard because it’s only right. Everyone should have the right to speak, to say how they feel about what is going on in their life. It’s a human right to be heard and to listen to someone — to communicate with one another.

A lot of times I had the feeling I was not heard. When I went into the shelter system, I told them I wasn’t giving them any false information, but they weren’t trying to hear that, talking above me and raising their voices.

They don’t listen because a lot of people go by status. If you have a job and I don’t, I’m lower; if I live in the projects and you own a home, I’m lower; if you have better shoes, I’m lower. So, if we’re not on the same level, people don’t want to be bothered.

Often, I get the impression that some people are not properly trained for their jobs. When you’re working a job that requires customer service or dealing with people, you have to be trained to deal with it all.

Inside poverty-stricken neighborhoods, to stop the violence, people need to bring it out into the open and stop keeping it inside. If we don’t get together and say something about it, violence will keep happening.

We, in our community, only make noise if a black person is killed by a police officer. We don’t say anything when we kill each other. In the neighborhoods where I’m from, this happens every day, every other day, but we don’t say anything. Because, first, people are scared of retaliation. And, second, some police officers think, “Let them kill each other.”

We need peacemakers in our neighborhoods because some people don’t feel secure enough or safe enough to tell the police. We have to find someone we can fully trust who will listen to us, and then maybe someone the police will listen to, because they’re not going to listen to the people in the neighborhoods, people in poverty. My mother would play that role.

My mother didn’t care what color you were — if you’re in trouble, you’re in trouble and that’s it. That taught me to raise my kids with respect, and that’s why I have respect for everyone. She had a lot of impact on me.  Now, if I see somebody fighting, if it’s not a violent fight, but something I can resolve, I try to resolve it.

Nobody deserves to be put down because of where they are from, what color they are, how much they make, or what they eat. I don’t feel disrespected too much. When someone tries to disrespect me, it feels like I have a raincoat that gets wet and the rain rolls off. Because I know who I am, I know where I came from, and I am proud of who I am.

Respect starts at home with a very caring adult. Kids are bullied so much. If you tell your child, you stand on your own two feet, and you are perfectly fine the way you are, when he’s being bullied, he will just walk away with a “Please, get out of my face with that.”  But if a parent or a caring adult doesn’t let them know that, then that child is going to absorb the bullying until the pressure becomes too much. Let’s see what their art and their talent is. You have to help your child be confident.

It's the same for our LGBT young people.  A lot of them are killing themselves, turning to drugs, or living on the streets because their parents are not accepting. When you have a child, your love is unconditional.

Homeless people also deserve respect. Anyone who has any care in the world for people should let them know where they can find help. I tell people where they can find support. Also, simply saying hello to someone makes a world of a difference. 

Everyone can and should come together. All it takes is one person to take the first step. Usually, another follows behind. It’s not too hard to follow someone else’s steps. What is hard is to take that first step to tell other people. So, today, I am telling you: “Don't be afraid to take that first step, and let's come together to make a difference.”

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