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.


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
Geneviève Tardieu - Sec Relations Internationales
United States

What does it mean to build a world of respect for everyone’s human rights and dignity?

What does it mean to build a world of respect for everyone’s human rights and dignity?

Families living in extreme poverty in New Orleans tell us so much about what it looks like when they don’t feel respected as a human being because they are born extremely poor.

Ms. Pat said, “It looks like your poverty follows you all the way around for your entire life and it’s hard! It’s hard on everything: housing, food, transportation. It feels as if you are going nowhere. We can’t wait on the system to support our people; we do it ourselves with the little we have. Look! Linda was homeless with her three children. I cannot let her and her children be on the streets. I have to let her in until she finds a place. But after one month, it’s a lot for me to feed the entire family. I am poor myself! It’s hard to tell her to leave knowing that she does not have a place to go. But it’s like that with our people.”

Ms. Charlene dreams to own a house, said, “When I went to the housing agency they asked me, ‘What is your dream?’ I told them ‘My dream is to get my own house so that I don’t need to move from one place to another and that one day my children will not be on the streets.’ But I can never save any money to get to 50% of the cost. There is always something coming up! I have to get my children out of jail, or someone is sick and needs money. Sometimes I feel like I make one step forward and then go ten steps backwards.”

Chantelle added, “I work hard but don’t get a good pay, even with two jobs. They are run by the third parties, so I don’t have someone directly to talk to about employment opportunities. You are always on contract for six months and they keep cutting down your hours. They hire migrants because they don’t have to pay any charges. It would be great if they could at least give us $15 an hour. You cannot move one step forward with $8.50 per hour. You can only think about the future with your family, but can’t actually realize it.”

J.D. added, “Police arrest us for little things. Once you are in the system, you are trapped in it. You cannot get a house, and you cannot get a job. For your entire life you are trapped in! You are left behind because all the curses are on you. I am happy to learn that the City council voted to “ban the box” and provide decent living wages. That will change something in our lives.”

Today, we pay tribute to your courage, strength, and perseverance to stand up every day and face the reality of your lives. No one should be left behind, you deserve respect and dignity as any other human being.

March in the 7th Ward and Songs, band playing
Collective testimony, New Orleans
United States

It is a hard journey but it is worth doing it

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‘d been 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 Ma 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 mum 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 Ma helped me she pushed me to get out of the house and meet people I went bowling, made friends…

My best friend mum 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.

Ashley, Appalachia
United States

By getting together you can go beyond the struggle

Good evening everybody. Today we are all invited to reflect upon how we can build a world of respect for everyone’s human rights and dignity.

This question brings to my mind the contributions, determination, and hopes of Ms. Althea who was born in the 3rd Ward and who moved into the 7th.

She tells us,

“There is always something positive that can come from people getting together. You can go beyond the struggle. It is important to do better and to improve as you struggle. Don't give up. There's always a better day.

I have never felt left out of this community. And I've been living here for 50 years. Here, if people can help, they'll help.

When one of my neighbors cooks, if anybody needs something to eat -- and not just me--she’ll feed them.

Donations came to another neighbor for him to share with the community so he could offer a hot meal on Saturdays, and a food drive where bags of food were issued to each individual. He also put out clothes every day.

There was the community center. They had movie nights and computer activities for the children. They offered free information on HIV, copies of documents when needed, and resources to assist people to become first-time homeowners.

Then there's the example of a neighbor that I invited to dinner. I wanted to show him that I really appreciated his saying to me, 'I want to help put your lights back on'. He came up with a plan to assist me with my lights by asking for donations from his friends; so it was a success. My lights are now on. I wanted to say more than thank you for the kind  gesture, but thank you for who you are.

If someone is in need, I am always reaching out. That's the way I am. I have taken in some people who needed a place to stay. Some of them have fixed things in my house. For example, there was a man who chipped away some plaster to reveal the chimney beneath, and then he helped to do the whole chimney.

I don’t want to set prices high at my food stand because I don't want the community to feel like they can’t afford a snack. Just because I don't have a lot does not mean I don't have anything to give.

If I see a need, then I don’t mind helping by giving what is needed.

Now I'm getting to know more and more about Fourth World. One thing I am sure of is that the Street Library motivates the young ones; it encourages kids to excel. It is awesome. That means a lot to me.”

Ms. Althea participated in one of the activities of the Street Library Festival of Arts and Learning this summer. She offered to assist with a workshop.

Her presence, as an adult member of the neighborhood, expressed that the community agreed with these summer activities that allowed the children to explore their talents.  

Ms. Althea continues,

“Kids need to be able to read. They need to spend time reading. Books give knowledge. Books are self-educating because they help to understand topics. They advance the child outside of school.

When the child hears the topic in school, she or he already knows about it. That’s how a three year old can know his ABCs and numbers and colors before entering kindergarten.

I sell books that teach how to sew, knit, make quilts, and even play the piano. This is how people can become self-taught.”

She concludes,

“It is important to share this message with others who are struggling: As long as you live, you can do better.

It’s taking a long time, but Rome was not built in one day. No matter how many steps backward we make, it is going to happen. That hope is the most important thing. As we overcame slavery, we can overcome poverty.

March in the 7th Ward and Songs, band playing
Ms. Althea, New Orleans
United States

We have to fight to get our freedom back

People call me Shay; I am 28 years old, a mother of 4 boys, 13 to 1 years old. I live in New Orleans, my entire life.

When I was a little girl I dreamt of becoming either a police officer, a lawyer or a hair doer (Dresser). I wanted to be an independent woman and to sacrifice my life for my kids and not to depend on others.

Very soon I realize that these are not going to happen, school was tough, and the kids were picking on me calling me bald head. I was in 11th grade when Katrina hit. I was displaced and separated from my family. I could not find my mother, my brothers and sisters. I missed school and ended up getting pregnant for my first born Ryan.

I think I am left behind because now I live on food stamps for my kids. We have food stamps and we are not getting it free, we got that from the government. When the government got your information in the system and knows what you are doing, you are not free.

If I have a full time job they will cut my food stamps and I will continue to struggling to raise my kids. I hope a better place for me and other mothers to help others in need.

This world is not just for all of us because everything is a struggle for us.

It’s a struggle every day and I have to do what I have to do. I take a part time jobs and I have my food stamps to make us going.

We cannot find housing because we don’t have jobs.

I am afraid and I fear they (the government) are going to take my freedom away. I am worrying for my kids and other mothers too, due to the high violence and shooting in the city.

I have to step up and find our community and fight for your community and stand up for your civil rights. We have to fight the system to get our freedom back.

I say to all young mothers to be strong and stay beautiful, do what you need and have to do for your kids.