Building on the experience and knowledge of people in extreme poverty

Grassroots activists in Peru
discussing proposals for a
Post-2015 Sustainable
Development Agenda.
(Photo: ATD)

“When you live in a shelter, you face discrimination every day – from the food you eat to the way people treat you in the street, you face discrimination,” began Jose. A homeless shelter resident, Jose spoke at the commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty at the United Nations on behalf of homeless people and people living in homeless shelters. This day is commemorated every year on October 17th by International Movement ATD Fourth World. In his message, Jose clearly underlined the essence of the theme this year, “Working together towards a world without discrimination: Building on the experience and knowledge of people in extreme poverty.”

Every day, people living in extreme poverty are threatened by lack of food, shelter and access to essential resources. They endure hazardous working conditions, live in precarious, degrading and insecure housing. In addition to these direct effects of poverty, these people also face constant discrimination-a clear violation of their basic human rights.

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is an opportunity to include the voices and participation of those individuals who are experiencing situations of poverty and to expand participation of all societal groups in poverty eradication efforts. As with every year, this year’s theme takes into account actual inputs and feedback made by activists and people living in poverty. All too often, society ignores the voices and special knowledge that people living in poverty have, excluding them from participation in developing practices and programs that directly influence them.

The program for this year’s commemoration included messages from all over the world. In addition to Jose, a representative from the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston spoke, highlighting the difficulties people living in poverty face, particularly with public benefits and the need for further policy change. Two women from LSA Family Health Services also spoke about the limited choices people living in poverty have especially with regards to food, health, and education. When describing being made fun of at school for her living situation, a fourteen year old ATD Fourth World member living in a homeless shelter brought the audience to tears in addition to receiving a standing ovation.

A video message from Peru featured Julian Quispe, an individual living in poverty who described the silencing effects of discrimination and the empowering effect of knowledge building when it includes people of various social backgrounds. Additionally, a video done by ATD Fourth World reviewed the persistent discrimination that people living in poverty face when it comes to accessing and receiving public services. ATD Fourth World was also honored to have messages from the United Nations Secretary General, presented by the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development as well as from the Ambassadors of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations.  The arts were also represented through a musical performance by Hip Hop Saves Lives, and by a collective art piece directed by Gema Álava in collaboration with WCPUN.

This year’s commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty reinforced calls to all members of society – listen to the voices of individuals living in poverty and include them in the process of decision making, particularly in the formulation of the post 2015 agenda.  Other recommendations raised by participants included multidimensional poverty, human rights and dignity.