Redefining Human Rights-Based Development : The Wresinski Approach to Partnership With the Poorest/Part I
|←Introduction||Redefining Human Rights-Based Development : The Wresinski Approach to Partnership With the Poorest - Part I||Part II - REDEFINING WORK AND HUMAN ACTIVITY TO ENHANCE SOCIAL INTEGRATION→|
|Source: UN Document ESA/DSPD/BP3 December 1999 Division for Social Policy and Development Department of Economic and Social Affairs UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK|
- 1 Contents
- 1.1 PART ONE: PARTNERSHIP WITH THE POOREST : TOWARDS A CULTURE FOR OVERCOMING POVERTY
- 1.2 The poorest, creators at every step of the partnership
- 1.3 Guidelines drawn from experience
- 1.4 Indicators of success for partnership with the poorest
- 1.5 A meeting of the minds:
- 1.6 The partnership of the poorest guarantees full citizenship for all
- Part I -PARTNERSHIP WITH THE POOREST -TOWARDS A CULTURE FOR OVERCOMING POVERTY
- Part II — REDEFINING WORK AND HUMAN ACTIVITY TO ENHANCE SOCIAL INTEGRATION
- Part III — FURTHER INITIATIVES THE WRESINSKI APPROACH – REDEFINING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT and Appendix
PART ONE: PARTNERSHIP WITH THE POOREST : TOWARDS A CULTURE FOR OVERCOMING POVERTY
The issue of partnership with poor families and communities has gained increased attention, as witnessed during the major international conferences and summits held under the auspices of the United Nations in the last decade. One can say that the United Nations is reflecting the importance accorded by a growing number of people and organisations to the respect of every human being’s dignity and rights, in harmony with the dignity of others (in the family, the community, the country and the world). In this sense, the United Nations is progressing towards the embodiment of the credo, «We, the peoples...»
In this light, partnership with the most destitute – millions of people throughout the world – must be understood within a perspective wider than that of having a say on matters concerning their lives. Full partnership leads to the development of a «culture for overcoming extreme poverty,» in which the «culture of peace» advocated by the United Nations plays a major role – with a special concern, in the decade to come, for putting the poorest children at the centre of this new culture.
The reflections developed here in Part One strive to illustrate how partnership with the poorest is the indispensable foundation for the promotion of a culture of peace, harmony, and equal rights, as proposed by the United Nations.
Building partnership with poor families and communities has long been advocated by people at the grassroots level as a key factor in eradicating poverty and achieving social integration. This awareness has entered the language of social development. The Copenhagen Summit formulated recommendations that Governments work in partnership with all development actors, in particular with people living in poverty and their organisations
"People living in poverty and vulnerable groups must be empowered through organisations and participation in all aspects of political, economic and social life, in particular in the planning and implementation of policies that affect them, thus enabling them to become genuine partners in development."
The empowerment of individuals and families so poor that they have been left out of everything for generations is not a goal easily reached. It must be approached first by building a genuine and sustainable partnership between these people and the rest of society. The nature of this partnership, its specificity, and its implications, especially in terms of human investment, must therefore be fully measured. On the basis of the International Movement ATD Fourth World’s forty years of experience in many parts of the world, as well as on the basis of findings from projects undertaken by many other non-governmental organisations, this section will first address common features conducive to the full participation of the poorest. Next, this section will address conditions for involving the poorest over the long term and developing reciprocal knowledge between them and other partners, as a basis for action. Finally, indicators of attainment of this partnership will be outlined.
The poorest, creators at every step of the partnership
Involving the poorest as genuine partners will not succeed as an add-on feature. Partnership should be conceived as an integral part of programmes and projects from the outset, and should constitute a requirement at each step of their development.
The poorest suffer from prejudice or from being ignored by mainstream society. Prior to initiating any programme, getting acquainted with them is necessary to know the realities of their lives. Without such knowledge, meaningful partnership cannot be established.
For example, a person in Tanzania who is committed to supporting poor youth, was on his way to work one day when he discovered a group of families whose existence was ignored by others. They lived in shipwrecks that had been left on a beach to be sold later as scrap. Only at low tide was it possible to reach these people. Through repeated visits, the youth worker was introduced to other inhabitants of the squatted shipwreck cabins. Many children living there had been dismissed from overcrowded drop-in centres for children living in the street. Some of the adults survived by selling diesel oil stolen from a refinery. One of the men had three bouts of typhus and malaria fever over a period of one month. He described his efforts to find a regular job: "I had worked a whole day for just a meal as compensation. I was even lured into working for free, expecting to be hired longer if I worked well [...]. Other people pretend that we are content with staying here, but what do they really know? Do they know that we dream of living in a real house?"
The search for the poorest individuals and groups is often facilitated by poor people themselves. This is evidenced in the experience of an anti-poverty programme of a city in Belgium, which included a committee mandated with collecting the input and soliciting the participation of the poorest. Facing the challenge of "meeting the most marginalised to foster a dialogue with them," committee members were greatly assisted by people experiencing hardship themselves. They introduced them to families who were taking refuge in a destitute neighbourhood: "They are experiencing very hard things. You must go and see them; they can teach you a lot." These people, in their turn, helped the committee to reach others who were apparently unknown to the municipality.
b. Basing projects on the aspirations of the poorest
The poorest within a community are in a position to reveal what is fundamental. It is therefore important to take their expectations and aspirations into account when a project is developed. Apart from having the same basic needs as the rest of the community (water, education, health care, etc.), they experience other types of insecurity that require further resources and support.
Sometimes, it can be necessary to address their problems in an indirect way. The example of a health care project in a community of Guatemala afflicted with high infant mortality illustrates this. Parents were unable to control the nutrition of their young children. They felt powerless and were caught in sorrow and shame. A project was planned to fight early childhood malnutrition but, surprisingly, in the beginning very few of the poorest families took part in the project. Through a trusting relationship built over time, the project officers understood that focusing directly and solely on combating malnutrition would stigmatise the parents’ inability and increase their feeling of failure. A pre-school was opened instead, in view of the community’s aspiration for the children’s education and its ability to mobilise itself for this purpose. A nutrition programme included in the pre-school programme enabled the parents to involve themselves in following the overall development of their children. Most important, it sent a strong message to the parents that, together with others, they were capable of meeting their children’s health and nutrition needs.
Time and mutual trust stand out as enabling factors for partnership. The choice to start the pre-school with these families as an appropriate approach was the result of a commitment of more than five years. Such a lasting commitment was necessary to build a relationship of trust and to really understand the aspirations of the families.
Anyone involved in partnership with the poorest needs to have confidence in the value of the knowledge that the poor can bring and in the possibility that their aspirations will be made into reality. People living in poverty need opportunities to build up confidence – confidence in their right to hold views, to articulate their thoughts, to have a voice, and to overcome fear or hostility towards those in power. They need to know that they are really being listened to and that their contributions are valued.
By contrast, speeding up an approach in order to implement a solution more rapidly is an obstacle to the long-term partnership goal. The experience of social workers in one municipality of Burkina Faso is enlightening in this regard. Working with children in outreach projects, they put emphasis on taking into account the rhythm of the children to ensure their effective reintegration into the family:
"We are convinced that building trust and confidence is a prerequisite if we want to avoid requests for material help. But we are under pressure of implementing in six months’ time direct interventions to be in accordance with the funding agency’s planning. The donor agencies need to justify that they have spent money. This approach does not always favour discreet work in the shadows and long-term commitment. Long-lasting action requires five or six years before any impact can be gauged." 
c. Strengthening the family unit
The experience gathered from working side-by-side with very poor families shows that, from their viewpoint, development should uplift the well-being of the whole family. The sense of family ties is very strong among underprivileged populations. The family, whatever its model, is the last stronghold against social exclusion. A mother in the United States shared her thoughts in a testimonial:
"Poverty can destroy families. But in times of deep trouble, the family is a source of strength. The poor strive to keep their families together even more than other people, because that’s their last hope. No matter how poor you are, as long as you have each other to hold onto, you still have that strength. But once your family is taken away, you just give up. Maybe you don’t know where you’re going to find your next meal. But as long as there’s hope, you have to go out and try again. I see this a lot in poor families – generations stand by one another, no matter what."
Especially in projects geared towards children, it is crucial to find ways to support, rather than to supplant, the efforts of the parents. Five organisations, both public and non-governmental, working with children living in the streets in Burkina Faso have gathered together to share their experience. They made reintegration of the children into the family, nuclear or extended, the ultimate goal of their projects. Therefore, with the agreement of the child, they direct their priority towards finding the family or someone in touch with the parents before any action with the child is envisaged. Their findings are interesting in this regard. Parents have made efforts for their children, and have had expectations for them. They legitimately feel frustrated and hurt by the children’s difficult situation. Their efforts as parents need to be recognised and valued. A development worker wrote: "Through several visits to the family of a child who had fled his home and arrived recently in our training centre, I discovered what the father had undertaken – enrolling him in school, paying for his courses in mechanics and his apprenticeship in building. Noting all these efforts, although not always successful, one cannot say that the parents have given up their responsibilities.". Acknowledging the parental efforts and recognising them in front of the child is of utmost importance to the child’s personal development.
Similarly, what a child can achieve must be valued and become a source of pride for the family. For instance, a father was very moved when his child had finished his stay at the training centre and came back home as initially promised: "My son had done bad things, and I had had enough. Now that you told me what he was capable of and that you believe he can change, I am ready to help you." A project run for the children cannot substitute for the parents’ role but, on the contrary, must be accountable to the parents.
Whatever the geographical context, in-depth knowledge of the reality of the poorest families shows how necessary that knowledge is to strengthening the family unit. The following finding helps get an insight into what tends to be overlooked: "People often speak of single mothers, but there is another reality. I observed the journeys of poor women and their children. They travel on chartered buses, at great expense, often for five or more hours to reach distant prisons where their fathers, husbands, or sons are. Why do these women invest so much time and patience? Because despite how outsiders might consider them, and despite the long separations, these women consider their family to include a man, even if the only chance to live that unity right now is in a noisy, crowded visiting room. On those visits, I don’t see single mothers or prison inmates. I see families. Answers to deep poverty must begin with recognising the way people see their own families."
|The advancement of women and the right to live as a family|
|Ms. Elizabeth Laboy’s husband was working full-time in a plastics factory for minimum wage, in order to support her and their six children. Because they could not afford market-value rent, they had been living in a shelter in North America, with the rent on a sliding scale. This government-funded shelter required the husband to appear at an appointment for workfare, which he missed. This missed appointment, combined with incomplete paperwork, led the shelter to order that he no longer live there. For Ms. Laboy and the children to be allowed to remain, she was required to sign a contract promising not to let him on the premises. Her husband then spent weeks sleeping in a car. Sometimes Ms. Laboy violated the contract by allowing him to visit his family, and to sleep in the closet of the shelter apartment. «Once, their 13-year-old daughter, Xiomarah, recalled, caseworkers dropped by unannounced while he was asleep in the closet, and she feared they would find him.»  Next, the whole family was ordered to leave the shelter because they owed rent money. Together with the father, the family became homeless, sleeping on the floor of a building superintendent’s tool room, then in a friend’s apartment and in a church. Finally, the local government paid for the family to leave the state. The father had to leave his job, and the family is now sleeping on the floor in the one-bedroom apartment of relatives.|
|This is far from being an isolated situation. In many countries, conditions of abject poverty make it excruciatingly hard and sometimes impossible for very poor families to stay together. A mother speaks of being homeless in Asia:|
|«My family has been on the street for three years now. The last place we had was not really a house and flooded when it rained. The owners wanted it back, and we were thrown into the streets again. I have three children living with me. Two of my children died when they were little, one of pneumonia and one of malaria. I have given away two other daughters – Rita who is 9 is working as domestic servant, and I gave away my youngest to be adopted. I was afraid of what might happen if they grew up in the streets. Young girls are dragged away, all because they are poor. … Police harass us for sleeping on the street. But what can we do? They come in the early hours, pile us into a truck and send us to camps. They are worse than regular prisons. They split up the families. A father and mother are not put together. How can they do that? They split us up — it’s like breaking a bird’s nest. Don’t they see that? All we have is our family. I can’t read or write, but I understand that much – what they do to us is an injustice.»|
|Given the dual challenge of being poor and being a woman, it is right and just that more and more development efforts focus specifically on women and girls. But we must be wary of the attitude that the role of men in the lives of their families is somehow less important. For the focus on the advancement of women to be most fully effective, it must include support for women to hold their families together, including living with the men with whom they choose to share their lives.|
|The condition of women and girls around the world is slowly progressing, thanks to achievements such as the commitments made at the Beijing World Conference on the Status of Women in 1995. As the international community continues to invest efforts in implementing these commitments, it is our collective responsibility to make sure that women like these mothers from North America and Asia are able to contribute to articulating our common goals. They have a crucial role to play in shaping policies to ensure that poverty does not tear apart their families.|
|As long as the poorest women remain without hope of keeping their families together in dignity, none of our achievements by and for women can be secure.|
d. Building on existing solidarity
The risk exists that an immediate outside intervention may break the informal support network already active around the poorest. It is important to seek out individuals or small groups who are already supporting the very poor. These people may be hidden by their own discretion. It may be a tailor who saves scraps of material to offer children living in the street who need to mend their clothes, or a family who will always look for a way to take in homeless people. In every community, there are people like this. It is important to nurture the existing relationships of mutual solidarity and build on them. If care is not taken, larger development projects may make these small efforts meaningless.
The village of Sanankoroba in Mali shows how a mixture of local organization and modern equipment can have good and lasting results. The Sanankoroba villagers started more than ten years ago an irrigation and farming project through a twinning agreement with the Canadian town of St. Elizabeth. Instead of foreigners making the decisions, the villagers used their own methods. Public meetings were held and the tribal authority, the council of the elders, was consulted first. The council decided to extend the decision-making process to other age groups. This created links to different tribes and to associations of women, young people, and professionals. The council then gave its opinion and decided how the project should be carried out. The 24-member committee that was set up contained two new elements – it had five women on it and a local farm labourer as its chairperson, despite the participation of people who had been trained in industrialised countries. This break with the classic pattern of development aid shows a determination to respect local knowledge. Also, rather than taking the name suggested for the project by Canadian development workers – "Des mains pour demain" or "Hands for the Future" – the villagers chose a name closer to their way of thinking, "Benkadi" or "good understanding". This name stressed that the project’s goal is unity and social cohesion, rather than transformation and planning, as conveyed by the Canadian name.
e. Shaping in-depth knowledge with the poorest
Involving the poorest as partners means seeking to know the overall community of which they are members, for example by living in the same neighbourhood, by sharing in local activities, and by building respect for one another. The knowledge gained in this way does not involve a scientific investigation or data collection about a target group. It is the process through which all partners – the poorest as well as the other participants (development workers, field officers, volunteers, local officers, etc.) – contribute to mutual understanding and enhance their partnership.
Reciprocity in understanding is a key to success in development. A development worker in Burkina Faso emphasises the fact that the population involved has the right to know explicitly the role of the other partners: "We must be very clear with the parents about our role as facilitators in renewing family ties. Otherwise they may think that we are employers of their children or their sponsors."
Partnership is possible only if each partner is convinced of the importance of the reciprocal sharing of knowledge and agrees to move from his/her initial position. If some conditions to partnership seem obvious – listening to the poorest, building their confidence – they are not sufficient. A woman involved in a project in rural France cautioned, "Listening is not the same as understanding. For me, we can understand each other when we can contemplate doing something together." Listening is not a passive attitude. The ethic of «doing together, learning together» implies a discreet and demanding companionship to support the poorest families in their efforts to live up to their expectations and commitments. It can develop only when each person learns something from the others, and is proud of his or her own efforts and input.
In Manila, the ATD Fourth World Street Library programme is a catalyst for this reciprocal knowledge. Books are read regularly with very poor children outdoors, wherever they live, and creative projects are done. By design, the programme is not run by full-time staff only. It is an opportunity to open up to a broader environment. Some university students have chosen this project for their social immersion period, learning from the community and contributing their talents in storytelling and artwork. In their evaluation, these students acknowledged that such an immersion experience shed a different light on the prevailing prejudices about the so-called idleness and laziness of the «urban poor» and helped them understand the life and the resilience of very poor families.
"I saw the aspirations of these families and the efforts they made to live in dignity. I had heard before about the ’squatter areas’, the ’urban poor’, through statistics, and I was afraid to be in contact with those people. Now I have been able to meet Aldo, Jessica, Leo and other children – not just the label ’street children.’ I discovered that they are children, with their dreams and hopes, just like all other children. I saw how much they liked books, how much they enjoyed reading and listening to stories. They taught me a lot."
Sharing of knowledge is another factor conducive to partnership. It makes it possible to create new avenues for action. A working group in Canada of professionals from different fields (social services, community development, literacy programmes, churches, shelters for homeless people) gathers with very poor people to speak about each other’s experiences. Through these meetings, the experience, thinking and know-how of the poorest trains participants to understand the rationale of the attitudes and choices of the poorest, going beyond their apparently inconsistent actions. When asked what she learned from the group, a health worker explained, "At the hospital, there is no opportunity to talk about poverty. We’re always in a situation of crisis and emergency. I am caught between defending people’s rights, and the demands of the organisation. I can’t change anything by myself. This group gives me the support to see possibilities for change."
f. The poorest renewing creativity and cultural achievement
It is largely recognised that, for the accomplishment of human beings in all fields of human activity, culture and creativity enjoy a privileged status. However, most of the time, if not always, very poor people are excluded from the spheres of culture and creativity, in the sense that their situation deprives them of opportunities to reveal their creative potential and to be partners in potential cultural creations, be it in painting, theatre, poetry, music, etc. Creativity, including artistic activity, is common to all humankind. Bringing culture, creativity, and art into areas of extreme deprivation does not mean that all will or should become great artists. But it means creating an indispensable environment where the treasures of original creativity that lie uncovered could emerge and enrich humankind.
Through varied and extensive experiences, ATD Fourth World together with other NGOs can affirm today that the ambition of partnership with the poorest means building bridges between the world of art and the world of the very poor, who are completely cut off from the noblest forms of art. For is it not art in its noblest sense, that gives to humankind its full plenitude? Recognising the right of all – and allowing access by all – to artistic creativity, is the best way out of the temptation to patronize the poor, even when this patronizing is in the name of partnership. (See box.)
"Painting and drawing allow us to express what we feel – our joy, our concerns. In those moments of quietness and harmony, we feel we are experiencing the friendship and understanding we have always longed for." The poorest constantly remind us that human beings thirst for beauty and creative expression as much as they require food, clothing, and shelter. In Bangkok, a Fourth World Art and Poetry workshop was set up inside a shantytown as a path toward cultural development. Very poor adults and young people who participate in painting sessions there find an opportunity to reveal to themselves, and to communicate to people from other backgrounds, their most cherished thoughts and values. An exhibition of their work, entitled «Blue Buffalos in the Sky» and held in a Bangkok art gallery, showcased the innovation that can result from partnership – between very poor communities, NGOs, an international organisation such as UNESCO, the artistic community, a university of fine arts and the public at large – when all concerned share the ambition of offering one another the best of their creativity.
In many disadvantaged areas around the world, ATD Fourth World runs Street Library programmes in response to the desire to learn shown by underprivileged children – especially among those who have the least access to school – and to their parents’ concern for their future. In areas severely marked by poverty in New York City, in Guatemala City, and in Manila, volunteers come regularly to sit with children on the roadside or in a vacant lot in order to read books and to do creative activities such as painting, woodwork, photography and so on. The children’s parents are rarely involved in community organizations. The Street Library tries to establish links with the wider community by inviting artists and others with specific skills to share their talents and knowledge with the children. Teachers, librarians, police officers, and local officials are also invited to develop relationships with these children by discovering their potential. On these occasions, the poorest are recognised as people capable of investing in their children’s future and of contributing to the neighbourhood.
Parents of children who participate in the street library meet regularly to discuss issues of special concern to them, and share their views and hopes for their families. Through this process, they realise that their experience is a source of strength for themselves and of solidarity for others. This prepares them to meet with community organisers or local officials. In this respect, the Street Library is a comprehensive community project, which leads toward empowerment.
|Cinema as a transforming experience|
|A recent film-making project in the Netherlands showed what can be done when the poorest are associated as partners in crafting a work of great art. Because the film depicted the deepest human suffering, the men from very poor backgrounds who acted in it took on a two-fold responsibility: first toward their own people, who share their experience of exclusion and extreme deprivation; and second toward awakening the rest of the world to their experience of hitting rock-bottom and to the power of their hope. These men, workers who are often without employment, worked alongside professional actors with the support of the whole film crew. This opened the extraordinary possibility of entering a working environment of rigour and professionalism as well as that of a vocation in the world of art. The professional crew also gained in the experience. Seeking partnership with the poorest allowed them glimpses into the profound depth of humankind.|
|When considering guidelines towards partnership with the poorest, art and culture deserve special attention. Experience has shown that the very poor gain in strength and open themselves for other important responsibilities when they are invited to be part of ambitious project and when they enter into a relation of real partnership with skilled people. This is particularly true for very excluded men who, in Western Europe, are generally considered the most difficult to mobilise. Art and culture become whole when they dare to portray the suffering and the hopes of the most miserable.|
|Source: ATD Fourth World|
Guidelines drawn from experience
The experiences of partnership described previously show that building partnership with the poorest does not mean developing separate programmes to target them, as this would stigmatize them even further. The goal is rather to start and design projects with those least likely to be included in any development initiatives, to ensure a much greater chance of creating a project that will reach all, and be of use to all.
a. Conditions for partnership with the poorest
Attaining a comprehensive and sustainable partnership implies several conditions.
- Investing the time needed
Partnership relies very much on an investment of time. One must accept being apparently inefficient for some time by taking time to meet the poorest without a finalised project, in order to plan the project with them. It takes time to know their lives, their interests, their aspirations; and also to introduce oneself to them, to allow them to know one’s daily life and one’s convictions. Listening to the poorest also implies taking a risk on something that is apparently unfeasible. It means progressing at the pace of the weakest.
- Trust and confidence
As implied in the previous point, this time is essential to building mutual trust and confidence. All the partners involved in a project with the poorest need to have confidence in the value of the knowledge they can bring and in the possibility of their aspirations becoming reality. People living in poverty need opportunities to build up confidence – confidence in articulating their thoughts and views, in defending their right to hold views and to have a voice, and in overcoming fear or hostility toward those in power. They need to know that they are really being listened to and that their contributions are valued.
- Commitment to working with one another
For partnership to be possible, all partners need to realise how complementary each one is to the others and to accept that they – and the others – be influenced by one another. This approach of working and thinking together is effective in programmes and projects where each participant can acquire specific knowledge or know-how and can be proud of his or her efforts and contributions. This long-lasting commitment alongside the poorest is needed to ensure that any representative role they take on will involve a real contribution.
- Reciprocal training
All partners need training. The poorest specifically need the tools to be able to analyse their rights, and to take on responsibilities. Care must be taken not to rely on the most dynamic participants in such a way that their success might humiliate others. Training of project workers is also essential, and must be based on the knowledge gained from the poorest. Technical knowledge must be supplemented with skills in building personal relationships.
- Consensus building and broad-based participation
Priority given to the most excluded does not mean exclusivity. Efforts by the poorest to overcome their condition are not sustainable if they are not noticed and backed by other segments of society. It is therefore important that uplifting the poorest be integrated into the common concerns of the whole community and that partnership with them be determined at the start of a project. Equally important are involving the poorest in specific events of their countries and valuing their contribution to overall social development. These opportunities can be an international or national campaign, an artistic or sporting event, or a neighbourhood festival. Finally, cross-sectoral co-operation between civil society organisations is a key factor to a continuing partnership with the poorest.
b. Obstacles to partnership
Although participation and empowerment have become part of the vocabulary of development, the poorest are often excluded from participating in decision-making. Their representative role is often a token one and is not considered as a source of creation.
There is also evidence of original programmes that were developed thanks to the inventiveness and creativity of very poor people; and then when these programmes are extended to a wider public, they can actually end up excluding the people who were at the origins of their design. These examples are a disincentive to the poorest people becoming partners in subsequent cooperation.
Specific measures designed to improve the situation of people living in poverty can be counter-productive if they are not part of a comprehensive policy. They can be an obstacle to partnership with the poorest when they «cream off» the most dynamic and articulate participants, who move on and leave their community behind.
The most frequent shortcomings of development projects are the tight limitations on time, and conditions for funding that do not correspond to the priorities of the poorest. The pressure for short-term results is an obstacle to reaching the poorest, because it does not take account of the time and human resources necessary to build an in-depth knowledge of the poorest and to forge a partnership with them.
Another hindrance to partnership with the poorest is that they are rarely involved in project evaluation. Furthermore, project assessment weighs too heavily on quantitative information; when qualitative indicators are introduced, they need to go further to include questioning about the individuals still not reached.
Indicators of success for partnership with the poorest
The impact of this partnership can be assessed by tracing the changes effected in the lives of the poorest and in the response of the other partners. Success for the poorest is indicated by movement out of poverty, their growing involvement with society and their steps towards contributing to society. Success of the other partners is reflected by their increasing responsiveness to the suffering, hopes, and daily struggles of the poorest.
Success is defined here by accomplishments, or distinct changes over time, in the lives of the poorest. These have been derived from evidence gathered, particularly through written reports at different phases of a project, which allow us to formulate certain indicators by comparing the lives of the individuals and families as they evolve during the project. 
- Becoming less isolated
One indicator of success relates to isolation. Over generations of deep poverty, the poorest internalise their exclusion by others. For instance, they do not dare attend a parents’ meeting at school because of their illiteracy. When this situation is acknowledged as a reality that is shared, rather than as individual, the same people stop living the lives of forgotten people on the fringe of society. Their self-esteem is strengthened. When this happens, they see themselves and are seen by others in a different light. Their fortitude begins to be recognised. Their sense of inferiority can give way to a sense of pride in themselves and their achievements, which in turn leads them to break out of their isolation.
"We are people of perseverance. Tell everybody they must not give up the fight. Tell them we want to be in contact with them throughout the world. Because when you realize that you are among many who are moving forward together, you keep your courage in order to encourage others."
The above message came from people who used to live in the streets in the outskirts of Poznan, Poland. Things changed for them on the day that a university professor and his family, convinced of their values and their determination to break free of destitution, decided to involve them in building a small housing estate and to live there with them. Today, they take part together in running a hostel that offers respite stays for very poor people.
Part of breaking out of isolation or near-isolation involves building more lasting and constructive contacts with others: neighbours, other families or organisations. An essential feature of these contacts should be that the very poor do not only serve others but are also seen and see themselves as being able to contribute to the world. One example of this indicator of empowerment is the gatherings of people of different backgrounds who come together to listen to testimonies from very poor people, and renew their common commitment to the struggle against poverty. In Manila, poor families have chosen as a venue for these meetings the Commemorative Stone in Honour of the Victims of Extreme Poverty, laid in Rizal Park. This is what a mother said of these meetings:
"We meet each other at the Commemorative Stone to stop poverty. It’s like this for poor folks: sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t. I said: Let’s go there to the stone, we are all equal there, we are all poor, we don’t have to be ashamed. We strengthen ourselves to face others. Sometimes we meet there with people from other countries. We have the chance to mix with them, be happy together, listen to their messages and tell them about the situation here. (...) However difficult our life is for us, we do not give up hope!" 
- Being able to contribute and receive
Very poor families are burdened with a long history of failure and humiliation. They are seen by society as asking for help and charity. This perception affects the way in which they come to see themselves. Liberation from this condition marks success. It is important for a community to see what the poorest have to contribute. In this way, all community members can learn from one another, and each can perceive the other differently. They come to know what to expect and what to require. A new cycle of giving and taking has started, as shown in the following examples.
Michelle is a youth who participates in Clubs of Knowledge and Solidarity aimed at building friendship and mutual understanding between young people from very poor families and youths from other backgrounds. At one club meeting, she said:
"Before, I did not want to go to these meetings. There were two categories, and I was always with those labelled ’delinquents.’ It was very hard. When these meetings first started, I and the others with ’bad’ reputations were horrible toward the college students. We wanted to test them. They did come back, however, proving that they had some interest in us.… Since then, everyone has learned how to react within the group, to appreciate our differences, to cope with our fears and doubts."
The poorest know that they need others. They do not say: "We don’t want to be helped." They say instead: "We need help but not just any kind of help." They expect support that respects their sense of dignity without making them dependent.
"I have decided to go out and talk to people," a woman in Madagascar said to a project worker. "Before, I went out only to fetch water at the pump. But I realise that if I stay between four walls, I see only problems. You have been visiting me at my home for a long time, and I only come to your place now. I look for my rights and I want to work at your side. Now, I can help others – accompanying a neighbour to the hospital or going to buy medicine for her at the pharmacy."
- Building on past struggles
Having to invest their energy in daily struggles, the poorest have few opportunities to gauge their efforts and to plan their future. When their resilience is recognised and valued by other people, it can have a powerful chain reaction. The poorest start to plan for the future; they think of ways to earn their livelihood; they celebrate festivities, either on their own or with others. It is important to share with the poorest what has been learned from them, highlighting the achievements made by them or their kin. Thus, they can review their past, talk about it, and use it to envisage new perspectives. Their past can even become useful during trying times as an assurance of their ability to overcome hardship.
The poorest help us to understand the importance of acknowledging what has been discovered with them or thanks to them. Recognising the victories of their own struggle, however modest, sheds a positive light on their personal history. It is equally important to show children the strength of their parents so that they are proud of their family.
- Emerging talents
As long as they are excluded, people are unable to express their latent talents. Artistic activities provide another type of encounter, where they can unleash their talents. As they are recognised and valued on an equal footing, they find opportunities to express their artistic, intellectual, and interpersonal skills, both individually and collectively.
Two participants in the workshops at the ATD Fourth World House of Knowledge in Belgium shared the experience of unleashing their creativity. A young man said, "When I draw, when I paint, it is like a tenderness flows from me. I no longer have any need to talk of my troubles, or to shout in order to exist. By painting and drawing, we create a new image of ourselves, one we can be proud of.» A young mother echoed his thoughts, "I have always written poems. I was already making poems in school, but no one looked at them. They were not put in a book as they are here. And with this book, they will go out into the world. Using computers made me discover my poems in another way. [...] After the poems, I want to do many other things."
- Gaining knowledge and speaking out
The poorest are deprived of access to knowledge. In light of their past experience, they rarely believe that they can learn and understand how society functions. When they feel able and ready to formulate what they think and take the step of speaking out in public, this is a success and a sign of the great distance they have travelled.
The recent adoption of the Law Against Social Exclusion in France best illustrates the successful partnership with the poorest. They made a point of giving a voice, directly and indirectly, to their concerns and viewpoints throughout this drawn-out legislative process. They participated in a vast survey to evaluate public policies designed to combat poverty; and they met subsequently to discuss the draft bill and react to draft provisions regarding education, vocational training and job opportunities. The most important lesson from this experience was that the poorest showed they are eager and able to take part in policy-making as partners in their own right.
- When the very poor show how to reach out to others
Strong evidence of their emergence of the poorest people from poverty can be seen in the way they stand up against manifestations of exclusion. With new-found confidence in themselves and others, they put into practice the sense of responsibility they nurture for those worse-off than themselves. For example, in the Street Library in Manila, the older boys and girls took more and more initiatives to support other children. A local teenager, who had been coming to the Street Library for seven years, decided to share what he enjoyed, and he started to organise reading sessions with children elsewhere in the neighbourhood. (See box.)
|"Not only for myself, but for the children around me..."|
|Throughout the year, two young people, Fernando (19 years old) and Lizel (22 years old) helped and encouraged children who, like them, live with their families in a cemetery. Fernando told us what the Festival of Learning meant to him and the children: "When the Street Library started at my place, I was only 9 years old. At that time, I thought it was only books and more books. But later on I realised it is a way of helping a child to be a good citizen." Today, Fernando loves telling children stories, sharing what he has learnt with others. He has taken the initiative to start up a street library in two new places in the cemetery.|
|"The Festival of Learning helps a child to show his talents, even though others think he cannot do it. The children feel there is no discrimination – even though your clothes may be dirty, you can still participate. The reason a child loses interest in studying is because of family problems. I witness this among the children I know.... The Festival of Learning is also a way for children to teach what they themselves have learnt: how to tell a story to their brothers and sisters. I have learnt that the Festival of Learning is an opportunity for children to be part of society," he said.|
|Lizel has taken on a lot of responsibility in the last year in running the Street Library. Like Fernando, her involvement convinced her to take up studying again in order to become a teacher. "ATD Fourth World has been running a Street Library in my place for a long time. But I was very shy before and didn’t dare join in. I didn’t really want to be with other people from the cemetery. When I was invited to join the Festival of Learning last year, I got interested because of the painting exhibitions I went to see. Afterwards, I thought it should not be only for myself, but also for the children around me, those younger than me. The Street Library is a way of not closing my door to the children in my neighbourhood. Now, I’m happy. I know other children from other places in the cemetery. They consider me as their older sister."|
|Source: ATD Fourth World, Philippines|
A meeting of the minds:
Universities and the very poor building a knowledge base together
A number of projects have been carried out to get the poor themselves involved as partners in the development of knowledge about poverty. At the University of Cuzco, Peru, for instance, in 1976 a professor of anthropology, often with his colleagues and students, began extensive visits to learn from the farm workers in small rural communities of the steep mountainous regions of Calca, where hunger is a constant threat. The goal of his project was to develop a process whereby farm workers and academics would become researchers together, in order to analyse the socio-economic situation and to define a method that could be used in other development projects. After a period of eleven years with the communities in question – and after adding a specific focus on extreme poverty – this professor came to realise that in communities where everyone is poor, some not only are poorer than others, but also are pushed to the fringes and excluded from discussions concerning the community’s future. Some of the farm workers involved in the research went on to become decision-makers in their communities.
The Fourth World Open University is an initiative founded specifically to provide regular forums for adults living in chronic poverty to share their life experiences and thinking with people from other backgrounds with the aim of fostering mutual understanding and respect. This Open University has been run for 25 years now in several places in Europe and Asia. Behind its goal lies the assumption that the firsthand knowledge of people experiencing and resisting poverty ought to be acknowledged and valued. In this dialogue, the knowledge and experience of every participant are enriched by those of others, poor and non-poor alike.
One of the most recent projects of the Fourth World Open University was a partnership aimed at introducing the knowledge of people living in poverty into an academic environment. (See box.)
This pilot project, called «A Meeting of the Minds,» brought together: people with direct and long-term experience of poverty who were actively involved in poverty eradication; academics in the fields of history, law, physics, psychology and sociology; and ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps members. The three groups of participants contributed different perspectives on poverty and offered different skills to the overall research. Everyone was given equal status; their varied sources of knowledge were recognised as equally valuable, as all the participants collaborated in writing a book about the results. Those conditions allowed a climate of mutual trust, conducive to genuine partnership. Another criterion for success was the search for a common language and methods of communication that facilitated the exchange of individual experiences.
|"A Meeting of the Minds"|
|Introducing the knowledge of people living in poverty into an academic environment|
|In 1983, in a lecture at the Sorbonne University in Paris, Fr. Joseph Wresinski, founder of ATD Fourth World, called on the academic world to «ensure that the thoughts and reflections of the poorest are validated. Without you their validity is constantly challenged and denied; nobody listens to the poorest. Instead we impose outside interpretations on them that prevent them from reflecting on their own life.»|
|Out of this challenge grew the experimental programme "A Meeting of the Minds," carried out from 1996 to 1998. It aimed at learning in a new way, by cross fertilising three sources of knowledge. People with long-term experience of poverty and actively involved in poverty eradication brought in a knowledge and thinking stemming from their experience of and resistance to chronic poverty. ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps members offered their experience of action with the poorest and of fostering change together. Academics brought their scientific approach and knowledge.|
|Partnership towards more egalitarian and inclusive academic research|
|A research team consisted of 15 people with direct experience of poverty, 12 professors and research workers belonging to nine universities in France and Belgium, and five ATD Fourth World core-volunteers. During the programme, participants from the three groups split into smaller working teams of 6 or 7, each team looking more deeply into one of the five subjects chosen as being of particular relevance to poverty.|
|A pedagogical team provided the research team with methodological and pedagogical support, and a scientific advisory committee ensured the validity of the pedagogical approach and assessed the quality of the research results.|
|Being authors and researchers together|
|Five collective theses were written covering the chosen topics. History: Story of the transition from the shame of chronic poverty to the pride of belonging to a people. Family: Founding a family and being oriented with respect to time. Knowledge: Skills for freedom: life, education, action. Work and Human Activity: How are the skills of the poorest contributing to societies of tomorrow? How could they gain recognition? Political participation: How are the poor represented? An issue for democracy.|
|These theses were published in Meeting of the Minds – When the Fourth World and academia think together.* An evaluation analysing the approach and giving conclusions of the programme was also written.|
|What did the academics think of the partnership?|
|"[The project] forced us to question ourselves, as professors, as citizens, as human beings. It brought more than simply a knowledge of poverty; it taught us another way of working as academics." "The project has shown me that academia must widen its perspective; we must add another dimension to our experience to complement our objectivity. Above all, we must understand people’s capacity to understand. We must cultivate these pieces of knowledge." "Partnership implies that we evolve at the pace of the slowest, at every phase of the programme."|
|*Source: Le croisement des savoirs : quand le Quart Monde et l’Université pensent ensemble, Editions de l’Atelier et Editions Quart Monde, 1999|
The partnership of the poorest guarantees full citizenship for all
To recognise the unique contribution of the very poor to building a more equitable society, we must begin by creating the equal footing necessary for any genuine partnership with the rest of society. As highlighted throughout Part One of this paper, there are conditions necessary for this partnership to take root and for institutions and ways of thinking to change in order to make a place for the poorest. Until all of our fellow citizens are empowered, the world is deprived of their contribution. But it is not easy to «empower» people whose families have been mired in deep poverty for generations.
Individuals, families and communities living in extreme poverty have never ceased to fight for their dignity and their survival. In the midst of their search for livelihood, they deploy all efforts to help preserve family links and guarantee the future of the children. Their gestures of resilience and courage too often go unnoticed – like those of mothers who resort to begging to gather the amount due for school fees and school supplies, illustrating dramatically their aspiration for a better future for their children, "so that they will not undergo what we have experienced ourselves," as they often say. In the face of adversity and misfortune, people develop a keen sense of mutual aid, assisting others in the same situation or offering shelter to people worse-off than themselves.
Out of their struggle and resilience, the poorest acquire invaluable knowledge and thinking. Their exclusion represents a waste of human resources and a breach of social cohesion. Experience shows that they have the desire and ability to participate in decisions about policies and projects that affect their lives. They must be "the driving force of the coalition for poverty eradication [because they] have the strongest motivation and the greatest stake in the outcome."
Experience of exclusion endured by people living in poverty highlights the shortfall of our societies in promoting effective exercise of fundamental rights. They have no way to exercise the rights that are recognised in the Conventions and Charters signed by the Member States and to which their fellow-citizens have access, such as the right to housing, the right to health care, the right to education, the right to community life. The more destitute people are, the more they lose the possibility of exercising their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. These situations clearly show how indivisible and interdependent rights are in daily life, and how poverty is a denial of the effective exercise of human rights.
In this perspective, building partnership with the poorest is a stepping stone toward the achievement of a human-centered world where "All human beings are born free and remain equal in dignity and rights." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1)
"Partnership is essential for the development of the population as a whole; yet the poorest people rarely have the chance to experience such an association with others. The participation of the poorest depends largely on the will of political and social leaders to involve them. When leaders make the effort to inform the most disadvantaged people, solicit their views and show that they are taken into account, then the poorest will be able to exercise full citizenship, be recognised as having rights and responsibilities and be helped to assume them."
- Copenhagen Summit, Programme of Action, para. 35
- Copenhagen Summit, Programme of Action, para. 24 and 35
- Several of these findings are also supported by a study conducted jointly by UNICEF and ATD Fourth World, which examined projects in seven countries over four years (1992-1996) to identify ways of reaching the poorest. This study was published in Reaching the Poorest, co-edited by UNICEF and Editions Quart Monde, New York/Paris, 1996.
- Cf., Reaching the Poorest, op. cit.
- Social Service Department of the Kadiogo province (DPASK, Direction provinciale de l'Action sociale du Kadiogo), member of the Study group "Support for Family Reintegration," Burkina Faso.
- Lenore Cola, representing ATD Fourth World at a panel discussion on the occasion of the International Day of Families, 15 May 1999, at the United Nations in New York.
- Members of the study group "Support for Family Reintegration" (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso) comprise AEMO (Action Educative en Milieu Ouvert, Outreach Education Programme), ANERSER (Association Nationale pour l'Education et la Réinsertion Sociale de Enfants de la Rue, National Association for the Education and Social Reintegration of Street Children), DPASK (Direction provinciale de l'Action sociale du Kadiogo, Social Service Department of the Kadiogo province), MCC (Intervenants auprès des mineurs à la Maco, Protection of Minors of the precinct of Maco) and ATD Fourth World.
- Vincent Fanelli, ATD Fourth World, USA.
- «Strict Shelter Rules Force Many Families Out,» The New York Times, by Nina Bernstein, Nov. 29, 1999.
- Source: ATD Fourth World
- «Making a little go a long way,» article by Babacar Sall, in Le Courrier de l’UNESCO, January 1998.
- Study group "Support for Family Reintegration," Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
- Cf. Reaching the Poorest, op. cit.
- Cf. UNESCO, Standing Committee of NGOs, 1997. Working Group «Culture and Development.» Culture to Overcome Poverty, Ten practical experiments in escaping from situations of exclusion. Contribution to the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1997) and to the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006). (CLT-97/WS/8)
- Testimonial at the exhibit of artwork by very poor adults in Brussels, Jacques Brel gallery, 1988.
- Using art and poetry to fight poverty has been part of ATD Fourth World’s work since its beginning in the late 1950s. In different parts of the world, workshops have been created where people from different social and cultural backgrounds can meet, be creative and share their skills in arts, crafts, artistic use of computer technology, etc.
- These indicators of success are inspired by the research of Prof. Jona M. Rosenfeld, Cf. Emergence from Extreme Poverty, Science & Service Editions, Paris, 1989. This paper illustrates his findings with more recent examples.
- Cf. Letter to Friends around the World (periodical of the Permanent Forum "Extreme Poverty in the World), N°39, August 1997.
- Ligaya Sibucao, ATD Fourth World, Philippines.
- Source: ATD Fourth World, Madagascar.
- From interviews by Martine Hosselet, «For the Right to Beauty,» European Commission – Directorate General X 1995. Excerpted from Culture and Human Activity for Overcoming Poverty: Proceedings of the European Colloquium ‘Role of Culture in Combating Poverty,’ 8-9 June 1995, Brussels: European Commission/International Movement ATD Fourth World, p.12.
- ATD Fourth World runs a Street Library regularly throughout the year, with an annual Festival of Learning characterised by more intensive cultural activities for the children.
- Cf. Reaching the Poorest.
- Brigitte Seinnave, ATD Fourth World, Haiti.
- UNDP Human Poverty Report 1998, Overcoming Human Poverty, p. 11.
- Joseph Wresinski, Chronic Poverty and Lack of Basic Security, Landover, Maryland, 1994 (translated from the report "Grande pauvreté et précarité économique et sociale", February 1987).