October 17: Ending Extreme Poverty

Nina Yuson-Lim is the President of the International Movement of ATD Fourth World and Rosanna Sta. Ana is one of its supporters.   This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, October 9, 2006 edition, page S1/5.

Naranasan na ba nilang  magutom o walang makain, tatlong beses sa isang araw? (Have they experienced real hunger or not being able to eat three times a day?)

This was the question posed by Aling Corit (not her real name, a Filipina mother living in a poor community in Pandacan, Manila) to foreign delegates that she had met in Montreal, Canada.  Aling Corit was one of the four Filipino delegates (along with the writers of this piece) who attended an international seminar “Ending Extreme Poverty, a Road to Peace.  Making the Most of October 17”  in Montreal, Canada.  From May 22-26, 66 people from 12 countries participated in a seminar to create awareness for October 17, The International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty.  The International Movement ATD (All Together in Dignity) Fourth World, with the cooperation of the United Nations (UN) organized the seminar in an effort to involve more sectors of society in commemorating October 17.

Aling Corit, who earns a few pesos a day as a seamstress, is a mother of two children. Every day she must struggle just to provide food for her family.

In the Montreal seminar, she confronted questions on ending poverty. Facing hunger and fighting poverty day-to-day, she was perplexed that basic questions on poverty would be asked.

“Okey ang meeting, ang topic ng agenda. Marami pa rin akong natutunan. Kaso lang minsan, hindi ko talaga maintidihan ang pinag-uusapan.  Ang pinagtataka ko lang, lahat yata ng delegates ay iisa ang pakay o tema.  Samantalang yung iba namang delegates, alam na alam ang kahulugan ng kahirapan.  Pero, alam ba nila talaga ang tinatawag na gipit o kapos sa pang araw-araw na pangangailangan?  Sa tingin ko hindi pa nila naranasan ‘yon .  Oo alam nila ang salitang  hirap, human righst, equal relations, pero hindi nila naranasan ‘yon sa totoong buhay.”

(The meetings were okay.  I learned a lot.  But sometimes I could not really understand what was being discussed.  I thought that all the delegates had one objective, and that the others had a thorough knowledge of the meaning of poverty.  But do they really know what it feels to have nothing or not to have the basic necessities daily? I don’t think they have experienced it.  Yes, they know the terms for poverty, human rights, and equal relations, but they have not really experienced these in their lives.)

What deep insights from Aling Corit! Even “educated” people like us were overwhelmed by the depth and seriousness of the discussions. Like Aling Corit, we, too, pondered what we were all doing at the seminar and how we could contribute.

What’s so significant about October 17? Nineteen years ago, on 17 October 1987, over 100,000 people from different walks of life gathered at Trocadero Plaza (Plaza of Human Rights and Liberties) in Paris, France to honor the victims of extreme poverty, violence, and hunger.  The gathering was in response to the call of Father Joseph Wresinski, the founder of the ATD Fourth World.  Since 1987, October 17 has become a rallying date for defenders of human rights, a date to express everyone’s refusal to accept that extreme poverty is inevitable and their commitment to work together to eradicate it.  In 1992, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared October 17 as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, more commonly known as the World Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty.  In the Philippines, the International Day to commemorate poverty eradication is held at Rizal Park every year.  Former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos declared October 17 a National Day in 1993.

Last December 2005, the UN General Assembly reviewed the observance of October 17 in order to identify the lessons learned and ways to promote the mobilization of all stakeholders in the fight against poverty.  To support this initiative, the International Movement of ATD Fourth World organized the Montreal seminar.  It was a milestone event.  Participants included representatives from national governments, UN agencies, academia, international associations like Amnesty International, and civil society, including people living in poverty like Aling Corit.

The Montreal meeting was like a contagious virus, but in a positive sense.  Everyone was affected and inspired.  The more we listened to the sharing of others on how October 17 is commemorated in their countries, the deeper was our learning on “how much have we really done for those living in the most difficult circumstances and what action we can further contribute.” We and others also admired the ATD volunteers who have always been patiently there for the poorest, sharing their lives and talents, and providing opportunities to make the poor feel “whole and not separate.”

After five grueling days of very spirited discussions, we (the 66 participants) collectively wrote a summary hailed as the “Call of Montreal.”  The statement emphasized that extreme poverty is a violation of human rights and that everyone must come together to overcome extreme poverty.  People living in extreme poverty and exclusion should be the heart of the commemoration on October 17.

The participants committed to exert efforts to involve more groups and individuals on October 17 and urge more countries to participate in affirming the importance of October 17. They also resolved to further develop a variety of media and technology instruments to create more public awareness on the October 17 commemoration.

The year 2007 will be the 20th anniversary of the commemoration of October 17.   We hope that for this special occasion, we will have mobilized a greater number of people to be a part of a day of dignity and honor for people living in poverty.

We can only echo Aling Corit’s hope: “Maganda ang naging resulta ng meeting.  Sana ang mga taong  nakilala ko ay hindi  magsasawa sa pagsuporta sa mga mahihirap na tao lalo na sa mga taong natatapakan ang dignidad.” (The meeting had beautiful results. I hope the people that I met will not be discouraged from continuing to support people living in poverty, particularly people whose dignity has been trampled.)

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