Children Speak about Poverty at the UN
Above: Alma, Paula and Raquel during their speech at the UN
Each year on October 17, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, there are public commemorations all over the world. People who have lived in poverty talk about their experience of struggle, but also their hopes, courage and ideas about solutions. The day serves as a reminder that poverty cannot be eradicated without involving people who experience it every day.
This year at the United Nations in New York, nearly two hundred children took part in the commemoration. The first to speak came from a Tapori group in Madrid, Spain. Paula, Alma, and Raquel talked about wanting to improve their community by taking care of one another. They also spoke about the efforts children make to support their parents. Their joint speech is below.
My name is Alma and I’m from Madrid. I’m ten years old.
My name is Paula and, like my friends, I live in the neighbourhood of La Ventilla.
My name is Raquel and the three of us, with other children from our neighbourhood, are part of a group called Tapori. We meet every week to play, have fun, and learn about our families and the lives and rights of people in our neighbourhood.
Alma: Tapori, our group, is important because it helps us to become aware of how we try every day to improve our neighbourhood.
Video of the children’s speech below:
Paula: We know that we and our families make a lot of effort in our neighbourhood but it goes unnoticed; sometimes we don’t even see it either.
Alma: We think that all children need to have a family who supports them and to have friends.
Our mothers and fathers do jobs that other people don’t want to do, and because of those jobs they very often can’t spend time with us. They are very hard jobs.
One of our mothers looks for second-hand books and sells them to earn money to make a living. Often, her children go with her and carry heavy backpacks and trolleys full of books. We know that the mother feels very ashamed when, after all the effort she has made working for two or three days, all she gets is two or three Euros.
Paula: Another mother works doing ironing. She gets up early, has to work in extreme heat, and is on her feet all day long. Every day she needs to go far from home, but she cannot afford money for the bus fare and so she walks long distances and has to cross two parks. And our neighbourhood is not always safe. Sometimes we are afraid to be outside in the street. Our mothers would have to work less in order to spend time with us.
Raquel: They make huge efforts and sometimes they are truly ashamed of everything they have to go through. Sometimes this shame turns into rage, which is taken out on other people.
At home, our families argue because of money problems or the lack of work. Sometimes, our parents lose hope. And when people lose hope, they are pushed to do things they shouldn’t do. There are concerns all the time. All the time: people talk about our parents nonstop. Even when they are just out in street getting together with neighbours, we know they’re going to be criticized.
Alma: With the lives we live, it is difficult to be a child. But I think it’s even more difficult to be an adult, because then you also have to worry about us.
When we talk about children’s rights, we think that our rights cannot exist unless our families have rights.
Paula: I think that I am not a poor person, but other people look at me and treat me as if I were poor. It is other people who make me aware of the fact that I am poor and different.
Raquel: It’s not that we don’t care when people criticize us. There are difficulties or problems everywhere, but ours are always more visible. Sometimes, we try to overcome our problems by criticizing other people because we think that in this way nobody will see our problems. But all we do is end up hurting one another.
Alma: Often, we have to lie to protect our families. But these are not real lies — they are just secrets we keep so that people stop asking questions.
Paula: At school, things are always difficult. For example, one of our friends — his name is Jesus — doesn’t even go to school because he doesn’t have a home to live in. Obviously, a home is very important, because when you do not have one, what do you have?
Raquel: In our neighbourhood there are people who have problems with their housing, who have to squat or live in places that were not meant to be homes. Having a home is having a shelter. When you have a lot of difficulties, if you stay at home you are safe, because nobody knows about the difficulties.
Alma: For children who can go to school, school is also something difficult. We try very hard to do well at school. But when we try to learn we are thinking about all the worries from our lives at home. We go to school to learn, but our minds are full of adult things.
Paula: At school you often need to act as though nothing’s wrong. And if there is something wrong, you must put up with it and pretend you don’t care. It’s better that nobody knows anything about us, because we already have enough on our plate with the problems at home.
If people at school knew about what happens at home or what you are thinking, they would laugh in your face. They would treat you differently and your problems would get bigger. That’s why some friends act as if they “don’t care about anything”, and that ends up getting them expelled from school.
Alma: When we see all our mothers suffering, our families suffering, we ask ourselves, “But why are they doing this for us?”
We think they do it because they imagine a different future for us, a better future, a future that we can’t see yet.
Raquel: People see only certain things about us. But they don’t see that we are also happy, that we love one another, and that we support one another.