Perspectives – Looking Ahead to ATD Fourth World’s Future Path

Above: ATD Fourth World’s International Leadership Team in 2017: Álvaro Iniesta Pérez, Martine Le CorreBruno Dabout and Isabelle Pypaert Perrin.

By Isabelle Pypaert Perrin, Director General ATD Fourth World

Isabelle Pypaert Perrin

Following the overview of ATD’s work around the world in this past year, let us now consider the long-term impact of this work for families living in extreme poverty. Let us explore what can be accomplished by sharing daily life alongside these families in the most disadvantaged communities and by building partnerships with them. Let us look at the pathways needed for a rights-based approach to be integrated into daily life.

On visiting Haiti recently, I was impressed by the changes in the lives of many families I had met there twenty-five years ago. At that time, when I was part of ATD’s team in Haiti, these families were living in extreme poverty. Today, life is still hard and I cannot help thinking of some of the young people from these same families who have fallen victim to the violence in their community. Despite this, housing conditions have improved for many. Even more importantly, children have been able to learn in school, and some have completed secondary school or even gone beyond that. So parents have fulfilled the dreams of education they had for their children: they have passed on values of integrity and solidarity, thus widening their children’s world view and developing their abilities. Twenty-five years ago, this was unimaginable even in our most optimistic dreams. The question today is what opportunities Haitian society will offer to these young graduates who are so full of potential.

Leave no one behind

I remember the path that brought us to this point. Our team searched for a project to undertake with families who lived from crisis to crisis, just barely eking out a living, trying to put food on the table, and struggling through illness. None of us had a solution or a predefined program to propose. What guided us was the ethos of respecting each person’s dignity, leaving no one behind, and giving the highest priority to people in the deepest poverty.

What we offered these families was a movement to take part in: the opportunity to speak freely and make common purpose with others who were building solidarity, both locally and around the world. Our project allowed the sharing of knowledge as a way to highlight people’s own knowledge and abilities beyond a daily life focused on struggling for survival. At the same time, we worked with the families to lay the groundwork for them to have basic security in their lives. We restructured and readjusted our projects. One step involved a twenty-year partnership with the Ecumenical Mutual-Help Service to ensure that the health clinic they had opened in the neighbourhood would succeed in caring for all people, including the most destitute. Then support for this grew. Allies of ATD launched an association to expand a scholarship program.

The heart of ATD’s work over the years has been a project for health and education, including a pre-school, a health insurance system, and an early childhood education project called “Welcome Babies”, which also combats malnutrition. Since the 1990s, ATD Volunteer Corps members have joined with a few close partners to offer a form of a social protection floor, while systematically giving priority to the very poorest families.

On my visit to Port-au-Prince, a mother who brought her 18-month-old to “Welcome Babies” told me how overjoyed she was by her child’s good health. In fact, this mother who lost her five other babies, including twins, insisted that her youngest child has survived thanks only to ATD. When will the world finally eradicate the scandal of children dying because of deep poverty?

This struggle continues day after day; but what should the next step be? How should we use our experience in Haiti in advocating for a universal social protection floor? How can our collaboration with others help us to find new partners who could work with us to extend to other places the approach that underlies our community work in Haiti? How can we make it possible for young people full of potential to be useful to their country and to the world, instead of dreaming only of emigrating, a dream that erodes the country’s strength?

In Madagascar, the Central African Republic, the Philippines, and other countries, we try as in Haiti to offer our movement as a forum for people in deep poverty to come together with their compatriots, while also contributing to the development of social protection, quality education for all, and decent work for all that respects people and the environment.

Reinforcing ATD Fourth World’s Common Ambitions

This challenge was at the heart of our programme of Common Ambitions 2013-17, which members of ATD Fourth World from every continent contributed to. Starting from its central focus, “Reaching out to those whose contribution is still missing”, the Common Ambitions have three priorities:

  1. Building knowledge and accessing education – every mind counts.
  2. Shaping a people-centred and earth-friendly economic vision.
  3. Organizing for human rights and peace.

These priorities reflect our long-term focus, and will continue beyond 2018. Nevertheless, in the coming year, we will take stock of what we have achieved and consider what we may need to change or reinforce given our own experiences and the changing world context.

This report has detailed the progress we have made towards the priority of organising for human rights and peace through our ongoing international advocacy, the Stop Poverty campaign, and the World Day for Overcoming Poverty. The projects addressing the first two priorities, on education and economic vision, will be evaluated, examined, and publicised.

Through several economic projects, we are continuing to experiment and to learn how to run a social business that gives priority to people in the deepest poverty. In France, our “Districts With No Long-Term Unemployment” project creates jobs and scales up the experience gained in community micro-projects. Everywhere, ATD continues to challenge people working on environmentally friendly fair-trade initiatives by asking: How do their projects take into account the intelligence of people most oppressed by poverty? How do they aim to reinforce solidarity and to ensure that their work does not simply empower the people who are easiest to reach within a low-income population?

Concerning education, several research or evaluation projects are underway. In Tanzania, our participatory research showed that, faced with the challenge of how all children can succeed in school, parents, teachers, and other educators can collaborate as allies to increase school registration and lower absenteeism. In June 2018, an international seminar on education will allow us to draw lessons from other successes in this area. Volunteers, parents in poverty, teachers, and educators in touch with ATD’s teams in fifteen countries will meet to gain perspective on their work and to learn together from the projects carried out in recent years. They will come from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Indian Ocean, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America.

ATD’s education priority includes several goals: developing children’s taste for learning and their confidence in their ability to learn; promoting partnership between parents in poverty and educators; creating synergy between scholastic knowledge and what children learn in daily life with their family; and promoting pedagogies of cooperation. Through the collective work done on these three priorities and by consulting and collaborating with our members around the world, we will update the documents describing ATD Fourth World’s Common Ambitions for 2018-2022.

Two new projects

– The research described in this report about understanding the dimensions of poverty in all its forms continues in 2018. Our partnerships with Oxford University and an international advisory panel guarantee the scientific quality of the work and ensure it reflects the standards of the United Nations and other significant international institutions. The findings of the research will be made available in June 2019, following which we will invest energy to make the relevance of this study and its outcomes known to the UN and other international institutions.

– In every region of the world where ATD has teams, the question of being able to live together as a family is a fundamental issue. Deep poverty leads children to leave their village in hopes of surviving better in a city. Adults flee unemployment, poverty, or war and go abroad, often leaving behind their children and partners. Some parents entrust their children to institutions because they lack material resources. Others have their children removed by social services because they are not deemed capable of raising them. To follow up on our international participatory research project “Extreme Poverty Is Violence – Breaking the Silence – Searching for Peace”, we propose a new phase to explore questions related to the the rights of children to live with their families.

Building a movement where we sustain long-term motivation

Very early in ATD’s history, Joseph Wresinski alerted us to the crucial importance of keeping our promises. Throughout history, so many promises to people in deep poverty have been broken, whether by individuals or governments. He said,

“No doubt, it is sometimes difficult to consider what is possible now and in the future; but if we commit ourselves to helping our neighbours, we must remain beside them to fulfil our promises.”

Joseph Wresinski, founder ATD Fourth World

It is not enough for us to have a central focus and clear priorities. In order to keep the promise of striving to overcome poverty and social exclusion, we also need to mobilise people, including funders, and to have a high quality of internal governance.

To help achieve our goals, we plan the following actions:

  • In October 2018, ATD Fourth World will organise a session for our members from around the world to explore the experience of the participants in collaborating on our governance in ways that ensure that people in the worst situations of poverty influence decisions about our central focus and our daily functioning. Our governance also needs to ensure that all of us support one another and that we work together to guarantee that everyone has real access to fundamental rights.
  • In 2017, ATD’s international leadership team collaborated with the national coordination team of ATD France and with the Board of ATD’s Foundation to plan for sustainable fundraising. In 2018, this work is being broadened to include ATD’s national coordinators from five other countries.
  • To make a long-term commitment to stand in solidarity with people in deep poverty, we need: Volunteer Corps members who give up their careers and offer their skills and availability in a long-term project; allies who challenge their social and professional peers; and activists who have a lived experience of poverty and who take risks to stand together with the poorest of their neighbours and with people in poverty around the world. One of our main priorities is to ensure that our grass-roots teams have the means to welcome and train a new generation of Volunteer Corps members, as well as to offer opportunities for all our members to meet one another and to pool their experience and expertise.

The world today faces major challenges linked to peace, justice, the environment, and respect for the inalienable dignity of all people — men and women, elderly people and children, whatever their origin or ethnicity. To address these challenges, we need a lasting partnership with people in deep poverty. It is they who know from experience what it feels like to be left behind or oppressed and who can point the way toward a society without exclusion, without domination, without exploitation, and with protection for the earth.