With My Own Two Hands, I Can Change the World | Ben Harper

This article is imported from our 2017 Stop Poverty Campaign web site.

“Whether it sings of love or suffering, whether it sings of dreams or memories — beneath its words, the human voice sings always about longing for dignity.”

This was how, in 1987, ATD Fourth World founder Joseph Wresinski invited singers to take part in the first World Day for Overcoming Poverty in Paris, a day that is now celebrated every year all over the world.


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Now, in 2017, thousands of singers around the world are involved in ATD’s Stop Poverty campaign. They are singing of the tremendous longing of people who live in appalling circumstances, a longing not to curse the world, but to find beauty, harmony, and peace. This may puzzle some people who don’t know poverty and hardship. Yet a marvelous part of our human heritage has been given to us by downtrodden people. The most excluded people have brought forth songs of resistance, courage, and tenderness. People living in deep poverty, people held in slavery, in prison, and in forced labour have sung, not of their bitterness, but of their invincible hope to express their human dignity.

As we planned the Stop Poverty campaign, our ATD team in Thailand told us, “We love your idea of expressing what we have to say through singing. It’s terrific, but you should get together with Playing for Change. They run a music school in the neighbourhood where ATD first started working here. They make videos of songs from around the world that show how all humanity is linked.” Our teams in Burkina Faso, Spain, and the United States all told us that recording a song with Playing for Change would be a dream come true.

We managed to reach Mark Johnson, the founder of Playing for Change, and his team. They were clearly excellent musicians, but also people who had a lot of experience working for social justice. One of them said that as long as people do not change the way they see one another, even if they work alongside people in deep poverty, they will get nowhere. “In ATD you try to do both,” they told us. “We want to work with you.” They know that there are wonderful musicians in deprived neighbourhoods who want nothing more than to share their songs, and they were glad when we invited them to join us in places where they wouldn’t have been able to go alone.

Today we are proud to be able to share with you the video co-produced by Playing for Change and ATD Fourth World. Thanks to financial support from many friends to cover travel and production costs, Playing for Change visited ATD projects around the world: the Courtyard of a Hundred Trades in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; the Babies Welcome early childhood centre in Haiti; and summer Festivals of Learning in Madrid and Montreal. Also, in Manila, the Philippines, they met the Minstrels of Hope and visited their cultural project. Everywhere, they found young people who love music, who adored the song “With My Two Hands, I Can Change the World” (Ben Harper), and who participated wholeheartedly in the project.

Some of these young people have suffered the worst that poverty can do; yet through music they proclaim that they can change the world. And if they say that, how can we not believe them and follow their example? With your two hands and my two hands — with all our hands together — we truly can change the world.

For the Stop Poverty campaign team,

Bruno Tardieu, Philippe Huet

From Burkina Faso to Haiti: Some of the musicians who appear in the video

Ahmed, Alassane, Ousseini, and Roger, young people from Burkina Faso, got to know one another at ATD’s Courtyard of a Hundred Trades. The Courtyard provides a place of respite for children who ended up living in the streets after leaving their villages in search of a better life in the city. At the Courtyard, they have the chance to grow up together. They can start school again and find support if they want to renew contact with their families and the villages they left. At the Courtyard, they began to play music together and became musicians “to write songs that would reach people’s hearts with a message of peace”. They agreed immediately to contribute to the video in order to make ATD better known and to reach thousands of people who don’t know about the hope carried by people living in poverty.


New Song Around Coming soon! #StopPoverty

We have partnered with ATD Fourth World, an organization fighting poverty, and we have a NEW #SongAroundTheWorld coming next week!!This is #PeaceThroughMusic, One Love!

Publiée par Playing For Change sur Vendredi 6 octobre 2017

Roger said, “We get inspiration from reality. You can’t really talk about something if you haven’t experienced it. You can’t say that the desert has an oasis if you haven’t crossed the desert yourself. All of us have crossed the desert of poverty. A new road opened to me thanks to encouragement from the Courtyard of a Hundred Trades and what I learned there. Hearing about Father Joseph [Wresinski] also inspired me to form my own ideas. So why shouldn’t I sing about all that?”

When Roger was younger, he was one of many children to contribute a stone during an Tapori campaign in support of children’s rights. Along with his stone, Roger wrote this message: “I don’t sleep in a room, but on stones. I found this stone right next to the great mosque where we often hang out.  My heart is in this stone.”

Some years earlier, Roger, full of hope, had left his village 250 miles away from the capital. He expected to find work in order to send money back to support his parents, who lived in deep poverty in the village. But in the capital, he found many other children who were also looking for work and rarely found any. They worked as porters and shoe shiners; they watched over other people’s motorcycles. The few coins they earned were not enough to buy their own food. At nightfall, Roger and his friends would meet to sleep, right on the stones, at a vacant lot near a mosque.

Life was very hard. Sometimes there were fights, and most people had no use for street children. “They call us children of the street”, Roger said, “but the street doesn’t have children!” Roger missed his family but he didn’t want to go home; he couldn’t go home, not empty-handed.

One day, a friend introduced Roger to some adults in a courtyard where potters, sculptors, and other artisans taught children their trades. Roger learned how to make toys, which he gave to government-funded day care centres. Finally he had found an opportunity to learn and to give something to others. It was at the Courtyard that Roger heard about the campaign encouraging children all over the world to send in a stone as a symbolic gesture of support for children’s rights. For the first time, Roger heard that, even in rich countries, there were children who had nothing. He also learned about Joseph Wresinski, who had lived in poverty as a child yet had grown up to found ATD Fourth World. Wresinski often served as an inspiration for songs the children wrote. Roger’s life continued to be very hard. Yet in spite of everything, he kept alive his determination not to give in to bitterness but to try to bring peace to other people’s lives.

Give Your Support

A New Song Around The World coming soon.

We are very happy to announce that we will be releasing a new Song Around The World tomorrow, in collaboration with ATD Fourth World, an organization dedicated to helping people overcome poverty. Learn more about their mission at: http://www.atd-fourthworld.org/stop-poverty/

Publiée par Playing For Change sur Dimanche 8 octobre 2017

On the other side of the Atlantic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean-François Gay was also enthusiastic about ATD’s video project. Jean-François was born in a shantytown in Martissant and has lived his whole life in that neighbourhood, where ATD has worked for thirty years. For years, the United Nations has designated Martissant a “no-go zone”, warning international aid organizations to avoid the neighborhood for their own safety. Even after the 2010 earthquake, relief workers did not go there.

Jean-François’s mother was one of the first people in Martissant who became involved with ATD. She always supported families who were in the greatest difficulty and organized a committee that encouraged residents to express themselves as a group. She also organized the tèt ansanm project to develop community programs, especially for children. Every year this committee organizes a commemoration ceremony on 17 October, the World Day for Overcoming Poverty. Jean-François has also worked alongside ATD Fourth World’s Haiti team carrying out aid and rescue work during the many crises that the country has faced over the years.

Today, Jean-François is a member of the committee and, at the request of people in the neighbourhood, he composed a song, “Verses in Honour of the Fourth World”, based on a speech Joseph Wresinski gave on the first World Day for Overcoming Poverty, 17 October, 1987.

Jean-François has adored singing ever since he was a child. He got his love of music from his father, a musician who passed away in his prime. Self-taught in music, Jean-François writes lyrics and melodies inspired by what he sees around him, especially young people he knows. He also finds inspiration in the writings of Joseph Wresinski, in particular a story entitled “A Young Boy Caught in the Vicious Circle of Violence”.

“Extreme poverty is a form of violence in so many ways”, Jean-François says. “What’s most important is to recognize that we are human beings, and that we should live like human beings. Each person has something to offer humanity and, therefore, should have the same opportunities as others. It is only through working together that human rights will finally be respected. I don’t have a lot of money, but through my music I can tell people that everyone has the right to a decent life, that we can work together, that we can live alongside one another as a community. That’s what I want to do with my music.

“I’d rather sing than talk. If I can put people’s trouble and pain into music, maybe it can help the world. Most of my songs talk about coming together, and how there should be a place in the world for everybody.”

No matter who we are or where we come from, we can find inspiration in the words and songs of the young people in this video, words that carry us over the seemingly insurmountable barriers that separate us.

We can be inspired by the message of Ben Harper’s song “With My Own Two Hands”, played by musicians around the globe. With all our hands together, we can put an end to poverty and build a more just and peaceful world where no one is left behind.