Photo: Gizmodo

Thursday, June 24, 2010

France: The farce continues!

Today a colleague was supposed to be meeting President Sarkozy, alongside numerous other NGOs, at the Elysée ahead of his participation in the G8 and G20 in Canada next week. Among other things on the agenda was France's position regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), decisions on the progress of which are due to be taken following the September High-level summit at the UN in September.

However, "Sarko" has cancelled as he has more pressing matters to discuss, notably with Thierry "la main" Henry, who was granted a meeting with the President yesterday to discuss the farce which is French football.

Far be it from me to question the priorities of a President, but I happen to think that the millions of people whose lives and livelihoods are dependent on the extent to which Heads of State are properly informed of progress on the MDGs, would probably have prioritised differently.

If you are in any doubt as to the urgency of achieving the Goals that 189 Heads of State set themselves in 2000, then read this Time magazine article. 

Has anyone got Thierry Henry's email so that he can read the article out loud to Sarko?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Farewell to a champion of Human Rights (... and rugby, catapults and 2CVs)

Yesterday, people living in extreme poverty lost a great friend. His name won't appear in newspapers. It won't even appear on his grave. In solidarity with all those whom he accompanied in over 40 years of combat for extreme poverty to be recognised as a violation of human rights, our friend asked to be buried alongside those whose passing, in death as in life, goes unrecognised.

My friend had a knack for engaging people from all backgrounds in his combat, myself included. I was fortunate to have spent a month sharing an apartment with him in Brussels and found his enthusiasm for human rights contagious (not to mention rugby, catapults and 2CVs).

I was not alone. In the English city of Hull, he gathered around him people intrigued as to how they could support this effusive Frenchman: some marked by long-term poverty themselves, others drawn to this cause by such demonstrative displays of conviction that poverty can and must be eradicated.

In 2002, he stood alongside elected officials and members of ATD Fourth World from Hull, other cities across the UK and from other European cities, to inaugurate, in the city's Northern Cemetery, a commemorative headstone for all those who had died and had been buried in nameless graves.

Henri Bossan: your name may not be engraved in your final resting place. But it will be forever remembered by all of us whom you inspired to fight for the human rights of every person condemned to live in extreme poverty.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Le "vivre ensemble"

For the last few days I've been working and welcoming members of the organisation I work for who have come to France for our AGM. It's riveting to hear the diversity of their experiences, coming from as far afield as Peru to Philippines and Dublin to Dar Es Salam.

One of the main themes discussed was that of the right of people living in extreme poverty to participate and have a place at the table on discussions that directly affect them at the local, national and international level. We were fortunate to be able to attend a seminar on a French project concerning "Working, Learning and Living Together." A particularly dynamic expression of participation came from 3 women who are neighbours in an inner-city housing estate in the Parisian suburbs. Two were rehoused there with their families from having lived in bed and breakfasts and hostels. One chose to live there, as part of her commitment as a "full-time volunteer" to share and better understand the lives of people living in long-term poverty.

What was so interesting about this exchange was how genuine it was - an expression of the encounter between 3 women from diverse backgrounds but with a shared commitment to overcome extreme poverty. A positive expression of what the French call "le vivre ensemble" (poorly translated as "community relations"). The mums who'd previously been homeless before arriving at this housing project spoke of how initially they were just relieved to finally have a place to call their own. "Even if there had been a huge hole in the floor, I was just so happy to have my own front-door key and not have to worry about where we could cook a meal, what the social workers were thinking and whether they'd come to take the kids away." This was then a first step to getting involved in the community and having the courage to attend local participatory forums to speak out about issues that affect their lives - schooling, parenting, but also wider issues such as work or the environment.

Eradicating poverty doesn't only have to be about time-limited projects with concrete outputs and outcomes. It also passes through a coming together of people willing to learn and spend time to get to know people living in poverty. The local authority in this Paris suburb now wants to pull down the housing estate and build houses for "the poor".

Is the solution to build a new ghetto? Or to find news ways to promote and support efforts for a more sustainable and harmonious "vivre ensemble"?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

After the bulldozers

In my last post I spoke of how people living in extreme poverty are often displaced from their homes and livelihood in the name of "development". Surfing the blogosphere, I just came across on the Africa is a Country blog this short film by Charles “Stretch” Ledford, a University of Miami communications student and working photographer. Sadly, it illustrates all too well how the rights of people living in poverty can be so easily dispensed with. It makes the campaigns of organisations such as Amnesty International to raise awareness of the one billion people in the world who live in slums all the more pertinent.

Ajelogo: After the Bulldozers from Stretch Ledford on Vimeo.