The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was celebrated at UN Headquarters Wednesday, October 17. The event was entitled, “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity.” It was co-sponsored by several NOG organizations, including ATD (All Together in Dignity) 4th World, UN organizations, and countries.
We were honored by the presence of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who addressed a large gathering in the UN lobby. “Let us remember that ending poverty is not a matter of charity but a question of justice,” the Secretary General said. He further noted that ending poverty is still one of the greatest of UN challenges and priorities.
Remarks were also offered by the Ambassador of France, Francois Delattre, who said, “We will win this battle” and Ambassador Yemdaogo Eric Tiare of Burkina Faso. Irish singers Susan McKeown and Michael Brunnock performed a song commissioned by ATD 4th World for the occasion, called, “Be the Change.” Mala & Dancers performed on the North Lawn of the UN Gardens.
The UN has a Commemorative Stone, dedicated to victims of poverty. The text was read in six UN languages by children and young people from the Hyde Leadership Charter School and Lycee Francais of New York. It was followed by a moment of silence around the Stone, then the symbolic placing of leaves on a human rights tree, accompanied by the UN Orchestra.
But perhaps the most telling remarks came from people who had experienced poverty. We heard how quarry workers in Tanzania don’t always come forward to ask for help. They would be so close to the heart of St. Vincent, who was conscious of the bashful poor.
The Tanzanian speaker called for acting and doing, not preaching. He further mentioned that coming together to eradicate poverty must include those affected by it. “They are often left behind,” he said, “but they have observations and opinions. When human rights are honored the world can be one of peace and love,” he said.
A speaker from Brooklyn, US, pointed out that some systems to assist persons in poverty seem designed more to prevent misuse then to lift people up. We further heard about Boston, in the US, where people can be cut off from benefits if they have more than $2,000. Yet saving up for an apartment can cost more than that.
One speaker could only get a tooth pulled at a dental school because she could not afford dental care. (While dental school services are most helpful, one would wish to have a choice in the type of care received). “There are so many faces of humanity being ignored,” she said.
Yet another speaker compared homelessness to being handcuffed.
The challenge of the 17th of October must not stop on that date. Each one of us are called to work at the eradication of poverty regardless of our mission or ministry.