World Poverty Day

On December 22nd, 1992, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared October 17th ‘’International Day for the Eradication of Poverty’’ – something that had been sought since the same date in 1987 when over 100,000 poor and excluded people had gathered at the Plaza of Human Rights and Liberties at the Trocadero in Paris. They had congregated there to hear a priest, Father Joseph Wresinski, promise them that together, along with friends who would support their side in refusing to accept their condition, all would do something constructive about their plight by taking it to those institutions where the future of humanity is debated and decided such as the United Nations.

Who was this extraordinary man who attracted such a vast crowd and how did he come to vow such an assurance of future recognition? Father Wresinski (1917-1988) was born into and brought up in extreme poverty himself before he joined the Church. In 1956 he went to work as a priest to the congregation at Noisy-le-Grand, which was then (and still is now) an emergency site for homeless families on the outskirts of Paris. There, Father Joseph was shocked to find that the people who made up the encampment were starving in a shanty-town of tents, shacks and Nissan-type houses made from cloth, cardboard, wood and tin. There was one water pump for the thousands who barely existed there in this last-chance ghetto where ‘problem families’ are still sent to try and sort out their troubles, and where they can live together as a family unit. Otherwise, after a six- month ‘trial’, the families are broken up and sent their separate ways by the French authorities.

In Noisy, Father Joseph decided to do something about the occupant’s abject poverty and formed an association with the families there that would later become the ATD (‘Aid in Total Distress’) Fourth World Movement. From this, and an ever increasing number of citizens supporting their cause, came the 1987 meeting at the Trocadero, and the unveiling of a Commemorative Stone which was laid where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948. This spot was also chosen in homage to the victims of poverty throughout the world. On the Stone is inscribed both the conviction that extreme poverty is a violation of human rights, and an affirmation that wherever this is met, the ATD (and people and organisations with similar goals) will come together to ensure that these rights are respected.

From that day, people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and social origins, have gathered at selected sites on the same date every year, to renew their commitment to and show their solidarity with the very poor. The Braendam Link Trust Glasgow (founded in 1977), which has a like ethos and the same family oriented aims as the ATD, will appear at George Square on the 17th October to commemorate the above annual gathering in Glasgow where it will show its solidarity and support of the ATD’s aims, and of those other organisations such as Oxfam, War on Want and the Church, who have similar goals.

Finally, the Braendam will be there to demonstrate that, with their and their friends help, members of the ‘underclass’ are not helpless victims of structural circumstances. Further, that by becoming involved in social, political and economic activities, the poor of any area can organise themselves in such a fashion as to show that their collective power is real and that they can do something constructive with this power to help ameliorate or in fact eradicate their own poverty and that of those around them.