Help for all distressed: ATD Fourth World is at the heart of volunteering.

Author:Fagergren, Anna

"Together, knowing that we all are people, we can strengthen humanity by respecting each other", reflects Paul, a young Tanzanian from a community of very poor families who lived in abandoned ships in Dar es Salaam. Because his community could only be reached at low tide, and only those who lived near the local port knew they existed, both he and his message took a bit of effort to discover. But from his physical and social isolation, this young man was able to convey the commitment of the most excluded to ensuring that everyone has access to and can exercise the full range of human rights.


In spite of the marginalization and near-invisibility of these families, an ATD Fourth World volunteer was able over time to develop a relationship with them. Through repeated visits, he learned about how the families lived in isolation from both wider society and basic social services such as health care and education. But through the relationship that developed with this young Tanzanian and others, the volunteer also learned that the very poor have the energy and ability to mobilize around projects that improve lives in their own community and in the greater world. For example, a group of poor youths in Dar es Salaam travelled from where they worked in a fish market to Mwereni Primary School in Moshi, where they helped to renovate a school for blind children. For some, this was their first encounter with education, and in testament to the impression made, one youth returned as an adult to teach at the school. Another said: "We ourselves live in a difficult situation, but we went there because we needed them [the blind students] to feel strong again ... to have the strength to face their difficulties. We may not have work or a place to sleep, but we volunteered our efforts."

Yet, no matter how much they strive to assume duties and roles as members of the greater community, their poverty keeps them in isolation. Extreme poverty is characterized by the accumulation of mutually reinforcing types of insecurities that tend to intensify one another. A man who lived on a ship illustrated how the many things he lacked, including adequate health care, productive employment and understanding from the outside world, work together to make his life difficult. "I worked the whole day for just one meal as compensation", he says, speaking of a month during which he suffered recurrent bouts of fever. "Other people pretend we are content living here. Do they know we dream of living in a real house?" Although he comes from the United...

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