Dignity in Dialogue- Zoom session

This week the ATD Ireland team supported by the Presentation Sisters and the Christian Brothers presented a series of Understanding the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty workshops in collaboration with the Margaret Alyward Centre. See here to read about a workshop we carried out with 30 students from St. Mary’s Holy Faith Secondary School.   We completed these ‘dignity in dialogue’ workshops with an online zoom session on the evening of Thursday 18th February.  Attended by friends and members of ATD UK and Ireland, the Presentation Sisters and the Christian Brothers and the Margaret Aylward Centre, along with members of the general public, this was an enlightening, engaging and educational evening.   Martin began by asking the group to reflect on the strengths that can be seen within struggling communities.  This question inspired community activist Gavin to speak on the many bright spots and assets he sees within his community which are too often overlooked.

“Darndale has been stigmatized by the gardai, the media- I found it difficult to branch out with my cv because of the name Darndale.  There is a good sense of community with the youth, the spirit of the community is good I lived there for 10 years and I’m proud to say I’m from there”

Another guest reflected on the love and generosity he sees particularly in the grandmothers, mothers and older women from struggling communities.

“There is a huge amount of goodness from the older women anyway.  I’ve seen grandmothers that came out of SVP, that took in children which would have been a huge impact on her so she had a huge amount of goodness”.

Stuart and Isabelle discussed how their experience with community activists over the years showed the immense warmth, kindness and willingness to give back that is inherent in so many of those with an experience of poverty.

“Teresa was looked down on by people because she was homeless, she would sit down with young people who were becoming homeless for the first time, stand beside people and put her hands on their shoulder to let them know she wanted to know their story.  She would give them phone numbers to help them to find somewhere to stay for the night.  She showed us what a really good social worker should be not judging them listening to them.”

The root causes need to change for leaves on the tree to blossom 🌸”

Ciara then introduced the hidden dimensions of poverty tree graphic, provoking an interesting discussion on the cycle of poverty, the impacts of living in poverty and in particular its root causes.

There was an overall consensus that the roots including structural inequalities, politics, economics and lack of opportunity “show the deeper causes of poverty” and we “have to address the leaves and the roots together”

It was also pointed out that each of us have a role to play and we are all at risk of becoming complicit to the structures that exist and shape our society

“I am what I am because we are what we are- we accept impacts of poverty as normal.  The cycle of poverty is there because we accept it, we get a guilty conscious because we accept it”

The real-life implications of these ideas were demonstrated by Gavin who generously shared his wisdom on the matters of youth crime and the criminal justice system.

“The government and the police don’t want people to stop committing crime, you wouldn’t need as much judges, police, solicitors [if there was no crime]. People get arrested under section 4 of the liquor intoxication act, and people with mental health difficulties are arrested.  They want to keep the prison systems going and going and use taxpayer’s money”

“When the gardai are trained in Templemore if they want to become successful- it’s all to do with their conviction rates.  They target the homeless which increases their conviction rates – this will hit their promotion. Store street has the highest number of arrests in any country. I was targeted from living in Darndale since the age of 12”.

We then viewed the ATD Ireland ‘What does poverty mean?’ video showing views and understandings of poverty from people from all walks of life.

ATD UK community activist Lareine responded to the video with what struck her based on her own lived experiences.

“I love that film, what struck me was the lack of choice- when you live in poverty there are not many choices for you. You cannot go on holiday the only time you can go when kids are on holiday when prices are low. When you go shopping, healthy foods are expensive – you are pushed to buy the unhealthy foods- this affects you in the long term.  Basically, it’s really difficult”.

“Another thing that struck me was the stigma. That stops you from working you just live on benefits and you are portrayed as a lazy person.  The newspapers they are doing the big damage”.

Others found that the video demonstrates the value of community activists speaking out and sharing their stories.  This sparked an important question from Seamus “What does it mean to be an activist- what keeps you standing up and speaking out on behalf of other people?” resulting in two powerful responses from ATD UK and Ireland community activists:

Gavin: “It’s embedded in my soul – I grew up in a one parent household and we were forced into that area [that is] the most impoverished statistically. I suffered poor mental health and low self-esteem. When I was 17/ 18 I knew I had to seek help when I had my daughter.  I never knew about love until I opened a bible… I brought my uncle Paul to the 17 October event. My passion is to speak about youth, especially youth in hostels. I admire the ATD movement all around the world. All walks of life, we are all equal.”

Patricia: “To me being an activist is standing up in front of powerful people getting my point across and getting listened to. The environment ATD brings, you are not afraid to speak out.”

After a viewing of the Lockdown Liberties video, we paid reference to the SDG’s and the Leave No One Behind report (Read the full report here).  In particular the important link between SDG 1 and 3, no poverty and health and wellbeing, respectively was mentioned.  This provided context for the video testimonies setting out lived experiences of poverty and socio- economic discrimination of three community activists which were then shown.

“Your magic wand is the empowerment we witnessed tonight”.

We ended the workshop on hopes for the future and a call to action which led to some powerful final words.

“Reflect the generosity and compassion which those who have least, and suffer most demonstrate on a daily basis”.

“To provide opportunity for the government to hear about real life experiences”.

“The fact that we can speak out- that gives us the hope”.

“Leadership which is focused on the people who need it most”.

“Change starts at the edge”.

Thank you to everyone who attended the online workshop and contributed in any way.  We would particularly like to thank the Margaret Aylward Centre, the Christian Brothers and Presentation sisters and the community activists who openly shared their stories.  These workshops have been an immense learning process and important insights have been taken from all who took part. It is hoped that this is only the beginning of these sessions and we will continue to find more opportunities to continue these impactful and necessary conversations.

Find the Hidden Dimensions of Poverty educational resource app here