Persons living in poverty are agents of change

To mark the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers established by the United Nations, Philippe Hamel, a permanent ATD Fourth World volunteer, produced eight short films in 2011, some of which appear in the web-documentary "Unheard Voices".

Are issues surrounding the involvement of the poorest sectors of society dealt with in the same way in all countries?

Although living conditions vary from one country to the next, I think certain issues are universal: the place of people living in poverty in society, the desire to pitch in, the way in which projects are developed with or without them etc. At the beginning of 2011, ATD Fourth World launched a project to introduce citizens to new technologies in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, in the North of France. A number of members saw the short film "New technologies for all in Madagascar", which portrays trainers, businesses and interns (some of whom live in a rubbish dump) doing all they can to ensure that everyone completes the two years of training. In Nord-Pas-de-Calais. People were saying: "ATD Fourth World is offering us Internet workshops, but if there are too many problems, will it help us to continue?" These were the very same questions posed in Madagascar.

The films you have produced always show people in action.

In France, for electoral purposes, some have claimed that people in extreme poverty are fraudsters, that they constitute a financial burden on society. Our films show quite the opposite, that people living in poverty are, with the proper support, true agents of change. In Maubeuge, in the North of France, on income support payment day, there are people who reach out to those waiting in line at the Post Office to inform them of their rights, in particular their right to accommodation. In Rwanda, persons suffering extreme deprivation lend a hand in construction work. In their words: "Every drop of my sweat that falls in my neighbour's field is a gesture of reconciliation." In countries such as France, Haiti, the US and Senegal—all over the world—people living in extreme poverty rally and take action for change, but their commitment goes unrecognised. All anti-poverty and development projects, from north to south, should be aware of the headway people in extreme poverty have already made.

Interview by Jean-Christophe Sarrot