From my neighbourhood to the UN

When I met Kofi Annan (UN)

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When I met Kofi Annan (UN)

Years of struggle had long honed Aling Tita's powerful sense of solidarity. Her neighbors rely on her in many ways. She often supports parents trying to enroll their children in school, or applying for administrative papers from the City Hall. She plays a key role in making it possible for ATD Fourth World to run a Street Library in her community. Marilyn says, “I know also how much Aling Tita dreams that all kids in her community can access school at a very young age and so she tries to go out of her way, making links with other non-profits and government organizations to see what programs are out there for the children living in her area. It is her way to show that they are part of a larger society and that these children have the same rights as any other children in the Philippines.” Aling Tita's experience as an Activist had given her the confidence to represent others, to share the hidden realities of their lives, and their common hopes for the future.

When in 2005, ATD Fourth World had an opportunity to meet with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Aling Tita Villarosa was one of the delegates who traveled to New York. This event was a chance for world leaders and people living in extreme poverty to reflect together.

Here is a piece of her own memory of that day in 2005 :

"Everybody was happy, the meeting was finished, we had a picture-taking in which I was beside Mr. Kofi Annan—but before that I challenged the Secretary-General. I planned it myself. Everybody had shared their experience in their country. In my turn, I sat beside the Secretary-General. We each had two minutes' time to tell the experience of poverty. Talking to Mr. Annan, I held his hands and was straight looking into his eyes. I said: “Mr. Secretary General, many people think that the poor depend on institutions and governments for help. What they don't know is that in the poorest communities, people help one another every day. To overcome extreme poverty, the poor themselves have to be involved. Let us be partners together when you are working on security, development and human rights for all. Let us put together our knowledge, yours and ours. Let us no longer work separately, but as one.” Then when I stopped talking, he answered me: “Yes, you're right.” Everybody was happy, glad, and I told them going to New York was not a waste of time, instead it was a very successful time with us. This experience I can't forget in my life because a woman like me in a cemetery was able to meet people in other places of the world and learn much from them."

Aling Tita and the others present had asked the Secretary-General for support concerning the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which was in some parts of the world beginning to be distorted into a day “about poverty” with no place for the voices of people living in poverty. Mr. Annan promised, “You can count on me and on the United Nations” to launch a participatory evaluation of this day with both governments and people living in poverty, and to recenter the day in a way that brings everyone together to strive toward peace. He did not let Aling Tita down. The participatory evaluation was carried out and led to his 2006 report1 in which he concluded:

The International Day has been observed around the world as a day to remember and honor the daily struggles of people living in poverty. It represents an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts and struggles of people living in poverty, a chance for them to make their concerns heard and a moment to recognize that poor people are in the forefront in the fight against poverty.