In many instances, I think that society values large-scale achievements far more often than individual ones. For instance, a country’s school attendance rates are scrutinized with no regard for the efforts of disadvantaged parents for their family’s survival. Or, when a country’s economy becomes stronger, the president or the minister of the economy is lauded for merit by the international community. But no one thinks about the farm workers who cultivated many hectares of land with their own hands.
When society evaluates reasons for its success, the weakest people are often forgotten. This might be due to fact that it can be hard to notice the worth of each individual and their acts of courage when examining broad and one-dimensional socioeconomic factors, such as production or output during a given period, or the number of children who completed a full school year in a certain country. As a result, success is more generally attributed to more distinguished members of society (usually government representatives).These were some of the thoughts that crossed my mind following an international workshop for young people, hosted by ATD Fourth World, in the Great Lakes region of Tanzania in March. Attendees of the event came from different countries, including Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, France, Israel and Ethiopia. The workshop was called “Learning and committing together to be friends to the friendless”. (Click here to learn more about the workshop.)
It used a method called Learning from Success, suggested by Orna Shemer, who facilitated the workshop. This method made me ponder the difference between shared success and individual success. I am not in favour of bragging. But when a few influential people take credit for a society’s success, they give the impression of having prevailed on their own. This can give disenfranchised people the impression that they are good for nothing.
Because I have made an ongoing commitment to people in extreme poverty, I have realized that one of the greatest challenges they face is the fact that they are not recognized for their courage, their existence, their dignity, or their worth.
In the Learning from Success approach, we began with the experiences of each participant in order to draw out common lessons. One of these lessons—“Do not get discouraged”—reminded me of something that happened five years ago. I was visiting a mother and her three children. As we were talking, her seven-year-old daughter told me: “My mother is like a chicken. You know, when a chicken is with her chicks, she cannot eat. She pecks at grains only for her little ones. Yesterday, my mother did not eat anything. She said that there was not enough food to go around.”
That day, I was completely blown away by this mother’s disappointment and shame about her station in life. I saw how people in harsh and precarious situations often despair and end up believing that nothing they do in life can succeed. And yet, there are many examples of their successes.
This lesson has better prepared me to show them what they have accomplished. From now on, when I see that a person is overcome with disappointment, instead of groping for the right thing to say, I will remind them of times when something they did made a difference for others. Doing this will allow each person to take pride in their own worth and to feel self-esteem.
In so doing, everybody can renew their courage to follow their own path and continue their own struggle, even when nobody else will acknowledge their worth. At the same time, I believe that wealthier people, in comparison to those with less, have far more resources to manage to succeed. And because people in poverty do make a difference despite having virtually no resources, they are the ones who should be lauded for merit by the international community.
Bagunda MUHINDO René, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 2016.
Translation by Josh Weiner, edited by Jessie Kaliski and Diana Skelton