A new collection of testimonies gathered from communities in Zambia and Pakistan powerfully convey the daily reality of poverty.
'People need jobs, it doesn't help just to be given mealie meal (maize meal) once in a while…' Benson, Zambia
'I advise every girl and every woman to stand up on her own feet, work hard and learn a craft. Now I do not depend on men… I have learnt to fight life with courage.' Salma, Pakistan
Published ahead of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October) – which this year focuses on "people living in poverty as agents of change" – the testimonies reveal people's ingenuity and resourcefulness in meeting their basic needs and pursuing their rights.
Many of the narrators from Zambia, for example, describe how they have diversified their income to help them survive; activities range from charcoal burning, brewing beer and carpentry to bicycle repair. The women interviewed emphasise the value of joining savings clubs and other community groups.
Utrina is in her mid-twenties and lives in Hamusunse village in Zambia's southern province of Choma. She says:
'We do have clubs… We try to teach each other how to improve our vegetable gardening… The Mango club for women: we weave baskets and sell them to raise funds for our members… People should join clubs, since this year there is hunger… they should register themselves so that they can buy seed at a reduced price.'
The testimonies were gathered as part of a wider project that examined the effectiveness of governments' poverty reduction strategies (known as PRSPs), including the extent to which poor people are actively engaged in their development and implementation.
While discussions and documents on PRSPs are often technical and hard to understand for the non-specialist, these spoken accounts come straight from the heart of those coping with poverty every day, and bring the issues that concern them to life.
The testimonies show that poverty has different faces in the two locations – for example, the human and economic cost of HIV and AIDS preoccupies the Zambian narrators. Nevertheless, a number of underlying concerns are common to both communities, such as the frustration of battling against entrenched power structures, and indifference and corruption among those meant to be representing their interests – 'Nobody listens to us,' says Hodat in Pakistan.
Lack of voice is just one way that poverty reinforces poverty, as these stories vividly illustrate. Fishing families around Manchar Lake in Pakistan, for example- whose livelihoods have been devastated by man-made pollution of the lake – find themselves locked into debt as a means of survival. Local traders buy their catch, often for less than market value; the same traders lend them money at high interest rates.
'[We] live by taking loans. Traders give us loans and their loan is never repaid,' says Allah Bux, a 50-year-old fisherman. 'It increases day by day…'
Panos London's head of oral testimony, Siobhan Warrington, says, "The value of these testimonies is that they are driven by what the narrators want to talk about. As a result they highlight not only the daily hardships of poverty but tell us what people actually living in poverty think needs to be done. These are the real voices that policy-makers should be listening to."
Notes to editors
Panos London is part of the worldwide Panos Network of independent institutes working to ensure information is used effectively to foster debate, pluralism and democracy.
The Living with poverty project is funded by Cordaid and SDC.