These testimonies are a powerful reminder of the human indignities that lie at the heart of poverty and why effective approaches to poverty reduction matter.
The Millennium Development Goals aim to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. But for many low-income countries, debt relief and multilateral aid hinge on developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) – an approach promoted by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Panos London is examining the effectiveness of the PRSP process, in particular the engagement of the poor in the development and implementation of these strategies, and the role of the media in enhancing transparency, accountability and ownership of the process.
As part of this, we worked with partners to collect a series of oral testimonies from communities in Pakistan, Zambia, Kenya and Mozambique, for whom poverty is a daily reality.
Their accounts – vivid and direct, full of detail – are a powerful reminder of the human indignities that lie at the heart of poverty and why effective approaches to poverty reduction matter. They illustrate the many different ways that poverty affects people and reveal the ingenuity and resourcefulness they have to employ simply to meet basic needs, and the challenges they face in pursuing their rights. Through these stories, men and women in rural and urban communities present their own perspectives on the factors that keep people poor.
These spoken accounts come straight from the heart of those coping with poverty every day. While discussions and documents on PRSPs are often technical and hard to understand for the non-specialist, the testimonies bring to life the reality of poverty and its daily oppressions.
Each country team consisted of several journalists (print and broadcast) as well as community workers living in or working with the communities where interviews were gathered.
In each country, a six-day training workshop was conducted, during which the teams learned about the different skills involved in oral testimony collection. They also participated in discussions covering the ethical issues involved, key elements of the PRSP process, and the background to the narrators’ communities and their concerns.
Few of the city-based journalists had previously had the opportunity to visit the poor, often rural, communities that are among the most disadvantaged of their societies. For many, the experience of carrying out oral testimony interviews significantly altered the way they viewed poverty. They gained fresh insights on how poverty affects the lives of individuals, resulting in new angles, sources and story ideas.
Our partner in Mozambique was MISA-Mozambique, which is a member of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a non-governmental organisation working to promote a free, independent, pluralistic and sustainable media environment as well as the right to information in Southern Africa.
The interviewers included radio and print journalists, members of several national NGOs that work on issues around gender, HIV and AIDS, and the União Nacional de Camponeses – the national small farmers’ movement.
Panos Southern Africa and MISA will promote these testimonies in Mozambique as part of a range of activities aiming to promote poor people’s experiences. These include a journalists’ seminar on improving coverage of poverty issues and a stakeholders’ debate. The testimonies will be also taken back to the communities where they were collected and discussed with community members.
In Kenya our partner was Abantu for Development. Journalists published articles in the national press, including the Standard and the Daily Nation. Participating journalists from Radio Simba and Radio Waumini produced several talk shows based on the testimonies they collected and invited Abantu to speak on radio programmes.
An information-sharing workshop was also held in Kajiado district, where the Oloitokitok interviews were gathered. This was organised in conjunction with the Pastoralists Development Education Programme (PADEP) and aimed to increase awareness of government processes and structures, especially those that relate to issues of poverty and rights.
Abantu and PADEP also held a Gender and Governance Hearing, at which they shared their findings and created opportunities for narrators and others to communicate their perspectives. Participants included MPs, civic leaders and policy makers, as well as members of CBOs and self-help groups. Both events attracted media coverage.
Abantu continues to use the material generated by the oral testimony project to inform their lobbying for the implementation of poverty reduction strategies that incorporate the needs of people living in poverty, and also for their advocacy and networking activities, particularly in the area of human rights and gender.
Our partners in Pakistan were Panos South Asia and Shirkat Gah, a national NGO working for women’s empowerment and social justice.
Several of the journalists published print features in the local and national press, a television programme was filmed and broadcast, and a piece of community theatre was devised – all based on the interviews. Shirkat Gah also produced two Urdu newsletters featuring extracts from the testimonies, which were widely distributed.
The theatre piece was performed at a highly successful People’s Assembly in Manchar where the issues raised by the narrators were debated by the community, media, NGOs and local government officials. The event attracted nationwide media coverage.
In Zambia we worked with Panos Southern Africa and the Youth Development Organisation, an NGO based in Choma, which aims to provide young people with life skills.
The interviewing team included local radio and national print journalists as well as a TV journalist, who produced features based on the interviews they conducted. A television feature about one of the communities was produced and broadcast by the Zambia National Broadcasting Cooperation.