Harvard Educational Review
  1. This Is How We Live and Tapori

    This Is How We Live: Listening to the Poorest Families
    by the International Movement ATD Fourth World
    Landover, MD: Fourth World Publications, 1995, 173 pp. $12.00 (paper).

    Tapori: A Children's Newsletter
    Landover, MD: Fourth World Publications. $10.00 per year.

    One of the greatest sources of history is people's stories. These stories increase our understanding of our lives and inform our policy decisions. But, unfortunately, the stories that are most often saved and retold are the stories of people with means, power, and influence. The stories of people who spend their days struggling to keep their families afloat or who live in extreme poverty are not usually gathered in historical archives. Recording these stories is one reason why the International Movement ATD Fourth World exists.

    This Is How We Live: Listening to the Poorest Families
    is based on a report submitted to the United Nations by the Fourth World Movement in 1994. The Movement was founded in 1957 by Father Joseph Wresinski of Angers, France, a Catholic priest who had been assigned to an emergency camp for the homeless in Noisy-le-Grand. There he found desperately poor people living in huts without electricity or sufficient water. Wresinki, with the families of the camp, formed what came to be known as the Fourth World Movement. Working together to improve their lives, the people of the Movement have taken their stories to the United Nations, France's Presidential Palace, and the Vatican. The Movement's work is carried on by full- and part-time volunteers of many nationalities and economic backgrounds. They live and work with poor people around the world, minimally supported by contributions from supporters of the Movement.

    The movement is called "Fourth World" after the people of the "fourth order" in eighteenth-century France who were the "day laborers, the sick and disabled, the indigent, the sacred order of the underprivileged" (p. viii). "ATD" means "Aide a Toute Detresse" — to help all of the distressed. The foundation of the Fourth World Movement's work is the belief that societal change cannot occur unless it is rooted in a true understanding of people's experiences through the generations. Since people living in extreme poverty rarely leave written records, it is the job of Fourth World Movement volunteers to compile an accurate history of the poor by writing down what their poor neighbors tell them each day, providing a means for their voices to be heard.

    The first section of the book tells the stories of five families from different countries: Germany, the United States, Guatemala, Burkina Faso, and Thailand. Each story is written by Fourth World volunteers who have known the families for some time, and who compiled the stories using written records that spanned several years, as well as interview data. Family members were asked to comment on the stories after they were compiled, and these comments were then incorporated in the book. The second section of the book analyzes common factors that emerge from the stories in order to help ensure that policies made in response to poverty take into account the experiences of the poor themselves.

    For example, readers learn about the Jones-Robinson family, from the Lower East Side of New York City, who have endured constant poverty over several generations. Carrie Robinson, born in 1910, moved from rural poverty in the South to seek a better life in New York City, only to find an urban version of the poverty she escaped. The Movement authors describe the apartment houses the Jones-Robinsons lived in as "housing hell" (p. 56). Carrie describes her apartment walls as having "holes as big as your head" (p. 56) through which the rats came in. Plumbing, electricity, and heating maintenance were makeshift and rare, and there was no security. Furniture was often stolen or even burned, since fires were common. Jenny, one of Carrie's daughters, had all her possessions stolen when they were moved to a Red Cross shelter after one fire.

    Carrie's son and daughter-in-law, William and May Jones, and their four children had followed Carrie to New York City from the South, where they had worked on farms. When they moved to New York, William managed to maintain employment for nine years moving furniture and doing janitorial work and house repairs. May, on the other hand, did not get a job; she was scared to leave the apartment since, despite locked doors, break-ins occurred on a regular basis. Even when the apartment buildings had deteriorated all around them and kids from the neighborhood were stealing the appliances and plumbing, and cutting access to the electricity, William, with the help of his twelve-year-old daughter, continued to take his janitorial responsibilities seriously. But after nine years, when William and May were relocated to another section of the city, William lost his janitorial job, his work opportunities in the old neighborhood, and eventually could not stop himself from drinking.

    In the analysis section of the book, the authors use the Jones-Robinson family's experiences and those of other families in the book to point out to policymakers the faults of current responses to poverty. Because these responses are not based on a comprehensive understanding of very poor people, the policies often lead to the break-up of families, and eventually break the spirit of people like William.

    In a glossary at the end of the book, readers learn that the Fourth World Movement has several projects especially for children. Volunteers establish residence in poor neighborhoods, and then set up street libraries where they live. These street libraries consist of books, art materials, or computers laid out on a blanket in a stairwell, on a piece of cardboard on a sidewalk, or under a bridge. In these locations, children in the neighborhood can listen to stories read aloud to them, read stories themselves, or do art projects.

    Tapori, a newsletter for children aged seven to thirteen, is also produced by the Fourth World Movement. The title of the newsletter comes from "Taporis," the name given to poor children in India who live in train stations and care for each other. This wonderful classroom resource is produced for children of all backgrounds, so, like the Indian children, they may learn to care for each other. For example, in the April 1995 edition, a story by Mike, a poor boy in France, describes the discontinuity in his school and life experiences:

    In school, they never talk about the social worker who comes to see his parents.
    They never talk about the little neighbor girl who was put in foster care.
    They never talk about the police who always come around in the neighborhood.
    They never talk about all the men who are ill like his father and who cannot
    work anymore.
    At school, it is like a postcard.
    Everything looks shiny. (p. 12)

    Along with the newsletter, the Fourth World Movement publishes a mini-book series for children called "Children of Courage." Each mini-book shares the life of a child living in poverty. These stories and the newsletter are great resources for teachers to use in teaching about human rights issues in the classroom.

    Finally, the Fourth World Movement has a series of "traveling suitcases." These "suitcases" are sent to community organizations and schools throughout

    In sum, the Fourth World Movement's publications are unique resources for teachers, administrators, and policymakers. (U.S. address: 7600 Willowhill Drive, Landover, MD 20785, tel. (301) 336-9489; International address: 1733 Prey Vaux, Switzerland)

    I.H.
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    This Is How We Live and Tapori

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