Poverty is not normal, by Vera Cordeiro

A hungry person is enough to be make us outraged. Before, during or after the pandemic it should be no different.

Poverty is not normal. The situation of people living in an unworthy manner is increasingly evident. We can no longer live with this scenario in which we are immersed.

Global statistics point to an increase in extreme poverty, affecting between 9.1% and 9.4% of the world’s population this year, according to the World Bank’s Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report. This means that at least 708 million people in the world live – or survive – on less than USD 1.90 a day, about BRL 10.

In August this year, 2.29% of Brazil’s population lived in these conditions, according to a study by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) based on data from the Covid-19 National Household Sample Survey. And when the focus is below the poverty line, which calculates people living on less than USD 5.50 a day (about BRL 31), that percentage rises to 18% of the population, more than 38 million people.

No, this is not normal.

When I founded the Dara Institute (formerly known as Saúde Criança Renascer) almost 30 years ago, I realized that poverty is multidimensional and that to face it, we need intersectoral and integrated solutions.

For three decades, we have implemented the social technology known as the Plano de Ação Familia (PAF – Family Action Plan) with socially vulnerable families, with joint actions in the areas of health care, income generation, housing, education and citizenship. The families are accompanied by a team of specialized professionals and volunteers, who help them set goals in these five areas.

On average, a family takes two years to overcome a situation of social vulnerability to fully exercise their citizenship. Over that time, they become protagonists of their own lives. And this autonomy is sustained over the years. A survey by Georgetown University proved that, three to five years after a beneficiary “graduated” from our program, family income almost doubled, and hospital readmissions fell by 86%.

This is what happened to the family of Cristiane Eusébio, 48, a resident of São Pedro da Aldeia (RJ) currently supported by the Dara Institute.

She has been participating in the Family Action Plan since 2019 and managed to multiply, in the community where she lives, some of the guidelines she received. She says that, in addition to the service that transformed her family’s life in several areas, she realized that other mothers in her region also needed support. During the pandemic, Cristiane created a local network of mothers, who lived in conditions similar to hers before the program and was able to refer several families who needed emergency assistance to the government registry program Cadastro Único.

To fight poverty, we learned that we need structural actions. Ending hunger is a ground zero, a starting point. However, it is not enough. And to take it a step further, we need to provide those who live in extreme poverty with knowledge, opportunities, access to their fundamental human rights, always listening to those we serve.

We normalize not only poverty, but also the striking disparity between different social classes, forming a frayed social fabric that generates insecurity and a poor quality of life. This unequal civil society is our problem. We need to realize that we are all agents of change.

As a doctor and founder of the Dara Institute, I realized that medical service, within public hospitals, is often incomplete, as we do not take into account the social determinants of falling ill.

You can also contribute to this transformation. Structural poverty has a solution and we know how to act, as do other serious organizations that fight poverty.

I believe it is time for a civil society to rise up, we are ready.