As part of its 2008-2012 focus on “Striving Together to End Poverty”, ATD Fourth World took action in order to develop its own knowledge of the violence experienced by those in extreme poverty and of the conditions needed to strive toward peace in their communities. Drawing the attention of local, national, and international organizations to the violence of poverty was also a priority.
Local ATD Fourth World teams from 25 countries participated in this research. More than a thousand people were involved, and three hundred of them attended five seminars in different regions of the world. In each of these seminars the members of ATD Fourth World participating were from diverse backgrounds: some were activists living in extreme poverty, others were full-time Volunteer Corps members, and others were from a variety of professions.
The written stage of the research was conducted in French, English, and Spanish. Participants were also able to think and express themselves in their mother tongues: Arabic, Aymara, the Creoles of Haiti, Mauritius and Reunion Island, German, Malagasy, Mooré, Quechua, Sango, Swiss-German, Swahili and Wolof. The process of gaining understanding was based on the dynamics of the “merging of knowledge,” which acknowledges that people experiencing extreme poverty are the primary agents of their own knowledge, and which sets up the conditions in which they can formulate this knowledge themselves, with others of the same background, before merging this knowledge with that of other groups, professionals, associations and academics.
The following questions were adapted to each local context: “What is the most violent part of my life? What are the consequences of this violence? How do I cope? How can I speak out about it? What does peace mean for me? What do I need to live in peace? How do I promote peace myself?”
The January 2012 International Colloquium concluding the action-research project gathered 40 people involved in ATD Fourth World’s “merging of knowledge” process. After sharing their knowledge internally for two days, they next discussed this knowledge for another two days with 25 people invited from academia, grass-roots organizations and governmental and political bodies, who gave their own reactions and contributions. To end the Colloquium, all 65 participants presented their findings to an audience of 450 people in UNESCO House in Paris.