MARILIA Sardenberg Zelner Gonçalves was the first woman in the 1970s in Paraná, one of the 26 states of Brazil, to join the diplomatic service. Many years later, the former Brazilian ambassador to Slovakia shared the story of her diplomatic take-off with students of the Milan Rúfus High School in the small central Slovak town of Žiar nad Hronom: “I was very proud of it since it was quite an achievement at that time and the news in fact made it into the local papers”. Gonçalves used her personal story to illustrate how societies, including her own, can progress if social inclusion is defined as one of the main objectives.
“Social inclusion is everything: to be included in the society you have to have the basic conditions to live, you have to have education, you have to have food,” Gonçalves told the students who participated in the Bringing the World to the Classroom project developed by The Slovak Spectator, several foreign embassies in Slovakia and Sugarbooks, a distributor of textbooks, to discuss the faces of poverty and the means to fight this dangerous global phenomenon.
Gonçalves suggested that one should not envision the fight against poverty as distributing money to people so that they can put bread on their family’s tables, but as providing people with tools so that they can change their situation and no longer be dependent on aid.
“It is very good to have charities and work for the benefit of poor people, but we all have to know that every human being has the right to have the basic conditions for life to survive and progress,” Gonçalves said. “This is not something that we give to them; this is something they have a right to have.”
According to Gonçalves, thanks to well-targeted social programmes in Brazil a large number of people there have been able to climb from a very poor environment to a lower middle class level, while about 30 million families have accessed a middle-class living standard. She adds that the social and inclusion programmes are not “only an income distribution but also require [people] to do their part”.
While the idea of absolute equality is virtually impossible to achieve worldwide, it does not mean that people should give up trying to reduce poverty as much as possible, student Dominika Slušná noted in one of the essays that she and her peers had prepared for the meeting with the ambassador, adding that “societies are judged based on how well they are able to take care of their most vulnerable members”.
Fellow student Viktor Richter suggested that people cannot choose whether they are born into a wealthy or a poor family and perhaps it is more difficult for those who live in good conditions with access to free medical treatment, elementary and high school education and social benefits to truly empathise with those who lack all of that. Samuel Krátky pondered that perhaps by concentrating on obtaining an adequate education, his generation might acquire the basis to avoid poverty. When looking at the causes of poverty, Simona Kupcová also listed those politicians who go into politics to make their own fortune instead of addressing serious policy issues to tackle poverty.
Regardless of geography or the languages nations speak, poverty is a shared challenge among nations, yet one of the ways of tackling it is to empower all layers of society to access education and social services, Gonçalves concluded.