Fr Ambroise Tine, the Secretary General of Caritas Senegal, represented Caritas Internationalis at a United Nations summit on poverty in September 2010 in New York.

Credits: Antoine Soubrier/Caritas

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a series of anti-poverty targets agreed by governments in 2000. “The globalisation of solidarity through the prompt achievement of the MDGs established by the Millennium Declaration is a crucial moral obligation of the international community,” said H.E. Msgr Celestino Migiliore, the then Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in 2008.

Fr Ambroise Tine, the Secretary General of Caritas Senegal, represented Caritas Internationalis at a United Nations summit on poverty in September 2010 in New York.

When I went to the UN for Caritas Internationalis, I had three minutes to communicate what was in my mind and heart. My hope was to be the voice of the poor, those who are not getting education or chances in life, those who have no access to healthcare and those whose children will never live out their lives because of the cruel lottery of their birth.

I hoped that my three minutes would move something in the hearts of the people listening at the UN and this would make countries uphold their Millennium Development Goals promises.

It was my first time in New York. I live in Dakar, Senegal, but often go to Europe. It was incredible to see the skyscrapers, the clean streets and the fast-paced life, but I was also shocked to see people rummaging through rubbish bins for food in such a rich city.

As I told the UN, poverty is not abstract. It can be seen in the faces of millions of human beings who live it every day, especially women and children. The suffering is worldwide.

Caritas works with this poverty every day. However, the real power to combating it lies in government policy. My speech at the UN was an example of Caritas’ international advocacy. Yes, we give out food and provide healthcare and education and many other things to poor communities, but we know that a shift in the thinking of the rich world is essential to “making poverty history”.

I used my time at the UN to meet many people from other NGOs, the media and also government representatives. I took the message of the silent millions to them, like the people in my country who suffer because their basic needs in life, such as food and water, health and education, aren’t met.

Three other speakers from Caritas member organisations were with me at the UN. They defended everyone’s right to food, water, health, education and freedom. My guide for the day was Joseph Cornelius Donnelly. He is Caritas’ representative at the UN and he makes sure that Caritas’ voice of the poor is heard in UN proceedings.

I think that the MDGs have made some difference to the life of poor people in Senegal. In rural areas, many children between 6 and 7 years old now have the opportunity to go to school. But good standards are still missing – some classes have 70 pupils! We have to be careful that governments don’t just “pay lip service” to the MDGs without any real thought to whether they are actually helping people and giving them a future.

At the end of my day at the UN, I had a sense of under-achievement as it was difficult to see the impact of our speeches. But I was convinced that something positive would happen. As long as civil society makes governments aware of their responsibilities, governments will show their humanity and take care of the poor.

But I do still have doubts. Months after my trip to the UN, I look at places like Libya and Côte d'Ivoire where there are conflicts and it seems that financial interests are more important than human rights. Sometimes the international community moves with the financial wave rather than that of the poor. Caritas will continue to work to ensure the voices of the poor aren’t drowned out when the international community gets side-tracked by other considerations.