human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Poverty observatory handbook

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The starting point for all Caritas action is the observation, listening and encounter with concrete people in need, in poverty.

Caritas is committed to responding to needs of concrete people and communities where and when they arise and to raising awareness of the challenges and opportunities for a more inclusive society. Caritas has to be credible in its actions in order to achieve results. Therefore, in order to act with and accompany people and communities in the best possible way, listening, observing and discerning of the surrounding reality is at the core of Caritas’ style of doing.

This publication aims at presenting this concept of the combined method of listening, observing and discerning and how it is implemented in various ways by Caritas organisations, depending on their situation. These elements naturally serve one another, and are indispensable if we wish to plan, promote and implement appropriate and effective social action, both in response to people’s needs, and to animate and involve the society.

If we listen carefully to the people in need, we can perceive many signals. To listen carefully our ears and eyes must be free from superficiality, indifference, prejudice, selfishness, and bias. The ability to systematically observe the characteristics and evolution of poverty, hardship, marginalisation and social exclusion is particularly important: We are also witnessing a profound process of reformation in the welfare and protection systems, with an increasingly heavier impact on the living conditions of the most vulnerable members of our societies. This situation needs to be monitored very carefully.

To discern is to read and understand with human competence and deep humanity situations of poverty; it is to identify and analyse the mechanisms, the causes, the structures that generate poverty; it is also to promote ways and specific forms of awareness raising, and to empower and involve the whole community. For Caritas the compassionate encounter and accompaniment of people in poverty and – being the organisation charged by the Catholic Church to serve through works of justice, peace and development – the biblical tradition, the Gospel and the Catholic Social Teaching and Thought, with the principles of integral human development, solidarity and common good in its core, provide the criteria for this discernment.

We identify some general characteristics, which contribute to the definition of the basic identity of Poverty Observatories. They are based on the experience several Caritas organisations gathered over several decades of poverty observatories’ practice.

We recommend that this handbook be read in conjunction with the Caritas Advocacy Handbook. We hope that this handbook contributes to increasing the impact of our efforts to “improve the quality of life of people experiencing poverty or who are in situation(s) of vulnerability, by advocating for integral human development and social justice”.