Excellencies, Chairman and Trustees of the Ramon
Magsaysay Award Foundation, closest old friends, slum dwellers from Asia and Africa,
dearest Mahila Milan, SPARC, Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to thank the Board of Trustees of the Magsaysay Award Foundation for
recognising the struggle of the urban poor and the creative initiatives of the urban poor
all over the world
This award has come at the right time, when the urban poor face exclusion all over the
world. This award recognises and acknowledges how the urban poor themselves are trying to
bring about meaningful change by their own efforts.
By choosing to award me with this honour, you honour all the poor in cities around the
world who are seeking change change not just for ourselves in our own lives but
also for the good of the cities in which we have to live together. Thank you.
This award means a lot to me because of the people who have received it before me. I think
of Father Jeorge Anzorena who came to my own small hut twenty years ago. He looked up and
down at me and I wondered who this new person was. Until now he has remembered me and
supported our struggle in all the ways he could. He has been especially supportive of our
building of a network among the urban poor. I am proud to be part of this struggle for
justice and of the Magsaysay Award family.
Let me look back to the time when I was fighting for drinking water, for sanitation and
for a better quality of life in Janata Colony in Bombay the slum where I lived and
still live. How has the struggle moved forward and developed since Father Anzorena first
came to visit? The biggest change is our movement through many countries as the urban poor
have developed the means and will to link together and share across cities, across
countries, across continents and across the world. In Janata Colony our houses were
demolished in 1976. In 1991, I landed in South Africa and we decided to work together as
Asians and Africans in this struggle against forced eviction and demolition. We decided to
work together for the development of our communities. That led to the formation of the
international networks of Slum/Shack Dwellers International - SDI - a network that is
supported by others such as the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights. We have new
partnerships and instead of being arrested as we speak about poverty and development, we
find ourselves sitting at tables with the authorities negotiating solutions.
We are able to speak for ourselves within our cities, nationally and internationally. We
have broken the culture of silence of the poor. No group has been more effective in doing
this than the women of Mahila Milan. They use their daily savings and their own
information collection and dissemination process to make themselves heard and to provide
the basis of a dialogue between the poor and the authorities in the cities where they
live. Now we are urban poor with a loud voice but we also want partners partners
who hear what we have to say and who are prepared to struggle with us.
By giving this award to me you have declared support for the urban poor struggle and I
thank you for this commitment on my own behalf and also on behalf of the urban poor all
over the world. This award is now a torch in my hand, a light to shed on the invisibility
in which we were shut, and from where we have moved forward.
In this new light I would like to invite your excellency President Estrada, along with the
people of the Philippines, to join me in showing how secure tenure can be used as a strong
and important step in helping people to escape the trap of poverty that insecurity brings.