Joseph Wresinski Centre and Memory of the World Register Nomination

Above: Joseph Wresinski Centre archives, Baillet-en-France, 2021 © Carmen Martos/ATD Fourth World

For June 9th, International Archives Day, ATD Fourth World International, in conjunction with the Joseph Wresinski Archives and Research Centre, is highlighting ATD’s work related to archiving and documenting the history of those in deep poverty.

Will the world remember heritage of poverty?

Last March, Véronique Roger-Lacan, Ambassador of France to UNESCO, and Marie Odile Payen, ATD UNESCO representative, invited senior UNESCO officials and ambassadors to visit the Joseph Wresinski Centre (JWC). Located just outside Paris, the Centre houses ATD Fourth World’s archives.

This invitation follows ATD’s recent request to UNESCO to include the JWC in its Memory of the World Register. Ms Roger-Lacan and Mr Yves Saint Geours, president of the UNESCO French commission, both support this request. So they arranged for UNESCO ambassadors from Palestine, Bangladesh and Albania, both involved in Register’s work, to visit the JWC. During the ambassadors visit, ATD presented its current work as well as its historical connection to the UN organisation.

During the visit of Véronique Roger-Lacan and Marie Odile Payen there was a presentation of the JWC. ATD’s Martine Lecorre and Bruno Tardieu discussed the importance of the JWC archive to people in poverty around the world. They expressed their hope that the life stories, struggles, and thoughts of these families would, in fact, be included in the Register.

ATD members from Lyon, France submit their archives to the JWC. 2021 © ATD Fourth World/CJW_1181-009_021

JWC Archives: “Part of our common heritage”

“Poverty everywhere in the world is forgotten, even denied”, said Tardieu, JWC’s Director. “The history of those who live in poverty is  disappearing. [ATD founder] Joseph Wresinsk, who grew up in poverty, knew from experience that others don’t believe what people in poverty say.

“So he asked ATD teams to record, photograph, and keep track of the suffering, courage, resistance, and intelligence of people in poverty and of those who work alongside them. Without this part of our common heritage, humanity cannot fight poverty effectively. […]

  • “The archives at the JWC wouldn’t exist without the profound trust of populations in poverty. They entrust to the archives their images and stories of resistance, their suffering and hopes, and their intelligence. The world lacks this.

Survivors of the violence of poverty trusted Joseph Wresinski, a survivor himself. And this trust continues with ATD Fourth World today. Also, people in poverty are not simply giving us archives from a study. Rather, these are records of a life shared with ATD teams. They are records of close personal relationships that these people whom others cast aside have sought, hoped for, and chosen.”

André Vauchez (left), historian and member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettre* and seated Catherine Dalarun from the Institut de France visit the Joseph Wresinski Centre. Standing Honorine Kouamé and seated (right), Philippe Huet from the CJW, June 2020 © Carmen Martos/ATD Fourth World/CJW_0486-022_032

A valuable history for humanity

Martine Lecorre, ATD Deputy General Director, addressed the question, “What does the Joseph Wresinski Centre represent for the people experiencing poverty whom we [ATD] work with?”

By way of answer, Lecorre described what one ATD member had said to her. “Huguette, who comes from the world of poverty and lives in western France, told us something at the inauguration of the JWC. She said,

  • ‘I don’t know anything about my history. I don’t know where I’m from. And I don’t know of any witnesses to my past. I have no clue, no trace of family history. When you cannot find yourself in a story, it is difficult to find your way because you need to know your origins, your roots.

‘You need to know where you come from and who you are, in order to know, to choose, where you want to go. This is why I chose to get involved with ATD; because ATD is a movement that recognizes me as a person with a history. I discovered myself as an actor in history, “History” with a capital H. Today I feel that I exist and I am proud to be able to say it’.

Swept away everywhere

“I can still hear Maria Angeles from Madrid”, Lecorre continued, “after her visit to the JWC two years ago. She told us,

‘We are swept away everywhere. People refuse to see us. They count us for nothing. But our story lives here.

‘No one will ever be able to say this is not true. No one will ever be able to deny our history or our existence again’.

“In the JWC’s written and photo archives, families in poverty from around the world are rediscovering their roots, the faces of their own people. These families that we refuse to see and hear are thus breaking the silence they have been forced into. They are writing and bringing to life this fabulous story of people in poverty from around the world. And they invite others to think and work with them.

“If the JWC is listed in the Memory of the World Register, it will be supported, protected, and recognized as fragile yet precious to humanity.”

*A French academic society devoted to the humanities

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