Overcoming Poverty in Luxembourg: ATD Celebrates 40 Year Anniversary

By Joëlle Loos, ATD Fourth World supporter in Luxembourg

Forty years of working to overcome poverty

Celebrating 40 years of a movement against poverty and social exclusion isn’t really a time to be joyful. In Luxembourg, as elsewhere, marginalisation and impoverishment still condemn people to live in unacceptable and undignified conditions.

ATD Fourth World wants everyone who lives in poverty to be able to help build a more just world. So we’ve developed long-term projects alongside people in poverty, always with a goal of leaving no one behind. These efforts have not been in vain, but have contributed to meaningful change.

Poverty is a question of human rights

“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”

These words appear on a commemorative stone memorial honouring victims of extreme poverty. ATD’s founder, Joseph Wresinski, spoke them when the memorial was inaugurated at the Paris Human Rights Plaza on October 17, 1987. Those words are still relevant today.

In fact, society increasingly accepts that solutions to poverty are not a matter of charity, but of human rights. And yet, despite this recognition, our response to poverty and social exclusion is still too often associated with charity and temporary solutions. As Jean Bouche recently remarked:

“And today, forty years later? I believe that, in principle, the connection between poverty and human rights is accepted. Within many NGOs, efforts are now made on the basis of human rights. But in politics and society, it seems to me that this remains only politically correct language. We talk this way because it is in tune with the times. But speaking and acting are two different things and we don’t accomplish anything just by talking about it.

“Fundamentally, the principle that actually seems to guide our society is meritocracy: everyone is responsible for their own happiness. But we don’t take into account that not everyone lives in the same material, physical, and psychological circumstances. As always, we agree to give aid to those in poverty. But we do not change their lives. With a few exceptions, we do not ‘give them a voice’, either politically, socially, or within institutions.”

Jean Bouché, President of ATD Fourth World Luxembourg from 1993 to 2004

Encouraging a wider audience to listen

Since it began, ATD Fourth World has encouraged others to listen to people in poverty and to recognize their contributions to society. In fact, Joseph Wresinski promised many years ago that ATD Fourth World activists “…would climb the steps to the presidential palace in France, the Vatican, and the United Nations”.

In Luxembourg, at the end of the 1970s, ATD Fourth World began “knowledge sharing” activities like Street Libraries. Many other events followed, including an exhibit on Human Rights at the European Commission and European Parliament. We met with with the European Commissioner for Labour and Social Affairs. Young people from ATD even had a meeting with the Pope.

  • The goal of these events was always for others to hear about the experiences of the most disadvantaged people and to understand their essential contribution to efforts to overcome poverty.

Similar activities have taken place throughout the history of ATD Fourth World. A new film, Forget No One, Work Together, Decide to Take Action Against Poverty (N’oublier personne, réfléchir ensemble, décider et agir contre la pauvreté) produced for ATD Fourth World Luxembourg’s 40th anniversary, documents this history.

A common conviction

In 1982, ATD Fourth World began organizing the Fourth World People’s University (FWPU). This was in part give a voice to people in poverty, but also to gather together a diverse group of people in order to create a more just society.

In a People’s University, some attendees have endured a life of poverty and their faces bear the imprint of their suffering. Frequently, others do not understand either their hopes or their efforts to improve their lives. Also attending the FWPU, however, are people who have never experienced poverty and social exclusion. Each People’s University group is a mix of ages, backgrounds, jobs, beliefs, and abilities.

  • Over the years, our diversity has been both a source of energy and a challenge. However, without a common commitment to those in poverty, many would have never met and learned things from one another.

Even if ATD Fourth World members are vastly different, they are all motivated by this shared commitment. Perhaps it is subconscious, but this conviction is always there when we are working together. These characteristics are ATD Fourth World’s greatest asset and we can be proud of them.

Celebrating 40 years together

40th anniversary celebration of ATD Fourth World in Luxembourg @ ATD Fourth World

Other events marked the 40th anniversary of ATD Fourth World in Luxembourg. The first, on October 17, 2021, was attended by Mr Corinne Cahen, Luxembourg Minister for the Family, and Mr Maurice Bauer, City of Luxembourg Alderman for Social Affairs. Other officials also took part in this event, along with many activists, allies, and long-time friends.

In addition, there was a screening of the film Forget No One, Work Together, Decide to Take Action Against Poverty depicting ATD Fourth World’s work in Luxembourg over the past 40 years. After the screening, long-time activists presented a “40 year tapestry” that also told the story of ATD in Luxembourg.

40 year Luxembourg tapestry presentation, © ATD Fourth World

An art exhibit of works by ATD Fourth World members displayed many forms of creativity.

Exhibit, 40 years of ATD Fourth World in Luxembourg, © ATD Fourth World

And at a birthday party, Edith Jacobs, one of the founders of ATD Fourth World in Luxembourg, cut a birthday cake. There was a minute of silence around the Solidarity Table 1 to honour victims of poverty around the world. The party also included a concert by the Home Sweet Home & Friends choir of singers from many different backgrounds.

Solidarity Table, © ATD Fourth World

The challenge of “persistent poverty”

In many efforts to create a more just society, people are paying more attention to the persistence of poverty across generations. During 2021, a group of ATD Fourth World Luxembourg members had the opportunity to work with Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. This work took place as De Schutter was developing a report on the persistence of poverty. In October 2021, the report was presented to the United Nations General Assembly.

Afterwards, ATD Fourth World Luxembourg wanted to continue the work it started with Olivier De Schutter. So we organized an evening discussion group for more people to learn about persistent poverty. Social workers, other professionals, and ATD Fourth World members from Luxembourg and Belgium attended. Following a video on Fourth World activists’ work with Olivier de Schutter, conversation and debate highlighted the complexity of this issue and the need to explore it further.

Looking to the future

Understanding the persistence of poverty across generations is an ongoing challenge. We hope that ATD Fourth World members will use their creativity, courage, and energy to continue working together for a better future. Our ambition is that, in 40 years, there will be no reason to celebrate the 80th anniversary of ATD Fourth World in Luxembourg!

ATD Fourth World in Luxembourg (website in French and German)

  1. A replica of the commemorative stone memorial in Paris
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