Key Moments in our History

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From an Emergency Housing Camp to an International Movement

The History of ATD Fourth World

In 1956, Joseph Wresinski, a Catholic priest, became chaplain to 250 homeless families living in an emergency housing camp near Paris. What Wresinski found there was shocking. Families in the camp lived in dreadful physical conditions and extreme social isolation. “The families I met there”, Wresinski would later recall, “made me think of the poverty of my mother. The children could have been my brothers, my sister, or me forty years earlier”. Deeply shocked by what he found and recognising the connection to his own experience of poverty, Wresinski promised that “these families would climb the steps to the presidential palace in France, the Vatican, and the United Nations“.


Joseph Wresinski created an association, “Aide à Toute Détresse”, with families in an emergency housing camp outside Paris. This association would later become ATD Fourth World. He called on people in France to help the association continue its work. In ATD’s early years, it was always a struggle to keep going. Geneviève Anthonioz de Gaulle and others came to help. They became ATD’s first allies.

At the same time, people of different backgrounds and beliefs got involved and worked long-term with Wresinski and families in the camp. These were the first members of ATD Fourth World’s Volunteer Corps. Together they created an ongoing programme of full-time, long-term involvement working alongside people in poverty.


Volunteer Corps members went to the United States to work among the Puerto Rican community in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in New York City.


The First European assembly of young people living in public housing took place. Growing out of this gathering were the Alternatives 114 project and the Fourth World Youth Meeting and Training Centre in Champeaux, France.


ATD Fourth World established a team in Guatemala and another in a refugee camp in Thailand.


ATD established its first team in Africa in Burkina Faso, then another in Senegal. A seminar,  Extreme Poverty and Exclusion in Africa, allowed members to exchange ideas and support each other in the struggle against poverty.


A pubic gathering in Brussels marked ATD Fourth World’s 25th anniversary. Participants launched a petition demanding that the United Nations recognize poverty as a violation of human rights. This petition was the beginning of ATD’s public campaign for recognition of the connection between poverty and human rights.


As part of International Youth Year, more than 1,000 young people from around the world met in Geneva at the International Labour Office.


The French Economic, Social, and Environmental Council endorsed Joseph Wresinski’s report, “Chronic Poverty and Lack of Basic Security..” The report stated that poverty is a violation of human rights and that overcoming it requires comprehensive measures. The report emphasized the importance of seeing people living in poverty as partners in efforts to address the problem.

17 October 1987

Over100,000 people gathered on the Human Rights Plaza in Paris for a ceremony dedicating a commemorative stone honouring the victims of poverty. It reads:

“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.”


Over 300 delegates from families living in extreme poverty met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.


The United Nation General Assembly declares October 17International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.” Around the world, people began to hold events every year to mark the day.


In New York the second world congress of the Fourth World brought together 300 delegates from 80 countries. People living in poverty met with United Nations human rights experts.

17 October 1996

In the United Nations gardens in New York, UN General Secretary Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali unveiled  a replica of the Paris commemorative stone honouring victims of poverty.


France passed a law aimed at countering exclusion. Through People’s Universities, ATD members living in poverty were involved in writing this law. Geneviève Anthonioz de Gaulle, president of ATD Fourth World France, advocated for the law’s passage. In 1995, she had submitted to the French Economic, Social, and Environmental Council a report, “Evaluation of the Political Agenda against Extreme Poverty”, that was instrumental in getting the law passed.


For the tenth anniversary of UNESCO’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, Tapori, ATD’s Children’s Network, organized a meeting in Geneva  between 80 children from around the world and Mary Robinson, then High Commissioner for Human Rights.

ATD organised an international conference, “Merging Knowledge – When the Fourth World and the University Think Together”, at the Sorbonne university in Paris


In Quebec, ATD Fourth World members joined other organisations to advocate for a national plan to address poverty. In December, the country unanimously passed the “Law against Poverty and Social Exclusion”.

In Guatemala, ATD Fourth World advocated successfully for passage of a law guaranteeing free public school access. Prior to the law’s passage, families had to pay fees for school enrollment, uniforms, and books.


A Working Group of more that 1,000 people studied the connection between poverty, violence and peace. Five regional seminars took place as well as a 2012 conference at ATD Fourth World’s International Centre and at UNESCO headquarters. This consultation produced a published report, “Extreme Poverty is Violence – Breaking the Silence – Searching for Peace”.

27 September 2012

The UN Human Rights Council adopted the Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, which ATD Fourth World helped write. Through this document, the Human Rights Council member states affirmed that eradicating poverty is not only a moral duty but a legal obligation according to international legislation on human rights.

2011 – 2013

To evaluate the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, established in 2000, ATD Fourth World led a research project connecting 2,000 participants from 20 countries, including people in poverty. This evaluation also contributed to new objectives for the post-2015 era. ATD presented the conclusions of its research to the United Nations in June 2013 and published a report “Challenge 2015: Towards Sustainable Development that Leaves No One Behind”.

2014 – 2015

ATD Fourth World engaged in ongoing work at the international level to promote Sustainable Development that Leaves No One Behind and encourage implementation of the Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.


On the occasion of Joseph Wresinski’s 100th birthday, February 12, 1917, and ATD Fourth World’s 60th year, the world wide Stop Poverty Campaign brought together tens of thousands of people from more than a hundred countries to say that poverty is not inevitable.

An international conference, “Rethinking Our World from the Perspective of Poverty – with Joseph Wresinski,” enabled intellectuals, professionals and people in poverty to study Joseph Wresinski’s ideas and strategies for overcoming extreme poverty.

Another academic research conference in France led to a long-term partnership between ATD Fourth World, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (National conservatory for arts and trades).


After three years of research ATD Fourth World, in partnership with Oxford University, published The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty report. Using the Merging Knowledge method, this project took place in six countries: Bangladesh, Bolivia, France, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


ATD Fourth World continues its work in more than thirty countries for the rights, respect and dignity of everyone.