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 the chaplain to 250 homeless families living in an emergency housing camp near Paris. The conditions Wresinski found were shocking. The people there, lived in a situation of precariousness and extreme 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 saw and seeing the link with 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 creates an association, “Aide à Toute Détresse” (Help All In Distress), with families in an emergency homeless camp outside Paris, later to become ATD Fourth World. He calls on French people to help so that the association can continue. In ATD’s early years, it was always a struggle to keep going. Geneviève Anthonioz de Gaulle and others come to help. They become ATD’s first allies.

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


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


First European assembly of young people living in public housing takes place. As an outgrowth, the Alternatives 114 project and the Fourth World Youth Meeting and Training Centre in Champeaux, France are created.


ATD Fourth World sets up a team in Guatemala. In Thailand a team starts in a refugee camp.


The first team in Africa is established in Burkina Faso, then Senegal. The first Extreme Poverty and Exclusion in Africa seminar takes place. It allows members to exchange ideas and mutually support each other in the fight against poverty.


For ATD Fourth World’s 25th anniversary, there is a public gathering in Brussels. The participants launch a petition demanding that the United Nations recognize poverty as a violation of human rights. This petition marks the start of a public battle by ATD Fourth World for a link between poverty and human rights.


As part of International Youth Year over 1,000 young people from the world over meet in Geneva at the International Labour Office.


The French Economic, Social, and Environmental Council endorses Joseph Wresinski’s report, “Chronic Poverty and Lack of Basic Security.” The report states that poverty is a violation of human rights and that global action is necessary to overcome it. The report adds that it is vital that those living in poverty are seen as partners in defeating it.

17 October 1987

Over100,000 people gather on the Human Rights Plaza in Paris; a commemorative stone in honour of the victims of poverty is dedicated. 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 meet Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.


The United Nation General Assembly declares October 17International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.” Commemorations are held yearly worldwide.


In New York the second world congress of the Fourth World unites 300 delegates from 80 countries. The congress brings together people living in poverty and United Nations human rights experts.

17 October 1996

A replica of the commemorative stone in honour of the victims of poverty is unveiled in the gardens of the United Nations in New York. UN General Secretary Mr Boutros Boutros-Ghali is in attendance.


France passes a general ordination law to fight against exclusion. ATD members living in poverty through People’s Universities were involved in the writing of this law. Geneviève Anthonioz de Gaulle, president of ATD Fourth World France, worked for the law’s passage. Her report on “The Evaluation of the Political Agenda against Extreme Poverty,” submitted to the French Economic, Social, and Environmental Council in 1995, 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, organizes a meeting in Geneva between 80 children from the world over and Mary Robinson, then High Commissioner for Human Rights.

International conference at the Sorbonne in Paris, “Merging Knowledge – When the Fourth World and the University Think Together.”


ATD Fourth World members in Quebec mobilize for a national plan in the fight against poverty. With the help of other associations, a “Law against Poverty and Social Exclusion” is unanimously adopted in December 2002.


In Guatemala, thanks to the actions of local ATD Fourth World members, the government approves a law guaranteeing free public school access. Before this, families had to pay school fees and for uniforms and books.


Working Group of more that 1,000 people studies the connection between “poverty, violence and peace.” This included five regional seminars and a conference in January 2012 at ATD Fourth World’s International Centre and at UNESCO headquarters. A final report, “Extreme Poverty is Violence – Breaking the Silence – Searching for Peace,” is published.

27 September 2012

The UN Human Rights Council adopts the Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. ATD Fourth World contributes to its writing. By adopting it, the member states of the Human Rights Council affirm that the eradication of poverty is not only a moral duty but a legal obligation according to international legislation on human rights.

2011 – 2013

To evaluate the Millennium Development Goals fixed by the United Nations in 2000, ATD Fourth World leads a research project connecting 2,000 participants from 20 countries including people in poverty. This project also worked on new objectives after 2015. The conclusion of this research was presented to the United Nations in June 2013 and published in the report “Challenge 2015: Towards Sustainable Development that Leaves No One Behind.

2014 – 2015

ATD Fourth World continues its work internationally for Sustainable Development that Leaves No One Behind and the 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 global Stop Poverty Campaign brings tens of thousands of people from over a hundred countries together to say that poverty is not inevitable. An international conference, “Rethinking Our World from the Perspective of Poverty – with Joseph Wresinski,” enabled intellectuals, practitioners and people in poverty to study to together the way forward envisioned by Joseph Wresinski.

A second university conference in France leads to a long-term partnership between ATD Fourth World, the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers.


After three years of research ATD Fourth World, in partnership with Oxford University, publishes 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 over thirty countries for the rights, respect and dignity of all.