If you want to be useful, help me to set up a research institute.

Mrs Alwine de Vos van Steenwijk passed away peacefully on the 24th of January. She had given her strength without hesitation to build the MovementATD Fourth World.

At the end of the 50s, when Mrs de Vos was a diplomat in Paris for her country, the Netherlands, she heard about Fr. Joseph Wresinski and his fight alongside the families in the emergency housing camp of Noisy-Le-Grand. Shocked and challenged by the originality of this struggle, she decided to take the dusty dirt track to the camp. While waiting to be received, Fr. Joseph suggested that she helps sort the parcels that people dropped off for the families in the camp. How could she sort out clothes when so many were torn and left unwashed?  When the night fell, Fr. Joseph found Alwine crying in the coatroom. "Why are you crying?" "I realize how my own community can humiliate people in poverty. They believe they are useful by sending mismatched shoes." "If you want to be useful, help me to set up a research institute."

Thus Madame de Vos layed the foundations of a « Social Research Office » so that the world of science will take into account the experiences and thinking of families in extreme poverty. It gave a new credibility to the struggle of the Movement.  It is still developing today within the framework of the International Joseph Wresinski Center (www.joseph-wresinski.org).

Fr. Joseph asked Alwine de Vos to become the Ambassador for the Fourth World People with the ambition to climb the steps of the United Nations and become a new partner in the international public life. She built contacts all over the world. She participated in the foundation of the Permament Forum on Extreme Poverty in the World, now the Forum on Overcoming Extreme Poverty, writing the editorials of the Letter to Friends around the World for 14 years.

After Fr. Joseph died, she devoted all her energy to having the actions and thinking of Wresinski known and recognized so they become sources of inspiration in political, scientific and cultural spheres as well in his own Church.

The theatrical production she realised, these last year, with actors, professional directors and with families confronted with the exclusion which leads to the injustice of extreme poverty, opened and inspired the hearts and minds of many audiences of all backgrounds

The memory of Alwine remains alive among us.

There were many facts which I did not know about President Alwine de Vos van Steenwijk. I did not know that she went to visit the bidonville at Noisy-le-Grand and agreed to help in sorting dirty and rejected clothing. I did not know that she wept with her compassion for extremely poor people who were not treated with respect, even by kind people who donated inappropriate old shoes. When Madame Alwine wrote to me, I did not realize that she was a very special Ambassador to the Poor. That was far more glorious than being an Ambassador to Paris !

Reg M., New Zealand

Dear friends of ATD Fourth World,

It is never too late to remember the person who was so dear and so close to the poorest all over the world. I am thinking of: Ms. Awine de Vos Van Steenwijk.

Although the news of Ms. Alwine’s death was late in reaching us, we cannot help but to have a prayerful thought for her, for she was a mother to us and to our association, Companions in family development. Since 1994, it was thanks to her encouragement and frequent advice through our correspondence that we were able to understand and put into place in our association the foundations for our fight against extreme poverty. We are and will remain forever grateful to her.

The disappearance of Ms. Alwine is certainly a great loss to the world, but her commitment to human values and the fierce battle she led for the dignity of all those who are forgotten by the world remain as outstanding lessons and an unforgettable example.

May the soul of Ms. Alwine de Vos van Steenwijk rest in peace.

Dieudy M. K.

Mme Alwine De Vos Steenwijk

A Saintly Lady, you were
Blessed to breathe life’s breath
For over eight decades,
With a tender Smile ever in your face.

I salute you, the ambassador of the Poor
For you bargained
The Riches and Pleasures and honors  of a Diplomatic Career,
To the unseen, untouched rewards
By totally dedicating your life
To Love and Serve the poor,
Faithfully and Joyfully
Integrating with the Voice of the Poorest
Our beloved Fr. Joseph Wresinski.

You are a Saint of our times
Who tread into the Saintly Abode
Breathing your Last Breath
Beholding the Poor
With hands full of merits
Answering Jesus,
Yes, I did see you always in the poor.

Martin C., Sri Lanka