The inspiration behind October 17

Joseph Wresinski was born to immigrant parents in a poor neighborhood of Angers, France. He grew up in a family that suffered from chronic poverty and social exclusion. In 1946, he was ordained as a priest and served in industrial and rural parishes where, right from the beginning, he related to the most deprived families.

In 1956, he was assigned as chaplain to 250 families in an emergency housing camp in Noisy-le-Grand, near Paris. The families lived in Quonset (Nissen) huts erected in a muddy field. He said about his years in Noisy-le-Grand: “The families in that camp have inspired everything I have undertaken for their liberation. They took hold of me, they lived within me, they carried me forward, and they pushed me to found this movement with them.” In 1957, Wresinski and the families of the camp created the first association, which was later to become ATD Fourth World.

As he responded to the demands of the families and worked alongside them, the soup kitchen and the distribution of old clothes were replaced with a library, kindergarten, chapel, and workshop. Volunteers came to join ATD Fourth World. The Institute for Research and Training in Human Relations was created to bring together researchers from different countries and disciplines. From the beginning, the development of ATD Fourth World was inspired by Wresinski’s own experience as a child in a poverty-stricken family and by his daily contacts with families in extreme poverty and members of the Fourth World Volunteer Corps.

Joseph Wresinski’s firm purpose was to unite all sections of society with the poorest and most excluded people. With this aim, he met leaders of state, churches, and international bodies from all over the world. He believed that every person he met represented an opportunity for the most marginalized people. He was determined that this movement he founded would remain open to people of all cultures, faiths, and races. His appointment to France’s Economic and Social Council in 1979 was a significant step in his quest for official representation of people in extreme poverty. With the publication of the Wresinski Report in 1987, he gained recognition of people in poverty as partners in society. On October 17, 1987, in the presence of a hundred thousand people from every social background and continent, Joseph Wresinski unveiled a commemorative stone in the Trocadero Human Rights Plaza in Paris engraved with these words: “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.” Since then, the commemorative stone has become a rallying point for people from all walks of life.

In 1992, the United Nations declared October 17 the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. In many countries, on the seventeenth of each month, people from all walks of life gather to acknowledge the lives and efforts of people living in extreme poverty and to renew their commitment to join them in their struggle.