Sunday, October 24, 2010


Explosion! A sixteen-year-old who could not even write his name is now joying in copying the Latin on the plaques in the Santissima Annunziata, the English on the plaques in the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery. Our Alphabetization School works! He read out to me the other day a poster on 'Santa Umilta'. I was in tears for she is the saint for whom I have named my Umilta website. Illiterate, she dictated marvellous sermons of most profound theology to her nuns. Yesterday he was reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning's stanza on Lily Cottrell. EBB, in Aurora Leigh, has a gypsy heroine, Marian Erle, teach herself to read and write out of books thrown away in the rubbish.

Mihai is from Romania, a Roma, a gypsy, his family too poor for them to afford his schooling, who beg in the streets, their miserable shacks in Osmannoro bulldozed by the police, and who are forced to sleep at night in the open in the streets in groups of no more than three.

They come each Sunday after Mass, sitting under the great column and cross at the centre of the Cemetery, learning their letters and how to write their names, teaching each other in Romani, the letters being the Romanian ones, having painted laptop blackboards for white chalk out of left-over library shelving. They get sandwiches of blessed bread and ground chicken livers and apples and water and used clothing. Sometimes as many as twelve of them, all ages, both genders. It's so easy to do and yet no church, no government seems to see this is a need for beggars in the street to rise up out of their poverty. It costs so little. It can achieve so much.

We are using the ideas of Lancaster, Montessori, Piaget, Freire and Don Lorenzo Milani. They work! When I ask them which language they are happiest in they say Romani. It is from Sanskrit, from India, it is their language, in the home, in the family. Excellent linguists, we find classes being in a mixture of Romani, Romanian, Italian and English. And now Latin, too! With laughter and with self-worth.

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