Thursday, July 14, 2011


If we raise a small amount of funding we can place windows in a house. If we do better we can even buy a new house with water, electricity, rubbish removal. This for a family of now 40 persons living in a condemned house rented to them by the municipality of Constantsa in Romania. Three and a half years ago their electricity was cut off. The two room house lacks windows. Many of the adults and children are ill with TB and leukaemia. I know this family well. The head of the family, Lupascu Copalea is skilled at many things and also morally straight, teaching these concepts to his children. But he has become ill with TB. Their thirteen children (Roma marry young and are faithful) have been unable to find work in post-Communist Romania. So they send some of them here to Florence to beg for the survival of them all.

In our 'English' Cemetery in Florence is the tomb of Thomas Southwood Smith, a medical doctor, head of a fever hospital in London in the nineteenth century who worked with Lord Ashley against the employment of children in mines and factories. Leigh Hunt's epitaph on his tombstone reads: 'Ages shall honour in their hearts enshrined, Thee, Southwood Smith, Physician of Mankind, Bringer of Air, Light, Health, Into the Home of the Happier Poor of Years to Come'. His granddaughter was Octavia Hill, of slum clearance fame. It was by his tomb's imposing obelisk that we held 'Alphabet School' the summer Lupascu Copalea was with us.

We say 'gypsies steal babies, they are dirty, they steal'. Yesterday (and not for the first time either), I had to persuade the police and social assistance not to take the new-born baby away from the mother, one of the 40 in this family, but to allow the two shelter together, a roof over their head. Her crime? Since the bulldozing of their camp at Osmannoro, this family sleeps in the piazza of the Santissima Annunziata, in the street. A mother with a new-born baby sleeping in the street through no fault of her own is considered to be criminal toward her child. Then, the same day, I was persuading her sister-in-law to have her baby born with medical care in a hospital. Hoping so much that Social Assistance will place these two Roma mothers with their new-born babies, the first a boy, the second to be a girl, under the same sheltering roof while they wait for the birth certificates, needed for getting the travel documents for returning home.

Denied a roof, water, rubbish removal, forced to live in shacks, then these bulldozed by the police, and next being forced to live in the streets, these people maintain strict personal hygiene, rules brought from India a thousand years ago. In my experience they do not steal. I have given the two sisters-in-law each a hundred euro which they are sending home for their other children's food as they were starving. Diamante now has three small children, Daniela has three and another to be born within two weeks and another who had died. They were frantic with worry, not for themselves but for all their children. They thanked me, kissed me, with dignity and joy.

If you feel moved to help these 40 persons of all ages there is a PayPal button on the websites,,