//2/ I live in Florence and am the Custodian of the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery where many opponents of slavery are buried.//3/ Roma from Romania also come to Florence. They are the restorers of our historic Cemetery. Buried with us are //4/ Frances Trollope and //5/ Richard Hildreth who wrote the first and second anti-slavery novels, which //6/ Harriet Beecher Stowe copied with Uncle Tom's Cabin. Uncle Tom's Cabin translated into Romanian //7/ freed the Roma who had been slaves from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century in that country. //8/ Buried with us also is Nadezdha (Hope), who came to Florence at 14, a black slave from Nubia, her story told on her tomb in Cyrillic. As well we have the Romanian nobleman Joan Kantakuzen who enslaved Roma. //9/ And Southwood Smith, friend of Florence Nightingale, advocate of improved housing for the health of the poor. American black slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write. //10/Frederick Douglass wrote and published the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Ex-Slave, Written by Himself breaking this unjust law, //11/and he visited our Cemetery.

//12/ I learned first from the Roma women, then the men, that their greatest needs and wants are for roofs made of better materials that do not let in the snow and rain, affordable schooling for their children, and medical care for their families, in order to rise out of their poverty.

//13/ The Roma skills as blacksmiths, stonemasons, carpenters and gardeners are invaluable to us. They restore the Cemetery, build shelves for its Library, and together we build cradles for their babies and learn/teach the alphabet.

//14/ I am President of the Aureo Anello Associazione which exists to support our library, the Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei, and to raise funds to restore the 'English' Cemetery. //15/ We have formed with the Roma a sister association in Romania called 'Asociaţia Agrustic Somnacuni-Inel de Aur', both names meaning 'Golden Ring',
to preserve Roma families and the Romani language. //16/ Its President is Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu, who is 25, has three daughters, who drew the plan for the house he would like to build on our library table //17,18,19/ and who first restored all our Victorian wrought and cast iron work, //20/ then built the walls of his house in Romania in 2008, //21/ next apprenticed with Alberto Casciani to restore the tomb of Viscount Gough's almost ancestress, //22,23/24/ going on to clean and restore many other historic tombs, //25,26/ even, from his ancestral skill working with copper, using the same tools for replacing lead letters, //27 /with which earnings he then could buy the materials and roof his house in Buzau, Romania, in 2010. Before that he, his wife and their three daughters, lived, with other family members, twelve to one room with no windows. Social Assistance was going to take away their three children from them because of this. His new house has three rooms and four windows, with a fine metal roof with gutters for water storage and hopefully soon solar panels for electricity, all of which he and his family have constructed. //28/ He and his wife, Vandana, have written Romany Vocabulary with his drawings and text in four languages, and a recording of them reading the words, for Roma and Gadge alike, for literacy and for educating against prejudice.

His 'Asocia
ţia Agrustic Somnacuni' has applied to George Soros' Open Society Institute in Budapest for funding to create a project called 'Home Building, Home Schooling', where Roma workers in Florence could earn the money for materials with which they would rebuild each others' roofs in Romania, and at the same time work with teaching each other literacy in the home, giving their children a head start in schooling. //29/ Chinese immigrants learn our alphabet writing tourists' names in their beautiful calligraphy in Florence's streets. They keep both cultures and immediately rise into the professional classes in the U.S. Italian immigrants to America and Australia are forced into 'English Only' integration and remain as pizza cooks. //30/ Where Roma can teach each other in Romani, the language of their homes and their families in which there is security and happiness, they quickly learn the other languages also. We paint planks of library shelving black to be used with white chalk as laptop blackboards for writing letters on. //31,32/ In the summer, school is outdoors as one of the teachers has tuberculosis. //33,34,35/ In the winter it is held in our library with its welcoming photographs of Roma families by Karen Graffeo, //36/, and in my office with its computer. We hold it on Sundays because on other days the Carabinieri come to check our documents. The participants then teach their womenfolk who beg at church doors during the week and bring me the sheets of paper where they have been copying the Latin plaques on Florentine church walls and the English inscriptions on the tomb stones. //37/ Cemetery inscriptions are ideal for literacy training. I pay each one studying, women and men, two euro and fifty cents a week, the teachers, ten euros a week out of my small pension, and give them lunch of sandwiches with crostini (chicken livers), apples and water, as well as used clothes.

It is difficult to carry out this project because of Italian laws. //38,39/ Our families are bulldozed and burned out of the illegal shacks they build from material no one wants at Osmannoro, where they have no water, no electricity and no rubbish disposal, consequently there are large rats, and where there is also asbestos. Now they are forced to live in the streets in groups of no more than three persons together, women and children and the elderly as well as men. Their babies are taken from them here in Italy by Social Assistance for lack of housing. In Romania also their babies are taken from them by Social Assistance because there their dwellings are substandard. 

Because they have no legal address they are not allowed legally to work. Our cultural association in its statute permits economic activities amongst its members. //40/ So we teach the Roma how to write their names in our membership book for our library, I buy their insurance coverage, and we give them work in the cemetery. When we can get permission from the Swiss owners of the Cemetery they live with us, this giving them the legal 'domicilio', so we can pay them with government vouchers.
//41,42,43,44/ They repair everything, the women building the library bookshelves being excellent carpenters. The Roma have valuable manual skills most of our families have discarded and forgotten. When work is carried out by Roma that is appreciated by Gadje there is great happiness, dignity and reciprocity. Roma are wonderfully clean and courteous, ideal people as houseguests.

//45,46,47/ Roma babies are loved, swaddled, held, nursed, rocked, given security, despite the great economic poverty in which they live. Because mothers who beg with their babies would be imprisoned, their babies taken from them by Social Assistance, they return with them to Romania as soon as they can pay the expenses for the travel document for the baby and for the Atlassib bus tickets (300 total), so the children can be raised by the grandparents, then both parents return to beg in Florence for their families' survival, sending the money home again by way of Atlassib. A Roma baby, abandoned for lack of the 300, costs Social Assistance 90 a day.

We strongly recommend that individuals be valued not only for their schooling but also for their ancestral skills they learn in their families that they will teach to their children. Roma need combined Work/Study projects, where members of families can be given restoration work for a limited time in the richer countries to be able to return to their families in Romania, the work being coupled with literacy training. What is crucial for such projects in Italy is housing, such as dormitories or currently unused buildings, with water, light, and rubbish disposal services, as well as a library/school for its participants, which would grant these workers, both women and men, the 'domicilio' for a few months at a time. We need to structure projects not just for mothers and children but also for the fathers, so the whole family survives. We need to integrate culturally with them in a sharing and an appreciation, rather than forcing their integration to our empty consumerism and broken families. The Roma have so much to teach the Gadje, among them excellent survival skills, but which our dominant culture destroys.

//48/ Our Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery was formerly barren, vandalized and abandoned, its history forgotten, its Carrara marble tombs black with traffic pollution, its iron rusting away, and its earth put to weedkiller for decades, its leaves blown about by noisy machines. //49,50,51,52,/ The Roma insist on gardening carefully with their bare hands. This Spring the Cemetery will bloom with thousands of iris and daffodil bulbs planted by the Roma amidst the now cleaned marble tombs and their conserved wrought and cast iron railings. //53,54/ This is Arnold Boecklin's and Sergei Rachmaninoff's 'Island of the Dead'. It is potentially also a birthing, a cradling, of a new Europe. //55/ Thank you. Especially, thank you, Roma People, for restoring and healing this monument of European and world culture.