The Roma women from Romania in Florence kept telling me that
their roofs leaked because of the weight of the snow and the
poor materials they used, not being able to afford good
materials. Some lived in shacks, others in houses but where
there were too many living together, with the younger couples
unable to obtain their own homes. One family were twelve to one
room with no windows, in another family where the father has
tuberculosis, they are eighteen persons in two rooms, thirteen
of them small children. After learning of this from the women, I
went to Romania to see if these stories were true. We had
already built a cradle and bought a
house for one family, which had been living twelve to one shack,
but we could not repeat that €10,000 on my small pension.
But we could see how much that helped that family.
Then there was Stefano, left in hospital in Florence where he
was born because his mother Doina and his father Luca could not
pay for the return tickets to Buzau (€200), nor for the metal
and plastic baby carrier for a car (which they did not have)
that the hospital required (€60), nor for the travel document
for the child to return to Romania (€55) nor for the tickets to
and from Milan to acquire it, nor for repairing their
flood-destroyed home in Buzau. Our first family helped our
second family rebuild a room of their flood-destroyed house and
took in their other children during the building.
Social Assistance was going to put Stefano up for adoption. I
went before the Judge, saying that it was worse to be an orphan
than to be poor, and she gave them their child, Doina and Luca
carefully writing their names, as we had taught them the night
before, to have him. This is Stefano home in Romania.
Our next family, in a household headed by a widow, were about to
have a baby. I advised them to have him born in Romania, not
Florence, so the baby would not be taken by Social Assistance.
Here they are - in Romania with their new-born.
Another family, those who were twelve to one room, with no
windows, came and worked intensely hard, restoring the garden of
the Cemetery which for years had been put to weed-killer. They
earned the money to buy land. While here in Florence they built
a five bedroom shack out in Osmannoro. Which the police then
We described them in our essay, Rom
Apprenticeship. Then, the following year, one of them,
Vandana, returned with her husband, Daniel.
Daniel in two months restored all the wrought and cast iron work in the English Cemetery. In our
library of the Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei' in the English
Cemetery he drew this plan of the house he wished to build, a
house with three rooms and four windows, surrounded by fruit
She was pregnant so we together we built another cradle like
the one for Hedera.
Karen Graffeo and I visited Romania and saw the land Vandana
and Daniel bought with their work in the English Cemetery. Their
new-born baby Gabriela is in this photograph within a
photograph, held by Vandana's brother with her sister Maria, who
the day before gave birth to Bianca, her baby who is blind.
And then Daniel built the walls of their house in that
flower-filled meadow I had seen when I visited Romania.
This letter attests to the excellence of
Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu’s work in Florence Porta a Pinti
Cemetery, the so-called ‘English’ Cemetery owned by the Swiss
Evangelical Reformed Church.
Daniel Dumitrescu has conserved expertly the
iron, bronze and copper work on circa 70 nineteenth-century
tombs in the space of two months, by stripping them of rust,
next applying two coats of anti-rust and two coats of paint.
He carefully masked the marble and other stone of the tombs
before applying the paint. He is also an expert carpenter in
wood, building rocking cradles and library shelves. As a
worker he is diligent, courteous and careful. He carries out
tasks and cleans up following work without having to be asked
to do so, knowing instinctively what to do. During this time
he has caringly looked after his family, including the
premature birth of their third daughter in Florence. Together
with his wife he has also written and illustrated the ‘Romany
Vocabulary’ which lists everyday items in four languages.
These achievements have been praised by all who see them,
including experts of the Opera del Duomo in Florence, the
National Agency for Roma in Bucharest, etc.
It is our hope that Daniel Dumitrescu return to
Florence to continue the excellence of his work. We recommend
him most highly to any employer.
attests to the excellence of Vandana Culea’s work in the
‘English’ Cemetery in Florence, organizing her sisters,
brothers and their wives from Buzau in 2007, to restoring it
to the English garden it had been in the nineteenth century.
She returned with her husband Daniel Dumitrescu in 2008 and he
restored all the iron, bronze and copper work while she
maintained the house, excellently. With the money they have
earned they have bought land and will build a house surrounded
by fruit trees for themselves and their three daughters.
Next another family came, he a stone mason, and she desperate
because Social Assistance in Romania was going to take away
their three children because of the state of the house. He had
bought land and the house from work he had had. We gave him more
work so he could repair the house and save the children. Which
But prejudice reared its ugly head and for a year we were
forbidden to have the Roma work for us. So Daniel was unable to
build his roof. Social Assistance next came and threatened to
take away Daniel's three daughters because their housing was not
adequate. I sent them the money to buy temporary roofing and a
stove so they could move in and save their children. Daniel
earned money making the lilied crosses in copper
that I use in the library on its shelving.
A young mother of three children she had left with her mother in
a wheelchair because she had no feet in the garden so she could
beg for them in Florence came to me because this had happened to
Which we helped repair.
Our friend Margarita from Constanza who gardened for us so well
had to live like this while here in Florence and at home lived
in a room rented from the city. I taught her the alphabet and
how to write her name.
Then the police came and bulldozed their shack in Osmannoro in the coldest winter,
when the Black Sea was so frozen one could walk on it at
Constanza, and they forced these poor families to sleep in the
open in the streets in groups of not more than three, women with
babies, elderly people with illnesses.
Finally, this year Daniel could return and he cleaned and
conserved many marble tombs, earning
first the money for his roof for conserving the tomb of the
almost ancestress, Sarah Elisabeth Gough,
of an English lord who paid for the work,
and now earning the money, partly from the Waterloo Committee for repairing their
tombs, to build the roofs of other
Roma homes in Romania, giving them as well gutters and drain
pipes for water collection.
While Daniel is carrying out this work he is also directing
Alphabetization School in the Cemetery where the older Roma
teaching the younger ones who missed schooling because of
poverty. The school master we have chosen, who is just out of
hospital with tuberculosis, has a satchel with alphabet sheets
and pencils and is teaching many other Roma in the streets of
Florence. And also in our Cemetery.
These teachers conduct classes in Romanì, the Indo-European
Romany language that they speak at home in their families, the
language Roma are happiest in. We talk together about this dream
we have of 'Home Building, Home Schooling'. The Roma tell me
their great needs are for a house, for a school, for a job.
Ll Mm Nn
This project with the Asociatia
Agrustic Somnacuni of which Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu is
President has its members learn the alphabet in order to write their
names to be members and thus form a cooperative of women and men
in which those who know how to read and write teach those who do
not yet know, in 'home schooling', while at the same time
helping each other with rebuilding their roofs and homes with
gutters and drain pipes for water collection and later with
solar panels for electricity.
Just this evening, going through the files of photos and other
images I pulled out Daniel's plan and said to him, 'It is
amazing that two years ago this was your house, just a sheet of
paper. Now it is built through your work, here and in Romania,
and it is beautiful.' We are calling this project 'Home
Building, Home Schooling'. It is being submitted to the Open
Society Institute founded by George Soros in Budapest.
The Roma in Romania were slaves from the Middle Ages until the
nineteenth century when Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was
translated into Romanian. Their housing was built with whatever
materials were at hand. Yet it was their labour that built so
much that is permanent in Romania. Here we see an engraving of a
Romanian slave village. These are the shacks that are being
bulldozed in Italy and France, without any provision being made
for better roofs over the heads of European Citizens.
Gabriela, born prematurely in Florence when a Carabinieri
menaced Vandana, dragging her into a police car.
Roxana, Roma adopted from
Kazakhstan, with Daniel and Vandana's book Romany Vocabulary.
But now disaster. The rich family who had owned Daniel and
Vandana's land before Communism, insist on having it back.
The police came to Vandana while Daniel was in Florence,
working on cleaning the tombs of famous people in the 'English'
Cemetery. This is an account of the work he carried out in 2011:
The appeal trial is today, 15/12/2011, in Poliesti. The land and
house, bought from the municipality, and the house built by
Daniel, were all registered legally with that municipality. But
the privilege of wealth has more power than has poverty and
work. This is injustice.
Daniel and Vandana did not give up. They bought land again
and built their second, mostly from earnings, partly from
donations. While living in one rented room to do so, Social
Assistance came and took their four daughters, the youngest
breastfeeding, from them. We were able to win them back
though legal fees were high, conflicting with the need to
buy the materials and build the house to the standards
Social Assistance required.
Then my friend, Karen Graffeo, photographed this family:
On a rubbish dump in Cluj, Romania. But see the orderliness,
cleanliness and beauty as well.