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.
This letter 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.
We are profoundly grateful.
Julia Bolton Holloway
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 their
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
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: http://www.florin.ms/Restauri2011.doc.
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
Then my friend photographed this family:
On a rubbish dump in Cluj, Romania. But see the orderliness,
cleanliness and beauty as well.