THE ROMANI: A FORGOTTEN PEOPLE

Photos and story by daniel owen


 

   Life without running water, electricity and basic medical care is normal for the Romani people living in the "Gypsy" colony just outside the Romanian village of Cheriu in the Romanian region of Transylvania. The Hendre-Lucaci family struggles to survive in their two-room clay house with eleven children.

   With no formal education, the Romani children of Cheriu walk to the nearby city of Oradea, about an hour by foot, to beg for money or scraps of food. They forage for metal parts in a nearby abandoned artillery field. They can sell the small shell casings and wire to the local scrap yard, giving them enough money to buy bread.

   The children who don't meet the basic hygiene requirements set by the school administration are not allowed to attend class, and the village school only goes to the fourth grade. Parents often prefer the children beg in the streets rather than attending school, since work is scarce for the adults during the winter.

“Without running water, how can I wash my children’s clothes?" says Angelica Hendre. "There is nowhere for us to bathe during the winter because the river is frozon.” She wants her children to be able to attend school, but the obstacles seem to be insurmountable. She and her husband, Valentin Lucaci, try to care for all eleven children, but neither have any education.

Though the price for installing a water line into their clay home is relatively low (less than $200 US), without enough money to feed their children, it is unlikely that the Hendre-Lucaci family will be able to afford it. And even if they were able to get water, paying for it each month would be impossible without work. 

Janny Hulsman and her husband Harmon moved from Holland to Romania several years ago to start farming near Oradea. The couple often helps provide for several Romani families. 

                                         “A lot of poor people, like the Gypsies, liked the old communist system, where, if nothing else, at least                                                                                                                      they didn’t have to worry about finding a job; the government would provide work. I hear the people                                                                                                                       complain that before the fall of communism in Romania, at least the people had money, though food was                                                                                                                 scare. But now that modern grocery stores are stocked with plenty of food, the poorest people have no                                                                                                                     money. The men of the Romani families often travel to Spain or Italy in order to get work, often selling                                                                                                                   scrap metal that they find in the rubbish. Oftentimes the men who travel abroad don’t return to their                                                                                                                       families, leaving their wives and children to survive alone.” says Hulsman.

Operating a vegetable farm an hour outside of the city of Oradea, the Hulsman's often hire men and women from within the Romani community. "We can hire workers who greatly benefit from the pay." says Hulsman. "Recently, however, we had a visit from a government official stating that we must pay a fine for hiring workers who were unable to read or write. It's frustrating that we are not allowed to give jobs to the people who need them most." says Hulsman. 

Often labeled as thieves and beggars, or called "Tzigani," (a derogatory term that means "Gypsy" in Romanian) the Romani people face being second-class citizens within their own country. “We just need someone to help us.” says Angelica Hendre, as she holds her crying child in her arms. Tragedy, poverty, and struggle are the themes of the Romani who face extreme poverty.