This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
Ten months ago, I wrote a blog about a Nigerian refugee family living in Italy who I and my husband are trying to help through the Catholic charity Caritas. In January, Samuel and Rose (not their real names), at the advice of their lawyer, were hoping to marry in order to strengthen their case. With gratitude, we were able to raise the money they needed to obtain the necessary documents and they were happily married on 15 March.
But like most immigrant stories, their lives continue to be difficult.
Samuel has not been able to find work, partly from pride, partly from discrimination, mostly because he doesn’t speak a word of Italian despite living in the country for five years. We have done our best. Kees accompanied him to an interview at the diocese in Assisi that had 30 job placements for immigrants. But afterwards they told the Director of the local Caritas to not send any more applicants who have zero Italian language skills.
After Kees spent the morning driving Samuel 40 kms to the interview and interpreting for him, Samuel informed Kees that he had other plans. He had no intention of ever taking a job in Umbria and was going off to Malta to work there!
This news raised some alarm bells for us. It seemed that Samuel did not trust us enough to tell us this before Kees took an entire morning to help him. Okay. Off he went to Malta, Nigerian passport in hand (cost €400). But when he arrived, despite having Nigerian contacts, he could not find work because he does not have permanent residency in Italy. Without work, no one would rent him a bed. Begging is against the law in Malta, so for two weeks he slept in the rough on the street and ate whatever he could find. In the end, he dragged himself home, defeated.
“Why did God give me a family if I cannot earn a living and take care of them,” he asked Rose. “What kind of a man am I in the end?”
Worse came to worst. News arrived from Samuel’s lawyer that his case was rejected by the judge for “lack of believable evidence.” Samuel’s lawyer appealed the case, and once more it was rejected. A second appeal made. A second rejection. At the moment, Samuel’s case waits for its third and final appeal to be heard by the highest tribunal court in Rome.
Their story goes on and on. Samuel doesn’t trust us, so he doesn’t ask for any help or advice. On his own, without knowledge of Italian, he goes to the immigration office and they ineptly tell him to pay fees that he doesn’t need to pay and to bring documents that he doesn’t need to bring. (By the way, this also happened to us when we were establishing my residency here. Eight trips to the immigration office and payments to a judge for validating our translated marriage certificate which we were later told we didn’t need.)
Then one day everything blows up. Samuel calls to say he has had enough and is going back to Africa. Okay. The EU has a program that helps immigrants return to their home country, including air travel, hotel stay and seed money once you are back, etc. But Rose refuses to go back to Africa. This is not surprising. In the news that very week, I see a UN report that Nigeria has a housing deficit of 17 million units and that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women and children, had been evicted from their homes in the last few years by people using firearms, arson and arbitrary arrests.
Rose has now taken the phone, and is screaming and crying. I can’t understand a word she’s saying and ask her to calm down. All I can hear is her wailing and Samuel yelling in the background. I hang up.
After a few days, things have calmed down. Nobody’s going back to Africa anymore. But Samuel seems broken by all his anger and frustration. These feelings have to come out somehow and suddenly, in the Caritas parking lot, Samuel confronts me. “What is your job?” Samuel demands. “Your job is to take care of my wife and child.” He is screaming. “My child is born here and Italy must take care of her.”
“But that’s not how things work,” I try to calmly explain. But explanations are not what he needs. He needs a job. He needs to feel safe. He needs to stop having to beg. And the harsh reality is: We’re volunteers just trying to help. His daughter is not Italian but “stateless”. And after waiting five years, the odds are he’s probably not going to receive asylum.
Since this parking lot confrontation, things have shifted between us, but for the better. Our interactions have become more business-like, less “friendly”. Kees and I have found a more balanced attitude in choosing what we do to help them. We have also learned to rely more on the Caritas to support us in the never-ending challenges facing this family.
The Good News
But like most immigrant stories, there’s also good news. The good news is that little 1-1/2 year-old Joy found a place in the local Peter Pan nursery despite being #18 on the waiting list. I don’t know how that happened, other than through Divine grace. I was desperate to have her begin as soon as possible because her days were filled with sitting on the sofa in a dark living room watching the same children’s video over and over again. She wasn’t eating, sleeping, and could barely walk. She didn’t know how to play or interact with anyone. Whenever I arrived and tried to be with her, Joy would just move closer to the TV so she could hear it better and clasp her eyes on the screen.
Since she began a month ago, school is doing Joy a world of good. She greets and engages with me whenever we meet. She is walking better. At times, she is singing and clapping with glee. Joy still refuses to eat and often insists on remaining in her stroller, but overall the teachers are happy with her progress. Rose says Joy is now napping during the day and sleeping through the night.
It takes a village to raise a child. But not just a village…a village full of prayers. As a Christian woman, I am asked to be charitable and help the poor. In fact, caritas is the Latin word for ‘Christian love,’ and for the past 700 years, it’s English derivative has meant “benevolent goodwill or love of humanity”.
I have learned that charity is not always easy. Samuel, Rose and Joy are poor in so many ways – not just financially. Poor in spirit, inner resources, education, social skills, language skills, and at times hope.
If you would like to help us help them, we are gratefully receiving both prayers and donations earmarked for the payment of Joy’s nursery school.
To help, please use our Paypal account purshana(at)live(dot)com or contact me for bank details.