A ROMA taxi driver is stamping out begging in his community after turning more people away from the illegal activity.
Luciano Ulita, who also volunteers as a pastor, is determined to get more Roma people into employment to break the cycle for future generations.
In recent months he has persuaded five more people to quit begging through the teachings of God and the Bible.
He said that while the current situation looks promising, a great deal of time and patience will be required to tackle the problem.
“It’s going to be very hard but we’ll never give up,” said Luciano. “These people have done bad things, but no matter how bad they are they still believe in God.”
Luciano first arrived in Cork in 2002 and initially told people he was Italian to avoid being stigmatised. After witnessing a number of Roma people begging on the streets he realised that action needed to be taken. He later founded the Apostolic Church in Mayfield Business Park where he has been working tirelessly to convert more Romas to Christianity. “Five people have been baptised in the last few months,” he said.
He added that conversions have been an uphill struggle.
“The experience is like that of a blind man who is able to see after years of darkness. They realise the severity of their crimes and hang their heads in shame. These people came from a culture where they did everything they wanted and it’s very hard to bring someone back from that.
“I’ve seen big improvements. One woman who had been begging and stealing has turned her life around. I’ve told her that you can’t ever do anything like that because God will see it. The only thing I feel sorry about is that people want things to happen fast. She asked me if she could sell the Big Issue on the streets and I agreed because at least this is something legal.”
He added: “This is a marathon and you can’t ever give up until you reach that finish line. With a bit of patience we will get there. We want to do our best for the people of Cork.”
Luciano discussed his hopes for future Roma generations in Cork.
“People will often ask me if I’m Italian. When I tell them that I’m Roma they ask, ‘how can you be a gypsy?’ Because I’m paying my taxes people think that I’m not like ‘them’.
“One day we’re going to change their minds. The younger generation don’t know stealing or begging. They are in school and learning. We are working hard so that we can one day have gardaí, solicitors, and university students all from the Roma community. At the moment we have one person studying to become a solicitor. Another man is selling cars. We want to change the mind of the people of Cork and hope that they will support us in doing that.”
Nevertheless, he emphasised that there is still a long way to go in eradicating begging.
“I recently was out in my taxi and spotted a young husband and wife begging which shows that this is still happening. I am yet to see this couple at my church.”
Luciano is working closely with Bill Dunlea, co-founder of the Roma Support Group in Blackpool, which opens up educational and training opportunities to members of the Roma community at Blackpool Community Centre.