The best night out in Rome
Silver Travel Advisor director and PR, Mary
Stuart-Miller, was recently featured both on BBC Radio and in the Daily Mail
for the work she is doing with the homeless in Rome. She tells Silver Travel
Advisor exclusively what her motivations are and how her greatest fulfilment is
to inspire others.
I didn’t know that homeless people stuff wet loo paper into
locks as people go into apartment blocks, it keeps the door from re-locking so
they can nip in after the residents and sleep on the roof.
I didn’t know they wash their T-shirts in water fountains
(in Rome) and sit and wait while they dry.
Or that they make small stoves out of Coke cans, or take the
discarded cardboard boxes from outside shops, flatten them and slot them beside
a gate or in a gap in a wall, to pick up later.
They learn many tricks and tips for survival. They have to,
because they feel that no-one cares about them. They feel alone. Most believe
that if became unwell, or broke a bone, or simply disappeared, there is no-one
in the world to care enough to help them, find them, take their hand or hug
I came to Rome for love. I have been a frequent visitor to
the city since I met an Italian journalist on one of Star Clippers’ tall ships three years ago.
It was a whirlwind time, full of romance, expectation, excitement and, of
course, extremes of human emotion.
The romance lasted until recently. However, during frequent
visits to the city, I soon found love on the streets of Rome. I called my
journeying to Rome `Project Rome’, and I now use as part of my project to
inspire people to do small things with great love, wherever they are in the
To smile with warmth at another human, to pay an old
person’s taxi fare, to carry the luggage of someone struggling, to buy a bag of
groceries for a man begging, to buy a new pair of trainers and then give them
to someone else (I call that `double giving’). Or to talk to someone, to listen
to them, or to hold their hand or embrace them. To do at least one small act of
love, every single day. And it doesn’t matter what we do, how we do it, where
we do it, as long as we do it.
Homeless, street people, are at the extreme end of the
spectrum of people who need our love. Many are invisible. They have fallen
below a thin line. They have daily routines to pass the time, to clean
themselves, to eat, to rest and to sleep. They know where to queue for food,
which stations have hot water, many days they have to find new roof, doorway, park
or pavement to sleep on, usually just 4 hours a night before being moved. They
live a life of fear and uncertainty.
In Rome, (Roma in Italian), they may be refugees, from
Africa, from the Middle East or from Europe, or they may be Italian.
`Roma’ is love (Amor) backwards and Rome is a city that
exudes love through the incredible energy, passion and spirit that has been
poured into art, sculpture and architecture that is visible on every street, in
numerous buildings, monuments, fountains, works of art, paintings and facades,
in the food, in the colour, the light, the Tiber and the people. So it seemed
right to call my project `Project Rome’. While the name may sound
destination-specific, it’s not. The spirit and inspiration of Project Rome can
be exported to Project Bradford, Project Edinburgh, or Project Dakha.
Tiburtina Tuesday is Project Rome’s weekly event and has
been called “the best night out in Rome”. We take over 200 home cooked meals to
Tiburtina Station in Rome and give them to homeless men and women. For many it
is the only cooked meal they eat in a week.
The food we give is of the quality, nutritional value and
tastiness that we would give to our own children, friends or families,
including chicken, lentils, beans, meat, rice, pasta and potatoes. If I
wouldn’t give it to my children, then I won’t put it in my shopping trolley.
We also take `orders’ for the clothes or equipment that
homeless individuals need, such as sleeping bags, jeans, shoes, jackets,
pullovers or t-shirts, toiletries, air beds, blankets and pillows. They are
bought from Sports Direct online, shipped to Italy and handed out, often 25 or
30 new pairs of trainers at a time. We buy jeans from UK charity shops and put
them in hand-luggage on easyJet flights. The biggest irony is purchasing a pair
of Armani or Versace jeans for £6 in an Oxfam or Age UK shop and bringing them
back to the home of Italian design, to homeless Italians. Sleeping bags,
blankets and air beds are now desperately needed as the homeless face winter
sleeping outdoors. We placed orders for £800 worth of footwear, bags, blankets
and sleeping bags last week alone.
Tiburtina Tuesday started after I helped a charity give
sandwiches and fruit on the streets one evening. What they were doing was
certainly benevolent, but not magnanimous. With the support of the Vatican, the
church, many charities and individuals, no-one is likely to starve in Rome, but
a homeless person may well expire from a surfeit of cold pannini, pizza and
Give a man a piece of pizza and he will survive. Give him a home-cooked, nutritious meal and you start to change the way he feels about himself. He will know that he matters enough for you to have cooked for him. So even if the raw ingredients are important, it’s not about the food itself. It’s about the love that goes into buying it, cooking it and handing it out; also not so hot that the plastic take-away boxes melt, but hot enough to retain flavour and be comforting and tasty. Enough meals so that everyone gets one, safely sealed in a box as many will eat it the next day, or make it last two or three meal-times.
I know the names of many of those who come to Tiburtina
Tuesday, I know their shoe sizes, the size of jeans they want, whether they
have a sleeping bag or not. That means everything to them. When the meals are
all in carrier bags or stomachs, I shake, touch and hold hands, I hug people, I
kiss many on the cheeks. Not in a benevolent way, it’s all spontaneous and just
an expression of human feeling. They want to touch my hands, to feel the human
contact, to have my arms around them. When did anyone last hug them?
Many Daily Mail readers took the trouble to point out that
charity starts at home, I should be doing this in England, for ex-soldiers, or
British people, or orphans, etc. They have missed the point completely. But
there’s been no time to reply, because I have been processing offers of help
and positive messages that, to my huge embarrassment and humility, tell me that
I am an inspiration. This elevates me to a level of love and fulfilment that
the critics will never even know, let alone feel.
I have just spent the weekend learning a huge amount from a
former homeless man so that I can immerse myself even further and really
understand what is needed. He and I are going to spend a night on the streets
of Rome together. Ironically, for a PR, we’ll sleep in the entrance to the
Press Office outside St. Peter’s Square.
I do not expect anyone else to cook 200 meals. I wouldn’t
recommend trying sleeping on the streets. I am not expecting anyone to buy 20
pairs of trainers. The last thing I would want is to make another person feel
guilty. Some people do more than me, some people do less. I do what I do
because I can. I would say to the person who tells me they can’t cook 200
meals, then just cook one. Everyone should do what they feel, as much or as
little as they can, as long as we all do small things, with great love,
wherever we are in the world.
Dear Silver Travel Advisor Members100 sleeping bags would bring a huge amount of love to 100
men who are about to face winter alone, cold and worried. They cost £10 from
Sports Direct, and if you can, please sponsor a man at this link https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/mary-stuart-miller-4.
And then maybe you can find a way of
bringing the inspiration of Project Rome to your own home town.