What shampoo do you use? Are you swayed by the advertisements that show people with luscious, shiny, dandruff-free hair? Or do you just buy the latest supermarket special offer? Or maybe you invest in the Kerastase uber-expensive?
There is a lovely lady in the centre of Rome, aged around 45, who waited two weeks for Project Rome to bring her a bottle of 99 cents shampoo. We missed her the first week and so she waited another week without washing her hair. Lucia has no money, not even 5 cents, let alone 99 cents. She can’t buy her own shampoo. She can’t buy her own food, or clothes, or shoes. She is homeless, she sleeps overnight in a church. She lives off charity food and clothing hand-outs, she is well turned out and attractive, but lives an incredibly diminished life of poverty. Do you feel sorry for her? Or do you believe that she deserves this life, for some reason?
If you, like me, are privileged enough to choose what we wash our hair with, and choose and use conditioner and other products, hardly giving it a moment’s thought, please remember Lucia next time you wash your hair. She would also like a pair of shower shoes, she takes her shower in the Vatican communal showers, where all the men go, where the floor is dirty, messy and not nice to walk on with bare feet. But because she has no money, we will buy them for her.
Maybe it is the fault of the homeless that they cannot afford shampoo, shower shoes, or food, or a home? Their fault their job came to an end, their employer went out of business, or their marriage didn’t work and divorce left them broke, or that they have an illness, either physical or mental, which means they can’t follow `normal’ life like we do. Or their friends or families could not cope with their situation and closed the door on them. (This would never have happened, especially in Italy, even as recently as 20 years ago).
While Lucia can now wash her hair, there is a young Italian guy, recently homeless, whose sisters are so embarrassed that they won’t talk to him, let alone let him sleep on their sofas. Then there’s the 68 year old `hoarder’, who takes half an hour to walk 25 metres because he takes with him his whole life shared between bags and trollies. And another man Project Rome takes meals, antiperspirant and T-shirts to, who is also sleeping in the church who is 3 years away from a pension that he hopes might rent him a room so that he can get back to a dignified life.
How have we become a society where we go out and buy shampoo for ourselves before we give these people in need a kind word, a smile, a hug, let alone a sofa to sleep on, or a hot meal?
A bottle of shampoo, a kind word and a smile is worth far more than loose change, so don’t give it. A kind word, an embrace, human recognition and physical contact is the only currency that will make a difference, because when these lovely people believe in themselves again, they will feel empowered to step up and buy their own shampoo once again.
If you can collect donations of shampoo, anti-persipirant, shower gel, shaving cream and razors, please donate them directly to those who you see living on the street, or take them to one of our collection centres and we’ll donate them on your behalf.