Written by Harriet Paintin, illustrated by Hannah Kirmes-Daly.

When Roma gypsy communities lose their trade they also lose their traditions. In Podu Turcului, in the Moldavia region of eastern Romania, Roma gypsy families have struggled for generations to make a living after centuries of slavery and serfdom have caused them to lose their traditional professions and culture. This, combined with the systematic discrimination that Roma communities face, means that today the only thing that distinguishes them from the Romanian community is the extreme poverty they experience.

Simona and 9 of her siblings live in a 2 roomed house up a dusty side street while her eldest sister works in Germany and sends a little money back to supplement her parents’ small income from daily agricultural labour.

“The other day we heard that my sister is coming back to visit us! This is the most exciting news my family has heard in a long time. She’s doing well there but she wants to come back because she misses her family,” Simona told us, fidgeting on her chair as she struggled to sit still to have her portrait drawn.

Quick to love and quick to hate, Simona’s strong and feisty nature, grown from a childhood on the streets where self-defence is learnt quickly and by necessity, was evident in our interactions with her. However, over time the complexities of her character came forth. The struggles she faces have left her cut off and closed, quick to push the outside world away from her. But positive attention and affection was all it took for her face to open and light up, for her to reach into her back pocket and proudly share one of her grimy sweets wrapped in plastic.

In this community economic security is one of the reasons why parents have many children. There is no state support, pension, or care for the elderly and so the more children they have the more chance they have of being looked after in their old age, the more chance there is that someone will go abroad to work and send remittances. But these many children will need to be supported during their childhood, and so families like Simona’s end up living in cramped conditions with parents pushed to their limit of what they can provide financially, physically and emotionally for their 9 children.

“My mum and dad fight a lot. It makes me so sad”, Simona said quietly, before jumping up and dashing off outside.