By Thomas Hieber
Ramesh pushed his bike along the dirt path in San Vito when I met him. I was asking for direction as I did not find the nearby Gurdwara that was supposedly in that area. He was very kind and in his broken English offered to show me the way. As we walked together for 10 minutes or so, I got to know one of the many South Asians that live in province of Latina, Italy.
Midway between Rome and Naples lays the Province of Latina with its many farms and fields. The ‘Agro Pontino’ is the most economically developed part of the province with a flourishing agricultural sector of about 9000 farms providing thousands of jobs for immigrants.
The first South Asians came in the area in the 1990’s as farm workers. Today estimates reach to around 30 000. Unfortunately working conditions are miserable. Farm workers in Italy are quite often called the ‘modern day slaves of Italy’. Forced labor and exploitation have been the subject of political debate in Italy for many years yet nothing really has changed. A dossier entitled “Getting to Work as a Slave” published by the Migration Association states: “The Sikhs work 10 to 11 hours a day, even seven days a week. The wage ranges between 2.5 and 5 Euros per hour. Not to mention occupational illnesses caused by pesticides and herbicides, and the fact that the bosses do not pay for leave or accidents at work. Everything is intensified by a climate of obsession and the fear of losing the job.”
A few days later I was in the north visiting the province of Lombardi, a highly industrialized yet also rich agricultural sector with dairy farms, ham and cheese factories. Many Sikhs are employed here. In fact the largest concentration of South Asians, over 137 000, live here.
I noticed that the Asian community has grown over these 8 years since I was last there. It seems the community has established itself. The South Asian community’s growth can best be seen by the number of temples and Gurdwaras constructed in recent years. It is estimated that there are about 50 Gurdwaras in Italy of which most are in the north. The Sikhs are well liked and respected by the Italian community. Sikhs contribute a lot towards the cities and towns where they reside. On that particular Sunday in May when I visited the Gurdwara, an ambulance car was donated to the local authorities of Novellara. The Sikh community wanted to say ‘thank you’ for the good relations that they have.
Over the next few days I visited various towns and cities, meeting a number of South Asians. The Gurdwaras and Hindu temple vary in size and appearance and there is no end in sight that the growth of the South Asian communities will slow down in the years to come.
Questions in my mind came back again and again: How can these people be reached with the love and grace of God? How can followers of Christ make a difference by helping to change living and working conditions of the Sikhs in the province of Latina? How can the Kingdom of God grow amongst the Sikhs in northern Italy? Honestly at the moment I don’t have answers. But I do know that God loves and cares for each one of them including Ramesh on his bike. Who will pray with me for more workers for Italy amongst the South Asian communities and who will go and share his life with those desperate to make a living in Europe?
This article of Thomas Hieber, Coordinator South Asian Network for continental Europe was submitted by Jeff Moody of NextMove. Member organizations like NextMove can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.