Scarp de’ tenis vendor Giorgio: “The street paper helped me to believe in myself”

Scarp de' tenis vendor Giorgio smiles at the camera

Photos courtesy of Scarp de' tenis

By Valentina Visentin

  • Vendor stories
Originally published:
Scarp de' tenis cover

Giorgio arrived in Italy from Ethiopia in 1997 in search of work. Life became increasingly hard after the 2008 financial crisis, and Giorgio became homeless in 2015. A few years later he started working as a Scarp de’ tenis vendor, which he continued to do until 2022. Then came the breakthrough: a permanent work contract, offered to Giorgio when he was 65.

Giorgio’s story proves that you should never stop believing, although his life has been anything but simple. Giorgio was born in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on 15 June 1958, into a humble family. His mother and father came from Eritrea, and he had two older sisters. His father managed to support the family by working as a mechanic, while his mother took care of the household chores.

Giorgio lost his father when he was little, and his mother had to start working to ensure a decent life for her children. When Giorgio turned 18, and thanks to his hard-earned qualification as a hydraulic technician, he began working as a boilermaker in the hospital in the town where he lived. He held this job for about five years. The company then went bankrupt, and he decided to open a business as a taxi driver, a very popular business in that area. However, due to high competition in the sector, he was soon forced to close down. A few years earlier, one of his two sisters had moved to Italy, near Vicenza, in search of economic stability, which she managed to achieve through her employment in a gold processing factory.

Towards the end of the 1990s, Ethiopia was experiencing a major socio-political crisis, and so Giorgio took the decision to join his sister in Italy. “It certainly wasn’t easy,” he says. “I remember that my mother was opposed to my decision to leave until the very end, as I was the man of the house and I had great responsibility towards the family, since my father was no longer there. I tried to reassure her as much as I could, promising her that I would continue to help them, albeit from afar, and that I was leaving to guarantee a future for them too and to repay all the sacrifices she had made in previous years.”

Giorgio joined his sister in 1997 and within a few months of his arrival, the time it took to obtain his documents, he found work in a clothing outlet shop, where he stayed for ten years. He also managed to find an apartment to rent within a few months of his arrival.

Scarp de' tenis vendor Giorgio stands in front of a door wearing a red vest and holding a red bag with the Scarp logo. He is holding a bundle of magazine.

Courtesy of Scarp de' tenis

Hit by the crisis

The 2008 financial crisis affected the company where he worked, and it was forced to close. Giorgio, however, did not lose heart. “Every morning I would get up, take my bike and ride around all the employment agencies in Vicenza and the surrounding towns,” he recalls. “Once I finished the round, I would start all over again. I couldn’t afford not to help my family, and I also had to keep paying rent, otherwise I would have found myself on the street.”

It was not an easy time in his life because in addition to losing his job, Giorgio’s mother fell ill, so he decided to return to Ethiopia for a short time. “I was very worried about my mother; she was so far away from me, and I felt useless and powerless staying in Italy,” Giorgio says. “I had to make sure she could get better as soon as possible and that she had all the care she needed.” Unfortunately, his mother’s health did not improve, and shortly after, Giorgio had to leave for Italy again; otherwise, he risked not obtaining the extension of his residence permit, which he needed if he was to find another job. In 2009 he managed to find a job in another textile company in Vicenza, where he stayed until 2015, when he lost his job due to cutbacks. After a few months, he could no longer afford to pay the rent on his flat and was forced to seek accommodation first with his sister, and then in makeshift accommodation.

“That year I lost everything,” Giorgio tells me. “My worst nightmare had come true – I found myself on the street, deprived of everything and completely alone. I couldn’t ask my sister for help again, because she had her own family, and her house was too small to accommodate me.”

Giorgio learned about the Casa San Francesco dormitory of the City of Bassano del Grappa, a place where he was soon welcomed, and which offered him a bed and hot meals every day. “I wasn’t used to sharing spaces with others; I wanted my life back, my privacy and my economic independence,” Giorgio says, as he looks back on that time. “Then came the news of my mother’s death, and my whole world collapsed.”

When they handed me my new permanent job contract, I couldn’t help but cry from happiness. Who would have thought I would find a stable job at the age of 65?

Rediscovering self-confidence with Scarp de’ tenis

In 2019, Giorgio moved to Vicenza, where he was welcomed at Casa San Martino, the dormitory of Caritas diocesana Vicentina, where he was offered the chance to try his hand at selling Scarp de’ tenis. “At first I was hesitant, because I was afraid of not being up to the mark as a seller, afraid of being completely ignored by people,” Giorgio explains. “So, to give me courage, they initially had me work alongside another seller who had been working at Scarp for a long time, Fabakary, who was very kind and helpful. So, I gathered my courage and the following month I started selling the magazine in some parishes in Vicenza and outside the cinema. It was a good experience that allowed me to meet many people who would even wait for me outside the church.”

A new start

In 2022 Caritas workers offered Giorgio the possibility of sharing accommodation with an elderly homeless man in a flat made available by Caritas Vicenza. Giorgio gladly accepted the proposal, which would allow him to return to live in the city where he had spent more than 20 years after arriving in Italy. It would also allow him to help someone who was in the same situation as he had been a few years earlier.

Towards the end of the year, with the help of a volunteer, Giorgio was offered a job at Caron in Pianezze, a town near Bassano del Grappa. After an initial six-month work contract, he obtained an extension to an indefinite contract.

“When they handed me my new permanent job contract, I couldn’t help but cry from happiness. Who would have thought I would find a stable job at the age of 65?” Giorgio says, his voice full of emotion. “I owe a lot to Caritas and Scarp de’ tenis, as they gave me the opportunity to get back in the game, to gradually regain the dignity I thought I had lost forever. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but when I lost everything and when everything around me was pitch dark, I carried in my heart my father’s words: ‘Never give up, keep hoping’. I believe that, from up there, he gave me all the hope I needed to get back on my feet and to believe in myself once again.”

Translated from Italian by Camilla Sensi

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