27/05/2013 14:29 BST | Updated 26/07/2013 06:12 BST

Elies Ortiz: A Pioneer in Social Justice

The Industrial Revolution brought migrants to the cities in search of a better future. They lived in slums in poor conditions. Many men and women, who still remain unknown, became leaders to help them to improve their lives. Much before the United Nations was founded, people like Elies Ortiz dedicated their lives to improve the wellbeing of others in a totally altruistic and anonymous manner. Perhaps in a era of tax evasion and total isolation from society by the Super Rich and global companies, Ortiz can give us a lesson about caring for the others, human dignity and social justice.

Event at the cultural centre "the Barracks" in 1966 © Anna Ortiz Hugue

L'Elies Can Tunis is the true story, written by the protagonist's daughter, Anna Ortiz Hugue, and published by Stonberg, of a shanty suburb of Barcelona, presented through the family history and social involvement of a man who, through tenacity, goodness and ingenuity, devoted his life to improve the dignity and living conditions of his neighbourhood and its people. An effort that, beyond the incomprehension of authorities and the Franco administration, must not be forgotten, and may help and be a reference for today and tomorrow's social projects. Another piece of historical memory so necessary to remember.

L'Elies Can Tunis. A novel life, a book published in Spanish and Catalan, introduces us to his biography: full of chances and family secrets. Elies Ortiz (1919-1991) found out, investigated his true origins (he was adopted) and met his real mother and sister when he was already the father of three girls.

Anna Ortiz, the author and daughter of Elies. © Anna Ortiz Hugue

Elies Ortiz grew up in Can Tunis, one of many shanty suburbs of Barcelona and became a community leader, greatly loved and close to the social needs of his neighbourhood. He founded a cooperative to build decent housing, organising the slum dwellers and compiling a census of the population, created "the barracks" a multipurpose space, built brick by brick by the residents of the suburb and some volunteers from the city. In there, a library was built, and also a theatre group, an adult school, a music school, a school for illiterate children, a social home, a Credit Union, all of them were activities that he devoted to explain and spread in the magazine Ideal which he created. Elias Ortiz worked to inform the society the reality of the neighbourhood in which he grew up. Closely linked to neighbours and residents associations from the Spanish democratic transition and consolidation, the book recounts his unusual origins and personal and social longings, and makes clear how the tenacity and polite fight can give positive results and can beat resignation.

Anna Ortiz i Huguet was born in Barcelona where she studied Philosophy at the University. She worked for years in publishing and, later, in Luxembourg and Brussels. She won the first prize of the Francesc Candel Historic Memory Prize (2000), in Barcelona. She has published several translations and is the author of a poetic prose booklet, Book object (catalan and spanish, 2000), in Brussels, published by the Editorial Excritos.