“As a migrant, I sometimes ask myself, when is the right moment to go back and help my country”

 Human Wrongs Watch

Lucica’s story is part of the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) series: “i am a migrant“.* Lucica’s country of origin is Romania and she currently lives in Switzerlands,  1,300 kms from home. She is currently Doctor and Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership

“I grew up in a small town in Romania. We did not have a lot of money but because of the educational system under the Ceaușescu regime, we could go to school and learn and build a future. But it also taught that you have to work hard to get anything, everything was so competitive, there were so many children in my generation!

I decided quite early on that I wanted to become a doctor – I wanted to help my family, friends and colleagues and cure them.

I eventually became a medical doctor but right after graduation, I had to take another job so I joined as a journalist, doing interviews for a “glossy” magazine after work to be able to survive in Romania. During my day job, in the Institute of TB and Lung Diseases in Bucharest “Marius Nasta”, I was doing a lot of work on TB – especially in data collection and analysis.

I think we were using the data much better then than now. For this work I developed the first significant grant for TB for Romania from the Soros Foundation. And it was through this work that I began my travels and international work.

I applied and got accepted to an Eastern European Fellowship on International Public Health in Washington DC. I was about to start a great adventure. The month before I left for DC, I could not sleep.

I was thinking ‘my English is so bad, how am I going to succeed?’ But at the same time there was no possibility to consider withdrawing. I could not disappoint my mentor Prof. Ioan Paul Stoicescu.

When I arrived in US, it was a big shock, especially the way people interacted, talked or behaved. It was so different than in my country. Even the interaction between students and teachers was so different – it was very relaxed, informal and positive. I remember the shock I had when

I saw this huge library of Georgetown University. In Romania, as medical students, we did not have many books to study and suddenly here I was in the US, in this huge library, full of books, videos that I did not even know existed. I spent days and nights there – I actually did not want to leave that place.

And I made it.

At the end of the programme in 1999, the World Health Organization Emergency Unit had an open position in an important project on tuberculosis in Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo right after the war. So I applied and was selected. I left Washington DC for Tirana, Albania.

I promised myself, my family, colleagues at work and friends, that I would not stay longer than 9 months, but in fact ended up staying kind of… till now.

Of course, I faced difficulties in starting and managing this huge project: young, woman, from Romania… very difficult. However, during my stay in the area, I learnt that people are beautiful in general and it’s the circumstances that can make them bad.

After a few years in the Balkans, I went to work in the WHO Regional Office for Europe in Copenhagen where I stayed for 5 years, after which I moved to Geneva.

Although I moved from country to country, I have always felt Romanian. This will always be. It’s neither negative nor positive. This is who I am. I’ve seen so many people who would take their purses away as soon as they hear that I’m Romanian, or I’ve heard people say “I know Romanians, my cleaning lady is Romanian!”

Even now, when I travel, I worry that I will not get the visa or, if the police will check me, that I have the wrong documents, that I’m not going to be able to enter the country, that there is something wrong I did..

Not feeling accepted is a fear for so many people. We see it now in Europe where the situation is getting worse everywhere. People forget that many, many of us are actually migrants, or that our parents were migrants. And yet we forget that what’s happening there, could happen to anyone.

There is a lot of poverty in some of the countries that the migrants and refugees are coming to, and people are bitter. It’s hard to have to welcome others when you hardly have bread for yourself. But I truly believe that if the current migration crisis in Europe is communicated better, explained – solutions will be found and people will be willing to share the little they have.

I see myself as a migrant. A migrant worker. However, Romania is and will remain my country – with all the good and bad. But I also know and feel very well that I want to return, I just ask myself: ‘when is the right moment to go back and give back to my country?’”

*Dr. Ditiu is the Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership. A native of Romania, Dr Ditiu is a physician and a public health expert, who has devoted her career to helping those affected by TB and people living in communities heavily burdened by tuberculosis (TB).


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