Constructing hope: Corina’s Story
Young people explore new interests and uncover their potential through volunteering and civic involvement
Everyone involved in the Ukrainian refugee response efforts in Bucharest has heard about the team of student volunteers in their early 20s who work at the refugee transit centre at the Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest (UTCB). Their achievement of turning the derelict C2 dorm building into a functioning centre for Ukrainian refugees, with a capacity for accommodating over 200 people has turned their story into somewhat of an urban myth, inspiring all of us to do, and to be, more. As UNICEF supports this centre, we have met these extraordinary young people many times, and we are proud to tell you their stories.
This is the story of Corina.
Corina is the kind of person you would stop on a busy boulevard to ask for directions when you are lost. There is a spark in her that instantly draws you in, and gives you confidence, even from a distance, that out of the hundreds of people walking past, she will be the one to fix your problem. Having established this, you must know that these past two years have helped make her into who she is today.
Corina's journey started out as a first year student volunteer at the refugee centre at the Bucharest Technical University of Construction, and it was an experience that shaped her in ways she could never have anticipated. Stepping out of her comfort zone, she learned she had much to discover about her true self, and uncovered new potential within herself that she had never explored.
When Corina first started volunteering at the centre, she jumped headfirst into the everyday whirlwind of activities and obstacles of providing support to the refugees. The first months she spent working tirelessly at the centre were not without challenges, as the stress of balancing her engineering studies with a full-time commitment at the refugee centre took a heavy toll. However, Corina developed new coping and time-management skills that got her through the long days and nights of studying, working at the centre, and negotiating her role in a newly-formed team.
Initially, she found it difficult to detach herself from all the urgent everyday tasks, and take a step back to critically analyze the operations at the centre and identify areas for improvement. However, as time went on, Corina learned to navigate this with new-found perspective and maturity. Reflecting on this, she says, “In all this time, the centre changed me immensely, and when I speak about the centre, I really mean the people there. All the refugees’ stories, feelings and experiences slowly became a part of us. I am fully present, and I will keep being here as long as I am needed.”
But it was Corina's involvement beyond the walls of the centre that truly opened her eyes to abilities and interests she never knew she had. As a translator, she often accompanied refugees to hospitals and medical centers, helping them navigate the complexity of the healthcare system in a foreign country. As she soon found out, Corina's role extended beyond translation. During long stretches in hospital waiting rooms, the refugees confided in her, and even started looking to her for advice in making important medical decisions for themselves and their children.
Corina rose to the challenge, and found out that she was solid in times of crisis, being able to provide a clear perspective and much-needed emotional support. This was not always easy, as Corina says, “When you are besides a person whose life can depend on you, all these different feelings wash over you. Your conscience flares up, and you start asking yourself questions. Have you influenced this person’s life in the right way? There were many times I couldn’t shake the thought that I could’ve guided someone to make a wrong decision. Even so, I never felt that this takes something from me. I’m happy that I can do something for these people.”
In these fast-paced and emotionally taxing medical environments, Corina thrived. “I became committed to being there for the refugees when they needed me most, at all hours of the day or night. This is how I realized that I am really good in a hospital situation,” Corina shares. She found out that she had natural abilities that allowed her to keep a clear head, to be a calming presence in times of crisis, and to help bridge the gap between patients and doctors. Corina's constant dedication to the refugees, and to their health and well-being, has even inspired her to consider a career change.
Motivated by her experiences and the impact she had on the lives of those she supported, Corina is now considering exploring a new path for herself in leaving behind her engineering studies and applying for medical school. She has started seeing in herself the potential to become a great doctor, driven by her empathy, her ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, and her new-found ease of understanding complex medical notions.
Corina's story stands as a powerful reminder that sometimes, in the act of stepping up for a cause we believe in, we can discover our own hidden potential and find a new sense of purpose that can open doors to a future we never even considered. Whatever path she decides to take, however, the key lesson that transformed Corina is simple, but essential: “For a year now, people have been talking about how much we have done for the refugee centre, even though we are just students. What I want everyone to know, however, is how much the centre has done for us. We’ve become better, kinder people in a world where kindness doesn’t come first anymore. I will always be proud of this”.
For a year now, people have been talking about how much we have done for the refugee centre, even though we are just students. What I want everyone to know, however, is how much the centre has done for us. We’ve become better, kinder people in a world where kindness doesn’t come first anymore. I will always be proud of this.
The refugee transit centre that Corina helped build is supported by UNICEF with Switzerland funding within the framework of the Rapid Respond Fund (RRF) aiming to reduce economic and social disparities in the EU. This centre is a great example of public-private partnership between the Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest (UTCB), the Municipality of Sector 2 Bucharest, local NGOs, and UNICEF, each of the actors involved contributing with its own resources, global and local experience and expertise. UNICEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sector 2 Mayoralty in May 2022 to join forces in support of refugee children and their families living in transit centres.
UNICEF was able to support by making sure the right human resources are in place and receive support, not only the students, but also refugees who help their peers. UNICEF is committed to increasing access to community-based services for all children and adolescents in the community and strengthening child protection systems to identify, document and assess refugee children and refer them to services for further support.