Constructing hope: Victor’s Story
Young people generate change by channeling their own experiences and inner strength to support others
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 Victor.
Looking at Victor’s stature, it would be easy to make the assumption that he is a tough, stern man, fit for little more than his chosen profession of railways, roads and bridges engineer. You could easily picture him wearing a hard hat and flaunting the rugged attitude necessary for living a life split between construction sites. His words, however, betray his true nature, deeply sentimental and warm, optimistic to a fault, and as playful a 22-year-old as you will ever meet.
As Victor tells it, his childhood had been marked by hardships, but he was fortunate to have received support from others during his most difficult times. These experiences growing up left deep imprints on him, building his resilience and fueling his commitment to pay it forward and affect positive change wherever he could. “I am a young person who’s had plenty of hardships in the past, and I was able to overcome them all with help from others. These tough times in my childhood created a feeling in myself that I can (and I will) be stronger, more resilient. With this feeling, I felt a growing desire to help others in need, just like I had once been helped”, Victor says. It was this feeling that drove him to respond to the call for volunteers and offer his support to the Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter at the center. Coming from the Republic of Moldova and speaking fluent Russian, Victor became an invaluable asset as a translator to the centre from the very beginning.
Starting early on, Victor played many roles in the daily lives of refugees living at the center: “I did everything in my power as translator and beyond: going to clinics and vets, translating documents, helping with protection evaluations, accommodations, carrying furniture and supplies, cleaning rooms, looking for apartments so that refugees could better integrate in the community, and many, many more,” he shares.
However, his true focus and mission at the centre was yet to be revealed. Throughout his activities at the transit centre, he was always drawn to supporting the young children going through difficult times, that he recognized his past self in. Understanding the importance of having a sense of normalcy and belonging, Victor started organizing activities for the approximately 100 refugee children living at the centre. Victor explains: “My role at the centre is now focused on children: integrating them in the activities at the centre, organizing field trips, handling their documentation, and many more,”
Victor's ability to empathize with the children's experiences, together with his playful and optimistic attitude, allowed him to connect with the little ones, and to provide a supportive environment where they could play together and make new friends. His presence and his ability to speak in a language they understood from home brought the children comfort and a sense of security, helping them cope with the uncertainties of their new environment.
Victor's story of his experience at the centre is a great example of the empowerment that comes with deciding to step up for a cause you believe in, especially from the perspective of a person who has faced their own share of hardships. His commitment to making a positive impact in the lives of refugee children is proof of the change that a young person can affect when they channel their own experiences and strength to uplift others in need.
As Victor reflects on his time at the centre so far, he remains a hopeful and proud individual. He can see that the difference he made through all his hard work has transcended challenges and has made him into a better person: “It has been a difficult time for me, emotionally and psychologically, but it has also been like skipping time. I feel I’ve developed so much, on so many levels: human, personal, behavioral. I am proud of what my colleagues and I have achieved so far, together with the organizations that support the centre. I am convinced we will not stop here.”
It has been a difficult time for me, emotionally and psychologically, but it has also been like skipping time. I feel I’ve developed so much, on so many levels: human, personal, behavioral. I am proud of what my colleagues and I have achieved so far, together with the organizations that support the centre. I am convinced we will not stop here.
The refugee transit centre that Victor 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.