“My family and I became refugees in 1986 when I was 8 years old. I was born in Warsaw, Poland and lived a very happy childhood there during communist times. Even as a child, I had a feeling that there was a wall and that there was something beyond that wall – something better than what was being offered to me.
In 1986 we went on a ‘vacation’ to Italy with no intention of ever coming back to Poland. My parents, brother and I left for Italy and went straight to the camp in Latina where we signed up as refugees. We were absolutely penniless, but we would go out every night once the sun set. We would wonder around on foot all the way to the Colosseum, Basilica or other beautiful historical sites that Rome had to offer and we could do that for free!
You can imagine what it felt like to go from that Polish environment to the very rich, vibrant and loud environment of Rome. I was experiencing this completely different lifestyle while at the same time noticing the stress and uncertainties my parents faced during the one year it took for the paperwork to go through.
After Italy, we moved to the USA because my uncle, who was living there, sponsored us to move. Getting to know new cultures, learning new languages, traveling, learning about other people - I know all of this had an effect on me. It became my life calling. This is my sixth year working abroad and my tenth year working with the United Nations.
During one retreat, at dinner, I was sitting next to a colleague of mine, Pasquale, who happens to be Italian so I told him: ‘Pasquale, you have to be careful speaking Italian around me because I can pretty much understand everything. I spoke Italian before I spoke English!’. He realized that in 1986 he was very much involved in the Latina camp and said: ‘You were one of those little Polish girls!’, and I said ‘It was me!’ We both got goosebumps.
In our line of work, the UN provides support to the governments in order for them to provide better services for people. I send a lot of emails, write a lot of briefs, have a lot of meetings with the government and so on, but I never really know whose life that has affected. Maybe Pasquale was the one that put the finger on my family’s name. Maybe he was the one that patted my head when I was a little girl running through the camp. I don’t know for sure, but it’s very possible. That night we had a full circle moment about what impact actually means in our line of work.”