“In the past, I used to hide my ethnicity. Now I hope that future generations will forget about these stereotypes.”

Photo: Personal archive

Every day, Olga Cebotari crosses her village in a wheelchair for three kilometers from her home to the day care center “Încredere”, and since the roads are in very poor conditions she feels unsafe most of the times.

At the day care center, Olga helps 30 children of different ethnicities and ages learn new things and engage in various activities.

“The engagement of local Roma children to this center is yet another way to get them integrated into society and make friends with other children. The main purpose of these activities is to promote equality, tolerance, and non-discrimination,” explains Olga.

Olga Cebotari comes from a traditional, large Roma family: she has six siblings, three of whom have special needs and are in wheelchairs. Olga is the youngest in the family and until her sixth year in school, she enjoyed a happy and healthy childhood, and dreamed of becoming a doctor to cure her brothers and all suffering people. Life took a different turn when Olga, just as her brothers, was diagnosed with sarcomeric muscular dystrophy.

This, however, has not stopped her from being ambitious and doing beautiful things. Eight years ago, with the support from the German Embassy, she opened the doors of the day care center “Încredere.”  Here Olga and her team help children do their homework and other creative activities using books, learning games, and stationery.

“I hope that future generations will get rid of stereotypes about Roma women, people in wheelchairs, the elderly, or any other people potentially exposed to discrimination. I personally experienced the effects of such stereotypes: there was a time when I would hide my ethnicity, and I know what it means to be a Roma woman with special needs. At that time, my family gave me a lot of support and helped me to understand that it is personality that helps creating wonderful things,” Olga says.

Although she has been criticized for her ideas, Olga never gave up. “Thanks to my mentors and friends, who encouraged me, I did not give up and now villagers thank me for what I achieved,” she adds. 

Locals say that Olga’s efforts and the work carried out by the team of “Încredere” center helped increase the attendance of Roma children in kindergartens and schools. Local Roma parents began to realize that their children's education is paramount for a better life.

With all these achievements, Olga considers herself a happy woman. “I feel accomplished and capable to contribute to the development of our society through the activities of the day care center “Încredere”. I always say to children: “Follow your dreams because no one and nothing can stop you from transforming them into reality.”

This article is part of the campaign "Zoralé jiuvlia" ("strong women" in Romani) promoting success stories of Roma women and girls, by UN Women Moldova. The story was collected by Elena Sîrbu. You can read all the stories here.