Artur Ivanenko – Ukraine (Law and Humanities Program)

My journey into the field of Medicine began in 2010 when I had to make an important choice: to stay in school and continue to study further, or to stray away from college and get a specialized secondary education. I decided to go to college, and I was given a huge world of educational choices. These choices consisted of questions such as: “what profession to choose?”, “what to do next?”, “will I regret my choice?”. Having gathered my thoughts, I decided to visit all the colleges that were in my city, to communicate with teachers and narrow my choices to two specialties: either to become an interpreter, something that I always liked, or to become a dental technician, which for me was something new and unclear.  I decided to put everything on the line and choose the field of medicine. I was attracted by the unknown, by the things that I really did not understand.

After I chose to study dental medicine, there were two turning points in my life. The first was on my very first day of college which signified a new stage in my life: a change of scenery, new acquaintances, new teachers, and new friends. The second turning point happened to me after college, when it was time to find a university. Since there were no medical universities in my city, I had to choose between the cities in Ukraine such as, Kiev, Odessa, Poltava, and Zaporozhye. Because this meant moving to another city for a long time it was a big decision for me and I had to weigh the pros and cons, read reviews about universities, consider the distance to my hometown, etc. In the end, I chose the city of Odessa. Before that, I had only visited Odessa once for a training, so the city was new to me with new people and no friends.

Once I started college, I felt a different attitude from my teachers. In my experience in school I had always been underestimated because of prejudices and stereotypes that have settled through time. However, in college my teachers and peers really appreciated my knowledge. I am proud to be the only one who graduated from my Institute with honors and I am proud of the path that I have paved.  Currently, there are very few representatives of the Roma community in medicine, when I chose this profession, one of the main points for me was to choose really the profession that will be useful to me and my community. Thanks to my profession, I break the stereotypes that there are no doctors among the Roma or that we cannot work in public institutions.

Thanks to the Roma Education Fund (REF) I have gained knowledge and experience. Thanks to REF, I was able to achieve heights – get an education that I could not think of before. In addition, due to REF’s intervention, I have been exposed to a network of young people that is created by the Foundation. I call it the “Network of Young Roma Specialists”, and because of this network I have made some strong friendships with people with people who I communicate with to this day. It is an invaluable opportunity to consult in various issues with “your person”. REF has enabled unity and collaboration with scholars.

 I now work at a dental clinic in the city and almost every day, I am faced with this question from my patients, “who are you by nationality?”  I tell them that I am a representative of the Roma community, and then they start to wonder, because this is at odds with the stereotypical opinion that they have established for centuries. I actively talk about our young Roma specialists, activists, and share interesting information about Roma people.

Since I am a representative of the Roma ethnic group, I volunteer my time and use my knowledge to organize events that are closely related to the culture of national minorities. I volunteer in various fields, such as medicine – organizing dental consultations for Roma communities, or legal assistance – implementation of legal projects, familiarizing representatives with human rights, and assisting in the preparation of legal documents such as passports. In the sphere of culture, I managed to work with projects that united national minorities into one, events where everyone can demonstrate the wealth of their culture and identity. Currently, I help mentor Roma youth in the town of  Kherson, and facilitate exam preparations and English language tutoring.

Thanks to my volunteer activities I have learned to communicate with people and make new friends. Volunteering is important to me because with it comes the realization that you can really help your people, you are a carrier of information, the driving force that in the future can change the world for the better. I want to help and be part of the process of overcoming discrimination and stereotypical opinions about Roma people both in Ukraine and in the world.