MARIANA Cuza fled her home country of Romania three decades ago to build a better life in Australia.
The Yokine resident has spent 10 years helping other refugees do the same as a volunteer at Ishar Women’s Multicultural Centre in Mirrabooka.
Mrs Cuza said that like other refugees, her journey from death, torture and famine to Australia ” and freedom ” was a difficult one.
She was the eldest of seven children and grew up in Transylvania under the rule of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
‘My father was a minister of the Pentecostal religion which was ‘legally’ recognised by the government, but in reality we were hunted for not respecting the rules of the communist party,’ Mrs Cuza said.
‘We were not accepted to go into tertiary education and mocked any time we would avoid becoming party members.’
Longing for an education and after hearing her father had promised her in marriage to a church elder when she was 16 years old, Mrs Cuza ran away to Arad.
She enrolled herself in high school as an orphan then started an anti-communist group before being imprisoned in 1981 in Timisoara for anti-community activity.
‘I got kicked out of Popa Sapca prison in 1982 and in 1983 I escaped by swimming the Danube river in March ” just coming out of winter,’ Mrs Cuza said.
‘The plan was that either I will make it across the icy water in the dark night, escape the soldiers and their guns or die in the current that would pull me into the turbines.’
She survived her journey and was accepted as a refugee through the United Nations before arriving in Australia in 1983.
Despite knowing little English when arriving in Australia, Mrs Cuza said it was a good day.
‘I got here, I was free and I got presents that made me feel valuable and that I matter,’ she said. ‘The biggest lesson is that we cannot and are not to re-create our culture from where we escaped ” it did not work there in the country we got out from.
‘That is why we risk our lives to escape, to run away.’