"We were equal in our differences"
Nadejda was born in Brazil and has Brazilian citizenship but was a refugee at an early age having been forced to flee her country which was under a military dictatorship. The upheaval Nadejda experienced at such an early age led her to question the notion of nationality. “For a while I did not know what being a Brazilian meant and felt that patriotism was a selfish state of mind. Today I am more proud of being a Brazilian. Brazil has come a long way and though many things still need to be done, I am proud when our government speaks out in defence of the less fortunate in the world whether it is about HIV/AIDS or innovative cash transfer programs.”
Nadejda attended UWC-USA between 1988 and 1990, here we ask Nadejda a few questions about her UWC experiences and how she overcame adversity in her early years to lead a happy and successful life.
Where do you currently live?
I live in the USA, I’m proud of being an immigrant. Some things in life one cannot choose. We can’t choose the country we are born in and many times we can’t live where we please. I feel very fortunate to have found a refuge and a place I can call home in Massachusetts and happy that I was recently granted American citizenship. I work and interact with immigrants of all kinds on a regular basis. I know their struggle and value how fortunate my life has turned out to be.
What is your current job?
Currently I work on a project called “Cost of Inaction” at the FXB Centre for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. The project uses a new method to evaluate the impact of HIV/AIDS on children with focus on four countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania. I work mainly on Angola. The concept of “Cost of Inaction” derives from the work of Professor Amartya Sen and Sudhir Anand. Together with my husband I am also a Housemaster in one of Harvard University’s undergraduate residential houses for the 2010/11 academic year. We supervise a community which includes 356 Harvard students, a team of tutors and administrative and operations staff.
How did you hear about UWC?
I remember I first heard about UWC through the vice principal in my school in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. At the time the National Committee of Brazil was trying to reach out to other areas in Brazil because in the past candidates were predominantly from São Paulo. I might be wrong but I think I was the first Brazilian UWC student born in Brazil’s northeast and living outside São Paulo. That was a long time ago now though, my class has just celebrated its 20th anniversary!
Had you been abroad before you went to UWC?
Yes, my mother and I had to flee Brazil during the dictatorship. I was nine months old when my father was arrested, tortured and killed. My mother and I fled to Chile months before Pinochet’s coup and then had to flee again to Sweden. After that we lived in Cuba and Panama before returning to Brazil in 1979.
How did your UWC school experience differ from your earlier schooling?
When I was young I was always the different one, either because I was an international student or because I had a different background. I tried to fit in but that was not always possible. At UWC everyone was different, everyone had a different story; I fitted in really well. We were equal in our differences and we could appreciate the things we had in common: not our nationalities, languages, customs or beliefs, but our humanity.
How has UWC affected your career choices?
The UWC experience affected me in many ways, not only in my career choices. I learned to listen to other points of view, I learned to negotiate, I learned to differentiate between people and their government’s policies and I also learned English. All of that makes me the person I am today. Thanks to speaking English I got my first job, thanks to speaking English I met my husband. Many of the things I accomplished might not have been possible without a UWC experience.
Are you involved with any other voluntary or non-governmental organisations?
I co-founded, and currently serve on the board of, the Centro de Justiça Global (Global Justice Center) one of the most well-recognised human rights organisations in Brazil. I also work on a pro-bono basis with a human rights organisation in Angola called Associação Justiça, Paz e Democracia – AJPD (The Justice, Peace and Democracy Association).
Tell us about the book you’ve had published.
community has been very receptive to the publishing of my memoirs. The
process of writing was very liberating and enriching. Since its first
publication in 2008 I have received messages of congratulations and
support and I want to thank all of you who have read the book and
encourage those who are thinking about writing their own memoirs.
Sometimes the two years that we spend at UWC is not enough to get to
know someone and I would like to know more of you.
You can find out more about Nadejda's book, 'Born Submersive' here
Justiça Global: http://global.org.br/
19 October 2010