irina rusuThe day I was born my parents found out I have a disability. They thought I would be different.

Looking back, I realize I made it different for them. They had to sacrifice and give a lot more to me than parents would normally have to.

I am perfectly fine with who I am and how I am. But it took me a lot of time to learn that if I want to fit in society, first of all – I need to accept my flaws and turn them into strengths, rather than seeing my disability as an impediment.

I was born with Arthrogryposis of the superior members; such a rare disease that I managed to freak out even the doctors back in 1994. The first thing my mom heard from the midwife was that she should either euthanize me or give me to the orphanage, because I have no cure, therefore no future.

I do not recall many things I went through until the age of 4, really; but I vividly recall that by 5, when all the kids were happily playing and having fun, I was spending most of my time in the hospitals visiting doctors and getting treatment. I also remember that I was never told stories before going to bed. My usual night routine was seeing my mom crying whilst exercising my hands in order for me to be able to do the usual things people do. I clearly remember that the first time I was able to tie my hair into a ponytail by myself was at the age of 16.

That’s how hard I made it for my parents.

irina rusu flexMy dad always kept telling me that if I have good thoughts they will shine out of my face like sunbeams and I will always look lovely, while my mom kept repeating the same old story all over again: you need to be thoughtful and educated, because you have to let people know that even if you have a physical disability – you are independent and you know what you stand for. Those are probably the two best pieces of advice I have ever heard and they give me hope whenever I feel like giving up.

When I was 16 I won the FLEX scholarship and I went to the USA for 11 months for my junior high school year. That year I realized that the world is so much bigger than my home country and that people are ready to accept you only if you accept yourself first. I involved myself in all kind of extracurricular activities and throughout the process I got a better understanding of how to cope with my disability and how to get people to see my abilities instead.

I came back to Moldova in order to finish high school and those were two tough years. To make myself clear – people from my country are kind and hospitable, but not open minded at all. When I wanted to get my driver’s license, the doctor wouldn’t allow it after rhetorically asking me: “Not even healthy persons would be capable of driving an automobile safely and responsibly, so what are the chances that you would be able to do so?” He stated that, without even taking a closer look at my case. He denied me my driver’s certificate which would state that there were no medical impediments to my capability of being a driver and asked me not to keep the next person in line waiting, and exit his office. This became the subject of my most successful blog post featured in on numerous online media platforms. (; best ever – 3.682 visitors; 592 shares on Facebook)

Nonetheless, challenges were the ones that made me grow up the most. This is what it is all about. Also, I have always been lucky to be surrounded by great people who believe in my achievements and who constantly support me. This is why it is of upmost importance to give something back in order to show your gratitude and help somebody else.

This summer, for example, Ruxanda, the FLEX coordinator in Moldova, together with other FLEX alumni and I worked on writing a theater play that we will soon be shown to less privileged children with little access and exposure to any art form.

irina graduationBy now, I have successfully finished my high school, I have been to the US, I am currently studying in Austria; I have been blessed to have a great family and wonderful friends all over the world. My point is that life is a ride that might sometimes get bumpy, but if you keep your head up, work hard on yourself, and surround yourself with caring people – you will always have something worth living for.

Live courageously, Irina Rusu (FLEX ‘11)

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10 years ago

Thank you Irina! Your story is fantastic. I wish you continued successes and not too many bumps along the way!