U.S. Embassy awards four Romanian “Women of Courage”. Who is the 2018 International Woman of Courage nominee for Romania?

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The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest has awarded four Romanian women within the yearly Women of Courage ceremony on Tuesday for their outstanding results and whose work has had a major impact on the Romanian society in various fields. The embassy awarded four Romanian women of courage, while revealing their nominee from Romania for the 2018 International Woman of Courage.

Romania has so many extraordinary women of courage. These women are strong, inspiring leaders who demonstrate unwavering commitment to their communities,” reads a press release by the Embassy.

In his turn, US Ambassador Hans Klemm praised the “women of courage” awarded this year, while announcing the 2018 International Woman of Courage from Romania.

I am delighted you could all join us today to celebrate five Romanian women who embody service, leadership, and, above all, courage. While these women take on different issues facing Romania, they all serve as inspiring reminders of how determined individuals can make a difference and effect lasting change in their communities and across Romania,” said the US Ambassador Hans Klemm during the awarding ceremony.


The International Woman of Courage nominee for Romania for 2018 was Elena Alexandra Calistru, president, co-founder of Funky Citizens, an NGO set up in 2012 whose aim is to improve voter turnout and support transparent democracy.

Courage might be described as bearing up against intimidation and a prevalent sense of hopelessness to carry on with one’s duties. Extraordinary courage is thriving in the face of intimidation and hopelessness, staying positive, staying creative, and spreading one’s positive attitude and creativity to others. The latter is what Elena Calistru does every single day (…) Funky Citizens brings an innovative and effective approach to increasing civic engagement in Romania, improving voter turnout, and supporting a more transparent democracy. Funky Citizens uses online technology to engage and involve citizens in public life. To make complicated information, such as legislation, more accessible and understandable Funky Citizens provides tools for users to analyze information and engage with others (…) By aggregating and educating youth around a series of digital platforms, Funky Citizens promotes public sector reform and builds a more participatory, responsible, and transparent democracy in Romania,” said ambassador Klemm.

Elena’s courage and dedication to improving her country comes with a significant level of pressure, yet she manages to maintain and transmit a positive attitude. Elena is always the person in the room finding the bright side of the situation and conveying a message of hope. And I have seen this in action several times. The organization she leads has grown to four full-time and four-part time employees and over 40 volunteers. Funky Citizens receives a significant portion of its funding from individuals making online donations. These last two facts – 40 volunteers and significant personal donations, in a country where the vast majority of people view volunteering as a waste of time and supporting NGOs the job of the government or foreign donors – are perhaps the greatest testament to Calistru’s leadership and her organization’s credibility and unique capacity to create hope and civic engagement in Romania,” the American ambassador added.

DIICOT prosecutor, MerciCharity founders and freelance journalist, the other recipients

The first award as “woman of courage” went to Ioana Albani, Organized Crime and Terrorism Offences (DIICOT) deputy chief prosecutor, appointed in this position in June 2016, after running the Cyber Crime Unit within DIICOT for over 13 years, after previously having led the first specialized unit on cybercrime and money laundering within the former Section of the Romanian General Prosecutor’s Office.

A globally recognized expert and well-respected member of the judicial community, Chief Prosecutor Ioana Albani has been one of Romania’s key innovators in cybercrime investigative endeavors and has remained a dedicated promoter of transnational efforts to combat organized crime. Throughout her career of over 20 years as prosecutor and trainer specialized in cybercrime investigatory procedures, Chief Prosecutor Albani has made significant contributions to a highly technical domain that requires an increased level of sophistication and expertise. Her tireless efforts led not only to the creation of Romania’s first specialized prosecutorial team and to the adoption of the national legal framework against computer fraud, but also to the promotion of her country as a regional leader and disseminator of best practices in cybercrime operations across the world. During her tenure at DIICOT, Chief Prosecutor Albani led Romanian law enforcement officers and prosecutors to successfully disrupt large scale Internet fraud and cybercrime cases. Her role as an educator and mentor has encouraged generations of female investigators to engage in a field traditionally perceived as male-dominated and to make their voices heard by always adhering to the highest professional standards. Chief Prosecutor Albani is a renowned advocate of cross-border and cross-disciplinary cooperation. Her numerous public speaking engagements have shown her continued commitment to the fight against an ever-changing criminal landscape and her deep concern for preserving the safety and the prosperity of communities and businesses worldwide,” said the US ambassador.

The next recipients were the two founders of MerciCharity NGO providing basic dental care to impoverished children, Daniela Stancu and Alina Tiplea.

Courage has many aspects. Sometimes courage can mean finding a creative solution to a critical community need. Daniela Staicu and Alina Tiplea are great examples of this multidimensional courage. A significant number of Romanian children never receive dental care of any kind. Many will lose their teeth in early adulthood. Others suffer from correctable but disfiguring conditions. Alina and Daniela recognized this problem and, for several years now, have worked to build up MerciCharity, an association of volunteer dentists who travel throughout the countryside with a mobile dental lab providing free oral health checks, cleanings, and other services. Through this work, they have helped to change the lives and futures of thousands of children, sparing them from a lifetime of pain, embarrassment, or stigma. Yet, it has not been an easy project to undertake. At every step along the way, these two brave women have faced indifference, hostility, and thinly-veiled misogyny. They have also felt the weight of social discrimination against the Roma, since much of their work takes place in Roma communities. Their challenges include fund-raising, recruiting volunteers, pursuing legislative fixes to allow the NGO to operate in this field, and overcoming a multitude of bureaucratic impediments. Daniela and Alina speak up for the disenfranchised in the face of hate speech and derision for anyone with the audacity to stand up for social justice. They have been ignored, patronized, harassed, shamed, but have doggedly pursued their vision to support communities in need. As they progress the work of MerciCharity, Alina and Daniela’s refusal to be intimidated, bullied, or shut down is exemplary. Their unyielding courage as they persist in the fight for greater social justice and needed care in disenfranchised, minority communities is the mark of true grit,” Hans Klemm pointed out.

The last award went to Paula Rusu, freelance journalist for her activism on the tuberculosis issue in Romania. “As a tuberculosis survivor with only one functioning lung, freelance journalist Paula Rusu has dedicated her life to activism and to raising public awareness about how the Romanian medical system must better address the issue of tuberculosis. Paula previously had a successful journalism career, including as a TV anchor and producer. Many prominent people avoid publicizing their TB-related problems, due to social stigma. But at the risk of being unjustly criticized, Paula outed herself in social and traditional media to bravely embrace the deeply personal and important cause. Her daily articles, interviews, blog posts, and public appearances act as a continuous, well-documented campaign, which urges authorities to fix problems involving TB in the health sector. Romania is the EU country with the largest number of tuberculosis cases, accounting for one quarter of all TB cases in Europe. European data shows that in 2016 there were 21,167 tuberculosis patients in Romania, which had the lowest cure rate in the EU. The same data showed that 1,055 people died from TB in Romania in 2015 alone, and 12,790 new cases and relapses were recorded in Romania in 2016. Past years’ health reports indicate that Romania has persistent TB drug shortages. With most drugs for drug-resistant tuberculosis unavailable today to Romanian patients, Paula made a courageous decision – she put aside her career in journalism to fully embrace this cause. Paula is currently working to have Parliament adopt a TB-dedicated law that would solve certain issues related to the poverty affecting TB-infected persons and contributing to the spread of the disease. Paula has become a courageous ambassador for the many Romanians who are fighting this devastating disease and are unable to publically advocate for themselves,” ambassador Klemm concluded.

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