Georgiana Karam is an early childhood educator who runs the Adam & Noah Early Learning College in Browns Plains.
She immigrated from Romania to Australia in 1994, leaving her brother, mother, and estranged father behind.
Australia gave her a second chance in life when her own country turned on her.
“I tell my Mum that she raised me and brought me into this world in Romania, but Romania betrayed me and abandoned me,” Georgiana says.
She grew up in a social housing block and had an incredibly fractured family life, her parents having divorced when she was 8.
“All I remember about my father was that he was very violent, and I remember sleeping as a child at school because I was too tired from what I saw at night,” she says.
She didn’t see much of her mother either who spent 23 years working as a civilian engineer for the Romanian army, which was still linked to the Soviet Union.
“I remember these big busses picking her up and taking her to a secret location where they built electronic parts for missiles to shoot at airplanes,” Georgiana says. “My brother helped me survive while she was gone.”
Georgiana grew up in communist Romania during the 1970s and 80s. It was a defining moment in history which would end more than 40 years of communism in the country.
Life was rough, but not because of crime, which rarely happened because of how strict society was, she says. The daily struggle was in keeping warm and finding food.
“There was no food in the shops,” she recalls.
Rationing was put in place for meat, bread, flour, sugar, and milk in some towns, and the electricity supply was cut to preserve it.
“We only had four hours of electricity a day, so we used candlelight most of the time. In winter we lived in -30 degrees with no heat,” she says.
Witnessing the injustice of life in a communist society made Georgiana want to become a judge, so she could stand up for social justice.
“I wanted to study law – that was my forte,” she says.
Without money or connections to people in power, the path to university was steep.
“You can’t just go and enrol to university in a communist country, you have to sit a tough exam against all the other candidates just to be considered,” she says. “I didn’t have any connections to the communist party to get any favours, so it was really hard.”
By the time she finished year 12 and was preparing to take the university admissions exam for law, a revolution broke out in December 1989. It overthrew the communist regime after more than 40 years of power and resulted in the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
Instant changes swept across society in the aftermath, eradicating traces of communism in aspects of politics, the economy, and even education.
Unfortunately for Georgiana, that meant the university exam she prepared for was abolished because of its communist flavour.
“All the exam topics, which were centred on our dictator’s political ideals, were abolished that year so all my study was wasted, and I couldn’t go for the test,” she says. “I went through a lot of depression because I saw myself as a judge.”
When that didn’t work out, she set her sights on becoming a journalist.
“Why? Because it related to French, literature, and history, which were already my hobbies,” she says. “I also wanted to go into journalism so I could talk to someone.”
Before long, she was at university and working at a local paper in town.
“I went to uni in the daytime, and volunteered at a big national newspaper at night,” she says.
She moved her way up at the paper and had a full-time reporter position by the time she graduated. Just as this happened, an incident happened while on the job that had drastic consequences for her life in Romania.
“I published something I shouldn’t have,” she says.
Georgiana reported on government corruption regarding a sex ring that a senator was running.
“The proof was his confession on tape – this irrefutable evidence that made the front page of the newspaper.”
Even though the nation had just been liberated from communist rule, speaking out against authorities and politicians was still risky.
“Even then, the senator was so corrupt with the money and the mafia that he had,” she says. “And I didn’t know how to run, I didn’t know how to run after that. I had threats and cars following me. I was so scared that I had to make the decision to move, and that was the hardest decision I’ve had to make. I went into hiding for 6 months.”
Georgiana’s brother then found her a safehouse and she went into hiding for half a year. He secretly looked after her by sending food packages, while her work colleagues sought her a protection visa abroad.
“My brother had a lot of connections because of his profile as an athlete and he helped me to find a safehouse,” she says. “I used to have visits from the journalists who came into hiding on the weekends, and they tried to get me a protection visa for the USA, but lucky it didn’t happen that way.”
She then courted and married a friend while she was in hiding, which paved her path to Australia.
“It wasn’t love as such – you can’t fully love in hiding – but it was a genuine marriage,” she says.
Georgiana and her husband were then granted a visa and they migrated to Australia in 1994.
“When I came to Australia, I got to my knees and kissed this land,” she says.
She was 23 years old, couldn’t speak English, and had only what was in her luggage.
“It was just me and my suitcases – no language, no history, and no recognised degree,” she says. “I had to remake myself and learn everything from scratch.”
She and her husband divorced after two years and have remained friends.
Today, Georgiana, 50, still struggles with the past but is grateful to be living somewhere that has the best opportunities for her two boys, Adam and Noah.
“There’s no better place on the planet than Australia, we are so, so lucky here,” she says.
With all that Australia’s done for her, she feels indebted to give back to the country and help make a difference. She’s found her niche doing this in early education.
In 2008, she opened her first early learning centre, named after her sons.
“I told myself I am going to make a difference,” she says. “That’s why I built Adam & Noah and named it after my two boys, so I will never take it for granted,” she says.
Georgiana hopes to one day publish an academic curriculum for early childhood learning as a salute to everything Australia’s done for her.
“I really hope that in two years’ time, I can finalise my curriculum and teaching manuals, and give it to my teachers as a gift,” she says. “Through that, I’m able to give back to Australia for giving me a chance to survive.”