Eka successfully passed her exams for the Tbilisi State University where she was enrolled in the humanitarian faculty. She even won the President’s scholarship, but those happy days were overshadowed by health concerns as he was diagnosed with lung and respiratory problems.
Her friend, who was diagnosed with the same problem, lived in Belgium and advised her to come to Belgium where she would help her with the necessary referrals for an adequate treatment of her conditions. “Come to Belgium and you will be treated here and your life will be wonderful again.” These hopeful words contributed to making the most difficult decision in her life. She promised herself, that she would get well again and get on with her studies.
Her uncle who was planning to travel abroad helped her with the preparation of necessary documents for her travel to Belgium. As her health situation was deteriorating, she decided to take one year leave off of university and left for Belgium as a last resort for mending her medical condition.
Upon arrival, she stayed with her friend for a few days and then she went to one of the government’s reception centers for asylum seekers. As soon as she had an X-Ray of the lungs, she was taken to the hospital where she stayed for 6 months. Based on her diagnosis, she needed a 2-year treatment in order to get better. After having stayed in the hospital for 6 months as an in-patient, she returned to the reception center (shelter).
At that time she only weighed 45 kilos and was having problems with food intake in the shelter, as she needed special food. Fortunately, Eka could count on the support from another Georgian resident in the shelter: “God has sent me a Georgian girl, who was my savior and took pity on me when she saw how thin I was.” She accounts that they each received only 7 euros per day and that this girl used to buy food for her from her personal daily allowance which they then cooked in their little room in the shelter. “As I gained weight and started feeling better, I then signed up for French language classes to pick up where I’d left off…”
Eka’s main aim was recovery and she could already see some results, life was getting better again. Upon her friends’ request, she contacted a lawyer and with his help, she left the shelter and rented a small apartment in the city of Antwerp. She didn’t want to waste time and registered almost immediately for Flemish language classes.
Eka is very positive about her stay in Antwerp: “It is an incredibly pretty and warm town, I was reborn here. In Antwerp I got to “know” Belgium...” Her monthly allowance was enough to pay for the apartment, basic utilities and food.
Although Eka was happy to be in Belgium, she started considering returning and finishing her studies when she got the final results of her medical treatment and this came to an end. Through different sources, she had heard many times of the voluntary return and reintegration assistance program and she decided to contact her social worker to get more information and counseling on the possibilities within the program. She finally returned to Georgia in the summer of 2014, excited to go back home; healthy, with new goals, new energy, new knowledge and a lot of life experience.
Upon return, as she did not have a place to live, she temporarily stayed with a friend, but after contacting the IOM colleagues in Tbilisi, she could start benefitting from the reintegration assistance allowing her to rent a small apartment. Re-enrolling for her studies at the university, she decided to spend another part of assistance to cover the costs of an academic year. As she started to find some routine, she realized she needed a job to cover daily expenses, so one of her friends fixed her up with a temporary job as a web designer. For her to do this job, Eka decided to invest the remaining part of her reintegration assistance funds in corresponding training in web design and photography as well as in basic equipment. This was a real precondition for her future employment. She successfully completed her photography course and bought a professional camera, a solid investment through which she managed to find the first job in less than 6 months.
More good news came along as Eka’s aunt bought an apartment in Tbilisi and invited her to live together, which meant she didn’t have to pay rent anymore. She started to work some smaller jobs and today she’s working in the call center of a bank in Tbilisi. Her work schedule allows her to attend classes at the university and she has been obtaining very satisfying results, passing exams with excellence. Next year, if all goes well, she will be graduating! To this day she also maintains contact with friends in Belgium, sending them updates on her life back in Georgia.