Profile – Camelia Petrus

by Helen Martin
Helensville local Camelia Petrus has some wonderful childhood memories of her childhood in Romania. For most of the year she lived in the city of Brasov, where she spent a lot of time playing at the theatre where her grandmother worked, and in school holidays she stayed on her other grandparents’ farm in Feldioara helping to garden and to wash and pack vege tables before accompanying her grandfather as he took the vegetables to market with his horse and cart.
After gaining a degree in fine arts Camelia worked as an artist in the marketing department of a large factory, married and had two children. Then in December 1989, when Camelia was 27, Romania’s repressive and authoritarian communist regime, which had seized power in 1947, was overthrown by a people’s revolution. “We’d grown up under communism with the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu,” says Camelia. “All the systems were controlled by the state and people who tried to escape by swimming across the Danube would be shot. We were not permitted to criticise the government in private or in public and we were not allowed foreign friends. There was so much paranoia you didn’t know who you could trust, but we all wanted to be free and to be part of the world.” As the revolution raged Camelia managed to take her children to safety in the country. Ceausescu’s quick removal from power was an unspeakable relief, but she remembers having mixed feelings seeing his December 25 execution, and that of his wife, on live television. “The people weren’t consulted about it, it was done like that because everyone was caught in the moment.”
In the post-revolution chaos Camelia lost her job and times were very tough but eventually, when civilians took over the formerly state-run television and radio stations, she found work with Radio 1 Romania, eventually becoming the director of what was the country’s first democratic radio station. She loved the work, especially running her own highly successful talkback show, and her interest in communication quickly led Camelia to co-hosting a television show about gender equality and studying psychology and sociology part time so she could “have a better understanding of the current historical moment and what democracy means.”
Her involvement in the pro-democracy movement grew to the point where she was offered a job as a United Nations public relations officer. She was devastated at having to turn down an assignment, but as a single mother of two teenagers having to work three jobs to keep the family going, she directed her attention to leaving Romania and starting a new life in another country. “Romania is a beautiful country and I was privileged to live in the mountains in Transylvania but I found it very difficult there to offer my children. a decent life and a more certain future. New Zealand sounded wonderful and we fitted the immigration profile so the three of us were very pleased to be able to come here in 2002.”
In her new country Camelia continued to pursue her fascination with the theory and practice of communication. She completed a post-graduate diploma in psychology at Massey University to enhance her understanding of New Zealand’s culture and industry and employment practices and through her studying became interested in emotional intelligence (EI) and non-violent communication (NVC), as taught by pioneers like Dr Daniel Goleman and Dr Marshall Rosenberg. “They worked separately but used the same kind of framework for communication, teaching the language of compassion and empathy. Basically, it’s the language of heart and humanity,” Camelia explains. She now works for the accountancy and business development firm Lynch and Associates, running EI and NVC workshops. “I teach business leaders to lead from within, authentically and with confidence. The goal is for people to improve their relationship with themselves by changing how they react to the world. I expect people who take this course to have a call to action coming from within, a desire to do better and live a more meaningful life. I work with small groups because that’s how we can build trust, which leads to openness, transparency and honesty. People learn how to take ownership of and responsibility for their own lives without blaming other factors. There’s always a lot of group support and it’s a beautiful healing process.”
Camelia has taught the course in Helensville to Mount Tabor managers and house leaders and currently holds leadership retreats at Pauanui. “Change comes from the top, right? I also wish I could teach NVC in schools,” she says. “Bullying is a label for a specific behaviour which is just a strategy for satisfying unmet needs like attention and love.”
With her partner Ian Baker Camelia has been able to recapture the joys of country life she first experienced in childhood. Living on the outskirts of Helensville they grow fruit and vegetables organically and make a big range of preserves, jams and chutneys. “My home is on this planet,” says Camelia, “and it’s very good to live a life where you’re in touch with humanity nature.”

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