photography by renata

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Renata Flores “House of the Rising Sun” sung in the Quechua language of Peru.

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Community Volunteer, New York City


One of my favourite people, Renata and I volunteered together at the ER in Washington Heights, NYC. Although she put up the biggest resistance fight to be featured as a WOW Woman, I think few deserve it more than she does.
Renata never stops. She never stops volunteering in her community, be it working with the local police precincts, sleeping one night a week at a local homeless shelter to provide support for homeless women or cheering NYC marathoners in her hood uptown. And this is all while maintaining a full time job. She is the most humble, kind-hearted, shy, loud Polish girl you will ever meet. If you’re lucky enough to meet Renata, you’ll know what I mean.

1. Name.

Renata Zabłocka

2. Where is your hometown?

Zamość, Poland

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?

I’m a research associate/research public health analyst in a social sciences division of a large international research institute.

4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?

It was a long journey to get me where I am today (physically and mentally), but somewhat spontaneous and easy, meaning that things just sort of fell into place. When I decided to stay in the United States, I thought I should go back to school. I was working on a graduate degree in forensic psychology and I needed 400 hours of externship to graduate. I got an externship, received a position proposal at the end of it and just celebrated 10 years with my company. Like I said, things just fell in the right place at the right time.

I cannot say that I am religious, but I believe in karma. I try to be a good human being and I hope for good things to happen to me in my life. I am also a strong believer that perseverance pays off in a long run.

5. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?

They say “if you make it here (New York City), you can make it anywhere”. I believe it. I’ve been in the NYC for 18 years and I consider this city to be my home. I’d moved here alone and it had been a crazy decision. I’d never do it again, but I’m so glad I had done it when I did it.

6. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?

Who remembers those?!? They came and went. I learned from them and became smarter (or at least hope so…).

7. Advice for other women?

If you believe in something, stand up for it (this applies to all people really). Be independent. Try traveling alone. It’s the best and most freeing experience ever.

8. Where in the world do you feel “tallest”?

A year ago, I’d say standing alone in a street of a new city or a village in a new country, surrounded by people speaking a language I don’t understand. Today, I must say standing in a rally holding anti-Trumpf sign. I have a couple of those and I hate that I need them.

9. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

I try to give back and be involved in my community. I was an advocate for sexual assault/domestic violence survivors at DOVE (Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies) at a local hospital. I did it for 7 years and it tremendously impacted my life. I grew as a human being and I met amazing like-minded people that still influence my life.

Now, I’m involved in a small 100% volunteer-run shelter for homeless women. We have 6 beds available at a church in Inwood, Manhattan once or twice a week. Our guests come to us from a drop-in center in midtown Manhattan. We spend time with them and host them overnight. I love my shelter community (volunteers and guests!) It has been the most humbling experience. I met women who are smart, educated and some HAVE JOBS (!!), and are still not able to afford a home. When you really think about it, this can happen to anyone

I also love to travel. I am very lucky that my job involves a considerable amount of international travel in the past two years. This allowed me to get some new stamps is my passport. Outside of that, I am re-discovering the beauty of low-budget travel. It’s a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world.

10. What is the future goal/challenge (career and/or life goals in 5-10 years)?

I want to learn to speak Spanish and to dance tango.

11. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

I’m afraid of heights, but I can live with it. Nobody’s perfect.

12. Anything you’d do differently (if you had another go at life)?

All my experiences, good and bad, made me who I am today and I’m content with that. I really think that I would not change a thing. One of my dreams in high school was to study psychology at the Jagielloński University in Cracow. I tried and I didn’t get in. Had I gotten in, who would I be? Where would I be?

13. What inspires you?

Generally, smart and passionate people with a healthy dose of empathy. They don’t have to be necessarily passionate about serious things.

14. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

“The Feast of the Goat” by Mario Vargas Llosa. The book is set in the Dominican Republic and portrays the assassination of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and its aftermath. My next book waiting for me is The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology: True stories from the world’s best writers. I cannot wait to read it.

15. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?

I am drafting these responses on the train on my way back home from a conference in D.C. During the conference, there was a session on social network marketing. Presenter asked us to raise hands if we didn’t have an Instagram or Snapchat account. Proudly, I raised my hand both times. I got many looks from people sitting around me. Being too connected is not a great thing for me. Clearly, I am on Facebook.

I’m calling this photo “Gypsy.” This scarf was a gift from one of my aunts at my sister’s wedding a few years ago. These beautiful scarves are traditionally used in Assyrian dances and at Assyrian weddings and other celebrations but I couldn’t help but conjure up images in my head of the dancing gypsy archetype so often portrayed in popular culture as I was editing. The somewhat mysterious and distrustful look in her decorated eye also played into that because of the historical persecution and forced assimilation of the Romani people.  

I imagined a young Romani woman, largely insulated from the outside world and traveling safe among her people, suddenly approached by a stranger; Someone who looks different from anyone she has ever seen.  What would she do? Would she run and hide? No. Her people do not run. They do not hide. What she doesn’t realize is that she too looks unlike any other person this stranger has ever met. 

So they both just stand there, quietly assessing each other with mild suspicion on the one hand, and abject fascination on the other. 

**EDIT** A couple people have questioned my use of the word “gypsy” and I realized when I went back to re-read the story behind the photo that my reason for using that particular word was unclear. As I noted in my caption, the story behind the photo is that of two people (the woman in the photo) and another, seeing each other for the first time, and the title of the photo was meant to be from the stranger’s perspective. I am aware of the historical origins of this word, but It was in absolutely no way intended to be derogatory, and I think context matters here. I apologize to those who were offended by its use.