On Saturday morning, May 7, Jill Biden ended her trip to Romania with a visit to “Scoala Gimnaziala Uruguay,” a Romanian public school that is hosting Ukrainian refugee students. FLOTUS opened up about the “heartbreak” she saw and reveals the details from her lunch with Carmen Iohannis, the first lady of Romania.

Q: What were some of your takeaways from what you heard, especially from some of those young kids wanting to go home?

Jill Biden: Wasn’t it heartbreaking? The little girl that said her wish was to be with her daddy, and then another said my wish is to go home, and then you can see it those children really have suffered and the little girl who sat in the basement who was sick, and she sat there for weeks…

The interesting thing I thought was I saw her at the table: Do you remember when we first went in and I said, ‘What’s the matter? Why aren’t you drawing?’ and she said “I don’t want to draw” but she was so withdrawn. And then to have her mother next to me telling me that story, you know, it really it just put all those pieces together about the little girl, the trauma she felt. Obviously the mother was traumatized and felt all that emotion you saw that. 

As a teacher, I so appreciated what that one teacher did by saying, ‘I’m a teacher, we’re going to, you know, we’re going to organize this. We’re going to get it together.’ And I think, you know, really, in a lot of ways the teachers are the glue that helps the kids deal with their trauma and deal with the emotion and help give them a sense of normalcy.

Jill Biden speaks about Carmen Iohannis:

We just talked like, girlfriends.

FLOTUS, Jill Biden

And then to meet, Carmen, the first lady of Romania, who was a teacher. It was just such a wonderful lunch. You never know what you’re getting into, what you’re walking into. She looked at my heritage. She tried to do Italian meals for our lunch, and then we just talked like, girlfriends. We talked about literature, Shakespeare, we talked about Mark Twain, we talked about exercise. I mean stuff that, you know, just women do when they get together, and they feel like they have something in common.

Q: What did you mean when you said I feel like there’s hope in that classroom? Do you feel like there’s a tide turning for refugees?

Jill Biden: I felt like there was hope in that there were some answers coming forward, and they felt that there was some structure to their lives and they were getting supplies. They all realize how much money the United States has been giving to Ukraine and to the refugee situation and to Romania to support the refugees and they were well aware of American support. So I thought that was really important.

Q: You said you were concerned that this was just the beginning of the refugee crisis. What worries you about the next phases?

Jill Biden: Because we don’t know. We don’t know. We’re all hopeful, right? We wake up every morning and think ‘this has to end,’ but it still keeps going on and on. I mean, you know, it’s been going on really since 2014. If you think of it, I was here in 2014 and saw the beginnings of the conflict. I visited a hospital and saw some of the wounded warriors there. So this has been a long time but now it’s intensified of course.

Q: You talked about the psychological damage that’s been done. Are you worried that the long-term care that they need might get lost in the shuffle? 

Jill Biden: No, because I think we’re focusing on the mental health needs of the kids, not only through the pandemic, but now through the war. I think the whole world is seeing we need more mental health…You can’t go through that kind of trauma, and you know, not feel some sort of effects from it.

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