Imagine you fled your home due to violence and have been living in exile in a refugee camp for over ten years. Now, your life is about to change again. After many months of interviews and screenings…and more months of waiting, you have received notice that you and your family are to be resettled to the United States…to a place called, Sioux Falls.
Who will be there to welcome you?
Who will walk alongside, helping to navigate this foreign culture and journey with you towards integration?
Who will empower and equip you for a life of self-sufficiency and independence?
In this series, I am pleased to introduce readers to some of the direct service staff at the Center for New Americans who do this work of welcoming.
Ljiljana considers herself a Bosnian, growing up in Sarajevo, which was part of Yugoslavia at the time. Describing an early life of multi-culturalism, American music and movies, discos, and shopping trips to Italy, Ljiljana studied philosophy and English language and literature at the University of Sarajevo. In 1992 the Bosnian War began and after surviving three and half years of war, including the besiegement of her home, Ljiljana fled to Croatia before being resettled to Chicago. She moved to Sioux Falls in August 1996 to work as a case manager with LSS, which had started resettling Bosnians in 1994.
In her current role as a Housing Specialist, Ljiljana finds apartments for newly-arrived refugees and their families before they even set foot on American soil. As you can imagine, this is not an easy task. A lack of available apartments, references, or current employment can be challenging, but Ljiljana feels that often the success of previous clients helps pave a smoother path for newly-arriving clients.
A typical day can include looking for apartments and doing inspections. When securing housing for a refugee family, Ljiljana must take into account many factors such as the composition of the family including the number of members, gender distribution, ages, and any physical disabilities. Her priority is “to get a key” so a family can spend their first night in Sioux Falls in their new home after their long journey to the U.S. But even after this, her work is not done. Through the aid of an interpreter, Ljiljana discusses and reviews lease agreements and does housing orientation soon after arrival.
What motivates her work is her personal experience of arriving in the U.S. as a refugee. “I am a refugee. I still see myself as a refugee…the kindness I received when I arrived…I want to pass it on.”
Thank you, Ljiljana, for sharing your story and work of welcoming with us!