By Susan Cass
It was the war-torn faces that pulled me in. I vividly recall looking at the front page of the Chicago Tribune back in the spring of 1999. The weary and fearful eyes of people photographed in a refugee camp in Kosovo seemed to be saying “do not be idle.”
The article spoke about the Kosovo conflict in which ethnic Albanians were being overrun and removed from their land by Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milosevic and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Army. Although the word genocide was not used yet, that was what was happening. The article featured different agencies who worked with refugees and offered ways to get involved. With my husband on board, we jumped, hearts first, into the adventure of sponsoring and hosting a Kosovar family in our suburban home.
Everything about the timing was wrong. We had two young children – 5 and 3 years old, my husband worked full-time while I was running a new business, and I was in two weddings that summer. As excuses not to do it ran through my head, yet I finally yielded to the “do this” voice. When call comes in so clearly, everything else is detail.
Through an agency, World Relief, we found a family of five with children who were the same age as our kids 5 years, 3 years – plus a 1 year old. As we started to prepare for their arrival and told family and friends, we couldn’t believe some of their negative reactions. “They will rob you blind!” and “People from that part of the world don’t have toilets – you will have to teach them everything!”, finally “How can you possibly host a whole family to live in your home when you know nothing about them?” We listened, but brushed off their concerns and chose to trust that all would be well.
World Relief required us to build a team of people to help and support our effort. Most of our friends and family were too busy with their own young children to commit, so we decided to make an announcement at the church we were attending at the time. Facing my fear of public speaking, I shared my plea with the congregation. Several people, including an angel named Ellen, came up to me afterwards and said they would help any way they could.
Twenty years ago this summer, a group of us met the family at the airport, balloons and toys in hand. The Sadiku family walked off the plane wide-eyed with only one small backpack each. They had left everything behind them, including members of their own extended families, for a chance at a new life. Hajrush, the father, and Florije, his wife, with baby Arbenor in her arms, looked exhausted yet relieved. Their eldest and only daughter, Blerina, was very thin and looked quite shell shocked. Renor (3) looked thin as well, but his eyes were bright and curious.
The Sadiku family ended up living in our home for about 5 weeks. Within that time,
with the help of a World Relief ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, they began to speak English. Through dedicated team effort, were able to take them all to the doctor and dentist, as well as find Hajrush a job working at CDW (Computer Discount Warehouse), a car, and an apartment in the city!
The Sadiku’s are salt of the earth kind of people. They have big hearts and generous spirits. All they needed was a chance, an opportunity. Within about two years, they purchased a condo in Rogers Park, and a few years later became US citizens.
This past weekend, they invited our family, as well as Ellen, over for dinner. It was so wonderful to see how their family has flourished over two decades! Hajrush works two jobs – one selling furniture another as an Uber driver, Florije has been working in a downtown hotel for over 11 years, and two of their children are employed full time – Blerina is in banking and Arbenor is selling cars. Renor is working part-time while attending DePaul University studying for a degree in Environmental Science.
They are an American success story!
Following a heart calling is not always the easiest path to take. It’s important to take the time to discern if one is both ready and willing to step forward. In these times, when many have fear of immigrants, I thought it timely to share the story of one immigrant family and what a blessing they have been to our family. They hold dear what it means to be American; the enduring values of democracy, liberty, progress and generosity –
and that gives me hope for the future.